Troops of Indian and Chinese security forces are locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff near Bishing in Arunachal Pradesh’s Upper Siang district for close to a week now, sources in the security establishment have confirmed to The New Indian Express.
The standoff began after Indian troops involving the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Indian Army were informed by local villagers that a Chinese road-building team had entered India with bulldozers.
“My friend was driving to a place which lies beyond Tuting. He was stopped by the Army, who said he cannot go further because a standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers is on. The locals there too had confirmed this to my friend,” an Arunachal-based lawyer-activist said.
At least three sources have independently confirmed to TNIE that two dozers have been confiscated. A source in the security establishment said the standoff began before the new year and “is continuing as we speak”.
Another source said, “We do not want to escalate matters and make a Doklam out of it. So the government has asked us not to go public.” He was referring to the 72-day standoff between Indian and Chinese troops at Doklam in Bhutan last year that had escalated tension between the neighbours.
The armies disengaged after China promised to make “necessary adjustments” to their troop deployment, and Indian troops withdrew to their posts in Sikkim.
In a narrative pieced together from sources in Arunachal Pradesh, it is understood that last week, probably around December 28, the Chinese road-building team was spotted by villagers. The team included civilians as well as uniformed personnel.
The villagers informed a local policeman, who in turn alerted the ITBP deployed in Medog, near Bishing. The area is north of the Yarlung Tsangpo river, called Siang in India, after it enters Arunachal in an “S” bend.
The ITBP reached the spot and asked the Chinese to return. There was an exchange of words but the Chinese refused to yield. The Indian Army also sent a patrol to the faceoff site, where it continues to stay.
Though the site is part of the ITBP’s area of responsibility, the Army is heavily deployed in the region. In December 2016, the Army and the Air Force re-activated an Advanced Landing Ground at Tuting where military cargo planes can fly from a short runway. The faceoff site is near the Gelling subdivision.
There are two accounts on the standoff. According to one, the civilians in the road-building team retreated to Chinese territory and the faceoff dissipated. Another account says the standoff is still on and it occasionally involves bargaining over the custody of the dozers. There are more Chinese soldiers now since the road-building party was intercepted.
The district authorities as well as the Arunachal Chief Minister’s office expressed ignorance on the incident. Local MP, Ninong Ering, too, did not have knowledge of the faceoff. “The Army is not letting people go beyond Gelling village, which is the next administrative circle after Tuting town towards the international border,” said the lawyer-activist.
A comparison with Doklam is easy but it is incorrect. This is because Doklam involved a third country, Bhutan. In this case, the standoff is firmly within Indian territory, about 4 km from the McMahon Line.