On Monday morning, the world had one less geopolitical hotspot to worry about, when following months of escalating verbal jawboning and explicit threats on both sides, India agreed with China to disengage at the contested territorial dispute face-off site in Doklam. India’s foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar tweeted on Monday that disengagement of border personnel at the “face-off site at Doklam” has been agreed to and is on-going, with China confirming that India had pulled its troops from the Chinese side of a disputed Himalayan border area on Monday afternoon, after a months-long stand-off which started in June.
The de-escalation started earlier on Monday when India’s foreign ministry said it had agreed with China to an "expeditious disengagement" of troops from the Doklam plateau, an area close to the borders of China, India and Bhutan, SCMP reports.
“In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Doklam,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said. “On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing.”
The announcements come ahead of a meeting in China this weekend of BRICS countries, a bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Not surprisingly, each side differed on the details of the “disengagement”: Beijing said Indian troops had pulled back by early afternoon, but did not say whether Chinese personnel had done the same. Indian media reports said the “disengagement” would not be completed on Monday. The Chinese foreign ministry said Indian military personnel had pulled out of the Chinese side by 2.30pm on Monday.
“I am pleased to confirm that trespassing Indian personnel have all pulled back to the Indian side of the boundary,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “Chinese troops continue to patrol on the Chinese side of the boundary.” The ministry also said China would continue to “exercise its sovereign rights and defend territorial sovereignty in accordance with the historical demarcation agreement”.
Meanwhile, Indian media reports said both Indian and Chinese troops were slowly being withdrawn from the disputed zone. India’s NDTV reported that soldiers from both sides had started pulling out, but the process of removing them would not be completed on Monday.
The move comes a week ahead of a BRICS summit in Xiamen, Fujian province, where Chinese President Xi Jinping will play host to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leaders of three other major emerging economies. The Chinese foreign ministry said that at the peak of the crisis, up to 400 Indian soldiers and two bulldozers were engaged in the confrontation.
Dr Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, told SCMP that officials from both sides had worked hard to defuse the tensions.
“The diplomatic channels were open throughout,” Chaturvedy said. “Withdrawing troops will ease some tension and will provide room for both leaders at the BRICS [summit].”
As a reminder, the border row started in June when India sent troops to stop China building a road in the Doklam area, a remote, uninhabited territory claimed by both China and Bhutan. India said it sent in troops because Chinese military activity there was a threat to the security of its own northeast region. But China said India had no role to play in the area and insisted it withdraw unilaterally or face the prospect of an escalation. Chinese state media had warned India of a fate worse than its crushing defeat in the war in 1962.