New Delhi says no new developments at Doklam

From left: Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and NSA Ajit Doval in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: PTI

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday evening said reports of the Chinese increasing the number of troops or constructing a road at Doklam were incorrect.

The MEA said there were "no new developments at the face-off site and its vicinity since the August 28 disengagement" between Indian and Chinese troops. It said the "status quo prevails in the area."

However, a Press Trust of India (PTI) report from Beijing suggested that Chinese troops were very much present near Doklam. China not only defended the presence of its troops in the area but reiterated its sovereignty over it. Bhutan and India dispute Chinese claim on the area and consider it Bhutanese territory.

"The Donglang (Doklam) area has always belonged to China and has been under the effective jurisdiction of China," the Chinese Foreign Ministry told PTI in Beijing in response to questions about a report that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is beefing up troops in the area.

In New Delhi, the MEA clarified after reports suggested that China has increased the number of troops at Doklam plateau, where Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a 73-day military standoff. The standoff began on June 16 over PLA's plans to build a road in the area claimed by Bhutan. It ended on August 28 following a mutual agreement between India and China.

The clarification also came on a day when Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi tweeted asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to explain reports that the Chinese have again started constructing the road in Doklam. "Modiji, once you're done thumping your chest, could you please explain this?" Gandhi tweeted, tagging a news report headlined, "With 500 Soldiers On Guard, China Expands Road in Doklam".

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a press statement: "We have seen recent reports on Doklam. There are no new developments at the face-off site and its vicinity since the 28th August disengagement. The status quo prevails in this area. Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

The Chinese foreign ministry told PTI that there was "no dispute" on Doklam. "The Chinese border forces have been patrolling in the area of Donglang, exercising their sovereign rights and safeguarding territorial sovereignty according to the historical boundary," the ministry said in a written response.

On Thursday, India's Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa said Chinese troops were currently present in the Chumbi Valley, which is in the Doklam Plateau, and added that a peaceful resolution of the issue would be in the interest of both countries.

"The two sides are not in a physical face-off as we speak. However, their forces in Chumbi Valley are still deployed and I expect them to withdraw as their exercise in the area gets over," Dhanoa said.

About Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar's visit to Bhutan, the first such visit after the Doklam standoff, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: "although China and Bhutan have not yet established diplomatic relations, the two countries have maintained traditional friendly relations".

It said China has always respected Bhutan's sovereignty and independence. "China hopes that other countries also respect Bhutan's sovereignty and independence and develop normal bilateral relations with Bhutan, at the same time also hopes it can help enhance the mutual trust between regional countries, safeguarding regional peace and stability," it said.

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