Chinese troops are seen in the border area near the Doklam plateau.  An image from The Indian Express
Chinese troops are seen in the border area near the Doklam plateau. An image from The Indian Express

Things are cooling off on the Doklam plateau as the cold season begins on the unchartered borders shared by China, India and Bhutan.

This region, part of an eastward extension of the Himalayan range, was the scene of a bitter standoff between the Chinese and Indian militaries in a territorial row a few months ago.

Luckily, rationality prevailed as Beijing and New Delhi sought to avoid an internecine showdown, although nationalist sentiment was stoked in both countries.

Chinese troops participate in a winter drill in Tibet. Photo: Xinhua

Both sides have to back down when frigid weather seals off the plateau, but the feud is still simmering.

For New Delhi, it was obvious that Beijing’s fortification of the border area – including widening a road for the People’s Liberation Army, which sparked the tension – had endangered its national security. That is because Doklam is close to the Siliguri Corridor, aka the Chicken’s Neck, a vital strip just 27 kilometers wide at its narrowest, that links its eastern states to the rest of India.

Doklam’s proximity to India’s eastern states is shown on this Google Map.

Beijing’s motive, other than beefing up its military buildup in Tibet, has much to do with the question of Taiwan.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Andrei Chang noted in a column that Beijing is deeply concerned that India might “stab it in the back” if it sends troops in a southeast direction to reclaim Taiwan, should the renegade island declare independence.

The PLA would have to fight two wars – one in front and a second at the rear – should New Delhi, which has never been amicable with Beijing, take the opportunity to pick a fight on the Chinese border.

Roughly 80% of the PLA’s exercises and drills over the years simulate sea and air attacks, plus ground maneuvers, to reclaim Taiwan, as well as fending off involvement of the United States and its Asian allies, Chang said, while the remaining 20% have related to possible conflicts with India in a harsh high-altitude environment.

Last month, regiments in the PLA’s Western Theater Command, who patrol the Indian-Tibetan border, had a large drill in a craggy plateau to test the war readiness of its soldiers and weaponry in frigid weather conditions, the PLA Daily reported.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xiamen in China in September. Photo: Xinhua.

With Beijing and New Delhi still lacking mutual trust and regarding the other as a threat to border security, the Doklam plateau and the rest of the 3,380km border have become a militarized strip, where both sides continue to pile up troops and ammunition.

Observers say if Beijing resumes efforts to widen the road at Doklam in spring next year, New Delhi will deploy more guided missiles along the border.

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