China is widening an existing road just 10 km from the Doklam face-off site
China is now upgrading and widening its existing motorable road in the Bhutanese territory of Doklam after Indian troops stopped People’s Liberation Army from extending it towards the Jampheri Ridge, which overlooks the strategically-vulnerable Siliguri Corridor or so-called “Chicken’s Neck” area, in mid-June.
India has not yet objected to China’s fresh road-construction activity, which is around 10-km from the earlier troop face-off site, because it is not southwards towards the militarily-sensitive Jampheri Ridge area like before. “The PLA is now using the construction material and bulldozers it had brought to the face-off site at Doklam to improve the road it built in the region some years ago,” said a source.
“China is reinforcing its claim on the Doklam territory (India backs Bhutan’s claim on it) by upgrading the road around 10-km north and east of the earlier face-off site. The PLA has been controlling the road for some years and regularly sends patrols to the area,” he added.
This comes a time when both India and China are maintaining stepped-up military force-levels near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction despite the rival troops having disengaged from the actual face-off site at Doklam on August 28.
It was on June 16 that Indian soldiers had come down from their nearby Doka La post to cross over into Bhutanese territory to physically prevent Chinese troops from constructing the road in the Doklam area, which is disputed between Beijing and Thimphu, towards the Jampheri Ridge.
It had triggered the over 70-day eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the rival troops at Doklam, leading both the countries to move forward additional infantry battalions as well as armoured (tanks), artillery, missile and air defence units to back their small number of troops on the actual stand-off site, as was then reported by TOI.
“Both the armies continue to be on high operational alert,” said a source. The assessment is that there will be no change in the ground situation till the crucial party congress of the Chinese Communist Party from October 18, with Chinese President Xi Jinping all set to get a second five-year term to further consolidate his power. “Once the winter sets in, the PLA troops may have to shift back to Yatung, their last major town in the narrow Chumbi Valley. We have to watch-and-wait,” he said.
Incidentally, just last month, Army chief General Bipin Rawat had warned that China will continue with its efforts to nibble away disputed territory through “salami slicing” and other measures. “As far as the northern adversary (China) is concerned, the flexing of muscles has started … Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of threshold… is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations that could develop into conflicts,” Gen Rawat had said.
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