China Inches Closer to Finishing Construction of ‘All-weather Road’ in Doklam
The 73-day Doklam standoff, which began on June 16 in 2017, over PLA's plans to build a road in area claimed by Bhutan, ended on August 28 following mutual agreement between India and China. (File photo: Reuters)
New Delhi: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made significant advances in constructing an ‘all-weather road’ that connects the Doklam plateau with its network of highways. According to latest updates from intelligence sources, a 12-km-long stretch of Merug La-Doklam road has been black-topped and is close to finishing.
Earlier this year, based on a similar intel input, News18 had reported Chinese road construction activity on the 12-km-long stretch from Yatung, a forward military base in China to Doklam going on in an area called Merug La.
The black-topping of the road, which according to sources has been underway since the middle of September last year, means that the Doklam plateau will see an increasing deployment of PLA in days to come. This region has previously seen a 73 day stand-off between the armies of India and China in June 2017.
Sources say that another stretch from Yatung to Jelep La has also been ‘black-topped’.
Construction work by the Chinese army has been in full swing in Doklam since the temporary withdrawal of forces at the end of the 73 day stand-off.
In a recent interview with a news magazine, the Indian Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat claimed that the Indian forces were also building roads in the area, at par with the PLA infrastructure. “We are also building roads. We could not do it some years ago. But now we have decided to prioritise it, so we are focusing on it. We have enhanced our military-to-military engagement with the PLA. We just had the Hand-in-Hand joint military exercise in China. Things have changed after Doklam in a positive way,” The Week quoted Gen. Rawat.
According to sources, a 4.9-km-long road has also been constructed from Sinchal La in the direction of Torsa Nala via Assam. Torsa Nala is the base of Doklam plateau. The apparent motive of the Chinese has been to construct an ‘all-weather’ road connecting Sinchel La.
Apart from the road, intel inputs clearly mark parking bays, helipads, communication trenches and pre-fab structures that have come up on multiple locations on the Doklam plateau over the past one year. Approximately 150 tents or pre-fab structures have been put up by the Chinese on the Doklam plateau that lists 60-70 vehicles in the area so far.
Construction activities have also been carried out between Sinchal La and Doklam via Assam, suggesting that road construction could be going on simultaneously on multiple locations in an effort to build the road quickly.
In January 2018, several media reports had highlighted massive Chinese construction of a full-fledged military complex near the disputed plateau area. These reports went on to state that the Chinese were preparing themselves for another Doklam style face-off.
Reacting to these reports, Chinese officials had defiantly remarked, “We will keep building infrastructure in Doklam and India has no business to comment on construction activity on Chinese territory.”
During a US Congressional hearing, in June this year, a top US official stated that China had quietly resumed its activities in Doklam. The US official compared Beijing’s actions in the Himalayan region with their manoeuvres in the disputed South China Sea.
Congresswomen Ann Wagner had asked during the hearing, “Although both countries back down, China has quietly resumed its activities in Doklam, and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it. China's activities in the Himalayas remind me of its South China Sea policies. How should our failure to respond to the militarisation of the South China Sea inform the international response to these Himalayan border disputes?”
To this, G Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said, “I would assess that India is vigorously defending its northern borders and this is a subject of concern to India… we're trying to gather likeminded countries who can bring resources to the table, who can coordinate assistance and an effort so as to provide countries with meaningful alternatives.”