China had built a dirt track to the area near Doka La in 2005. They used to park their vehicles there and conduct foot patrols to the Jampheri ridge where the RBA maintained an outpost.
Some time on June 16, the PLA construction party began road construction, and the RBA personnel sought to stop them on the basis of the Chinese commitment to maintain status quo in disputed areas. The Chinese say that as a goodwill gesture they had informed the Indian side, once in May and then again in early June, that they were planning the construction. Two days later, Indian Army personnel came down from Doka La to dissuade the Chinese as well and blocked their movement forward. Subsequently, the matter was taken up at the diplomatic level and also discussed at a Border Personnel Meeting at Nathu La on June 20.
The public would only get a hint of the crisis on June 23, when newspapers reported that China had abruptly closed the Nathu La to pilgrims travelling to Kailash Mansarovar. The reports cited the Indian official spokesperson confirming this development, saying that the matter is being discussed with the Chinese side. According to the reports, the Chinese side claimed that there were landslides in the mountain route on their side. However, the real story became apparent soon enough when the Chinese official spokesperson Geng Shuang acknowledged on June 26 that the yatra was indeed barred from the Nathu La due to “security concerns”. The official said: “Recently, the Indian border troops crossed the China-India boundary at the Sikkim section and entered the Chinese territory, obstructing Chinese border troops’ normal activities in Doklam. The Chinese side has taken proportionate measures in response.” He pointed out that the Sikkim part of the Sino-Indian boundary had been defined by the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 which had “repeatedly” been confirmed by India.
The Bhutanese Ambassador in New Delhi, Maj Gen (retd) V Namgyel, responded through an interview that appeared in The Hindu on June 28, noting that the road construction was in an area which is disputed between China and Bhutan and was, in fact moving towards a camp of the RBA at Zompelri (Jampheri) ridge. He said, “Bhutan has conveyed that the road construction by the PLA is not in keeping with the agreements between China and Bhutan. We have asked them to stop and refrain from changing the status quo.” The Bhutanese government issued a press release on June 29, reaffirming Namgyel’s remarks. It provided a backdrop to the events: “On 16 June 2017, the Chinese Army started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army camp at Zompelri. Bhutan has conveyed to the Chinese side, both on the ground and through the diplomatic channel, that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the agreements on maintaining the status quo pending a settlement] and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between our two countries. Bhutan hopes that the status quo in the Doklam area will be maintained as before 16 June 2017.
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