Detachments from two of the world's most powerful militaries are currently facing off, reportedly just yards from each other in a tense, weeks-long stare down known to one side as the "Doklam standoff."
The ordeal, which has received relatively little attention in the West, is playing out in the Himalayas between China and India, with the tiny, India-friendly nation of Bhutan caught in the middle.
The Chinese, Indian and Bhutanese foreign ministries have each released several statements arguing over who is in the wrong in what is essentially a border dispute, but they agree that the trouble started in mid-June over a road.
On June 16, Chinese troops in Doklam, a small area where China, India and Bhutan meet also known as Donglang or Doka La, began construction of a road in what the Chinese government says was the "Chinese side of the Sikkim Sector of the China-India boundary." The point of the road, according to China's Foreign Ministry was to "improv[e] the local transportation and facilitat[e] local herdsmen's grazing of livestock and border troops patrolling."
"It is normal activity of China in its own territory which is completely lawful and legitimate," the ministry said.
Bhutan, however, says the road was being built in Bhutanese territory and in violation of longstanding agreements that say that at the very least, they and China side promise to refrain from changing the "status quo" in the boundary area with unilateral actions.
India, which sided with Bhutan, issued a lengthier statement describing how a Bhutanese military patrol "attempted to dissuade" the Chinese military group from building the road. Indian "personnel" who happened to be in the area also "approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist from changing the status quo," the statement says.
The Chinese say that on June 18 an Indian detachment of "over 270 Indian border troops, carrying weapons and riving two bulldozers," crossed 100 meters in what they say is Chinese territory.
This week, more than six weeks later, little has changed except for another smattering of statements from China and India with renewed complaints. Thursday the Chinese government said that 48 Indian border troops and one bulldozer remain "illegally" in Chinese territory and "there are still a large number of Indian armed forces congregating on the boundary and on the Indian side of the boundary."
Today the lead story in China's state-run news outlet Xinhua, headlined "Why China cannot back down in the Doklam standoff," said that China did not change the status quo and said the "only solution" to the impasse is the "unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from the region."
In a statement Thursday, Indian External Affairs Minister Rajya Sabha said, "India always believes that peace and tranquility in the India-China border is an important pre-requisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations. We will continue to engage with the Chinese side through diplomatic channels to find a mutually acceptable solution... between our leaders."
"The Indian side is always keeping 'peace' on the tip of its tongue," retorted Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang, "but we should not only listen to its words but also heed its deeds."
Prof. Zhang Li, an expert on India at Sichuan University in southwest China, told The New York Times, “We can’t totally rule out a limited military conflict if things get out of control. But for now the chances are slight. Both sides are still looking for a diplomatic solution.”
Primary Source: Indian Foreign Ministry Summary (June 30)
Primary Source: Chinese Foreign Ministry Summary (Aug. 3)
Primary Source: Bhutan Foreign Ministry Statement (June 29)