The high-stakes political drama between Asian giants China and India over the Donglang Plateau, also known as the Doklam Plateau, has turned the seemingly stable Himalayan region into a zone of intense Great Power competition.
China began work on modernizing an isolated road near the tri-junction of the its mountainous border with Bhutan and India in mid-June, but Bhutan regarded this Chinese-administered territory as "disputed" and apparently requested support from its Indian ally to stop the construction.
Incidentally, this occurred around the time that Indian Prime Minister Modi was visiting the US to meet with President Trump.
India holds a modern-day protectorate of sorts over Bhutan owing to historical circumstances and believes that it is responsible for its neighbor's defense when called upon, though China disputes the entire matter and argues that the problem is a bilateral issue between itself and Bhutan, and that India should never have gotten involved. The two nominal BRICS and SCO partners have since been engaged in a very tense standoff in the Chinese-administered territory that Beijing claims as its own, with each opposing side positioning their troops just a few meters apart from one another.
China asserts that an 1890 treaty that it signed with the UK settled the frontier between what are now the People's Republic and the independent state of India once and for all, though many Indian voices counter that neither their side nor the Bhutanese were involved in these negotiations and that the agreement is therefore illegitimate. Although official figures in Beijing and New Delhi have largely attempted to downplay the unresolved incident for now, their respective national medias have enthusiastically embraced their country's cause and made hard-hitting rhetorical cases against the other.
It's in the context of this escalating information war and ongoing standoff that Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stated last week that "If China unilaterally changes the status quo of the trijunction point, then that is a direct challenge to our security", which prompted her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to soon thereafter request that Indian forces "conscientiously withdraw". As the situation continues to simmer, observers are wondering how and why two supposed multipolar partners are now experiencing their worst crisis in decades and seem to startlingly be on the brink of war with one another.
Saikat Bhattacharyya, Research scholar in Economics at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, and Dong Chao, Chinese political commentator, discussed the issue.
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