At the epicenter of the growing crisis is the Doklam plateau, which sits at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan, near the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim. In June, the Bhutanese army objected to the Chinese constructing a road in territory that it says is within its sovereignty. It asked the Indian military for help to resist the Chinese aggression, and Indian troops moved into the construction area in Bhutan. India says China has violated an agreed-upon status quo and is in violation of a 2012 boundary agreement. Beijing has referenced a much earlier colonial treaty signed between Great Britain and China. The Indian military maintains a permanent training presence in Bhutan; its current king was a graduate of the National Defense College in Delhi. China, for its part, has for years wanted full diplomatic ties with Bhutan.
But still, Bhutan may simply be a decoy for a bigger play: Who will lead Asia?
“The larger battle is essentially about strategic competition for geopolitical space and influence in Asia between India and China,” said Nirupama Rao, who served as India’s ambassador to China and retired as the government’s top-ranking diplomatic official.