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Aug 10, 2017 | 17:37 GMT

3 mins read

India, China: Tensions Simmer as Border Standoff Enters Second Month

(Stratfor)

The rancor along the Doklam Plateau continues as the low-simmer regional standoff between China and India enters its second month. India has advanced its Operational Alert training exercise, designed to acclimate its troops to high altitudes, from September or October to this month. India wants to increase its forces' battle readiness without provoking the Chinese military stationed only a few meters across the border.

Chinese and Indian troops have been engaged in a boundary dispute near the mountain pass of Doka La along India's border with China and Bhutan. The territorial feud began June 16 when Indian forces intervened to prevent Chinese soldiers and construction workers from extending a roadway through the area, known as the trijunction. Bhutan claims Doka La lies within its internationally recognized boundary with China and India. China, however, claims the trijunction is a few miles south of Doka La at Gymachen and that the pass falls within its territory. For India, recognizing China's territorial assertion at Gymachen places Chinese roads (and troops) too close to the Siliguri corridor, which links mainland India with its far-flung northeastern wing.

Neither India nor China has signaled any desire to acquiesce, but each is reluctant to enter into a full-fledged war. The number of Chinese troops in the area is close to 800 — less than a battalion — but this is in addition to the 300 troops China has deployed on the Doklam Plateau. On the Indian side, around 350 troops are located in the area, while three brigades are deployed relatively nearby. Meanwhile, Bhutan has denied a Chinese claim made on Aug. 9 that Bhutan had told Beijing via diplomatic channels that it considers the area of the Doklam standoff to not be within Bhutanese territory. Bhutan reiterated that it saw Chinese actions in the area as violating existing agreements.

The troop increases on both sides point to an escalation of sorts, though there is still no sign that either side wishes to create a real conflict. Bhutan, meanwhile, remains caught between two giants. The tiny country has tried to remain unobtrusive as it is the one most likely to have its territory altered. While the standoff could escalate or de-escalate at any moment, November appears to be a potential landmark to watch for. At that point, the Chinese Party Congress will have elected new leadership that may feel more able to withdraw troops without running afoul of disruptive, nationalist voices within the country.

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