Leveraged Transactional Diplomacy (LTD) can resolve the Doklam Stand off
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By VBN Ram
Issue Net Edition | Date : 27 Jul , 2017

There is no gainsaying, that in modern warfare, a military confrontation between two militarily unequal nations, does not always result in the defeat of the weaker nation, though, in all likelihood, that is what would normally follow. Therefore, nations have progressively begun to invest a greater share of their GDP on defence. A weapon equally potent to challenge an adversary, is diplomatic clout, or, what analysts term as “leveraged transactional diplomacy” (LTD) One of the best practitioners of LTD was Henry Kissinger.

The best example of LTD relates to the episode when Fang Lizhi a physicist, who was a liberal Chinese dissident was forced to seek political asylum along with his wife in the US Embassy in Beijing. This couple found wide spread sympathy in US’ political establishment and among many Americans. There was growing awareness in the US that this couple would incur enough wrath from the State to arrest them for life, or even execute them. This is where Kissinger played his master stroke. He struck a Beijing friendly deal, which made it more palatable for it to agree to facilitate the couple’s exile to the US. The terms of the deal were as follows:

  • Beijing would allow Fang and his wife to leave for the US
  • US would make explicit announcements that it would lift sanctions on China
  • The two sides would agree on one or two big economic projects
  • Finally, Jiang Zemin would be extended an official invitation to visit the US. 1

As far as lifting of sanctions was concerned, this was already being planned by the US, since the latter could not have begun major bilateral commercial ties-which it was desirous of, while Beijing was under US sanctions. As it happened the Chinese were also interested in one or two major economic deals with the US.

Jaing Zemin the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China was convinced that an official visit by him to US would enhance Chinese global prestige. As far as the US was concerned, its political clout, or LTD would render the Fang Lizhi couple’s permanent exit to the US from China, an unprecedented diplomatic benchmark. (Would any nation allow a dissident to be freed, that too when the exiled is bound for a liberal democracy like the US, where the freed person can vent anti-China feelings)1

Seven months after the pro-democracy protests the Chinese Prime-Minister Li Peng announced the lifting of Martial Law in 1990 and released 573 people who had been detained in connection with the protests in Beijing.

Cuban Missile Crisis:

The second classical illustration of LTD pertains to the Cuban missile crisis. The USSR had installed missiles in Cuba which were posing an imminent threat to the US –the US had taken retaliatory action through a naval blockade of Cuba and by installing missiles in Turkey –which could easily target many vulnerable points in the erstwhile USSR. On Sept 27, 1962 the then Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev leveraged the Cuban threat to the US (because of the Russian missiles) by making the US to accede to the withdrawal of US missiles from Turkey. Even though Russia’s withdrawal of missiles from Cuba had upset Fidel Castro, the collateral benefits of the US-USSR initiatives in this regard were of global significance. More specifically, both the US and USSR actively got engaged working towards non-proliferation and agreed to put to an end to over ground testing of nuclear weapons.

However, LTD will not be effective when the respective peoples of the two antagonized nations have nothing, whatsoever, to bring them on a common platform (people to people contact) People in China, for example, suspect the credibility of the official media, because the latter has on many occasions been detrimental to their interests, as often happens in a totalitarian State. In fact, there is an enormous amount of revulsion the grass-roots people have against the authoritarian State. The official media suppresses people’s free expression, therefore the latter have no alternative but to discreetly went their views on social media platforms such as Sina Weibo (the Chinese Twitter)

LTD will be severely hampered for a nation, whose people, or media, both mainstream and social, resort to senseless rhetoric, or, jingoistic belligerence. For example one reputed newspaper published on July 22, 2017, an article by an analyst captioned “Doklam issue : India must be ready to give China a real bloody nose”

Even if India is indeed working towards the above objective, there is no need to make information dissemination vehicles make hubristic broadcasts of the same. How then are we different from the official Chinese media (with its anti-India rhetoric) which we out rightly condemn. Discretion is always the better part of valour. This makes sense at a time when the international community is just about beginning to realize that China is bullying a tiny Bhutan.

People to People contacts:

That the people of China have nothing against the people of India, is easily manifest in the popularity of Hindi films in that country, particularly Aamir Khan produced popular box office hits such as ‘Three Idiots’ or ‘Dabang’ among others. That the stand-off in Doklam didn’t figure among the top 50 trending topics on July 22, 2017 on Sina Weibo, as an illustration, goes to show that despite an anti-India blitzkrieg by Chinese official media –a vast majority of the Chinese people do not nurture the extent of anti-India ill will, Beijing projects.

Henry Kissinger in his magnum opus Henry Kissinger on China has given many examples of how People’s Republic of China has successfully kowtowed many of its adversaries merely by adopting psychological threats to over-awe them. According to Kissinger even as early as 1954-1958 when the Taiwan Strait Crisis occurred, or during China’s conflict with the Soviets along the Ussuri River in 1969-1971, or during the Sino-Vietnam War of 1979, the feature of a sudden blow was quickly followed by a political phase. Having restored the psychological equation in Chinese eyes, genuine deterrence had been achieved.2

Any nation which aspires to be reckoned as a power capable of punching well above its weight knows the worth of LTD.

What should India’s Pragmatic approach be:

The best thing India did was not to join the OROB project. Why Should India compromise on its sovereignty. We have to seek recourse to LTD and in this regard we have the following aces up our sleeve.

  • Enormous trading ties which we can use to our advantage
  • China can’t overlook the economic and geostrategic importance of India, which is China’s most powerful neighbour.

It is really unfortunate that China has chosen to forget history. It was India which recommended China to be made a member of the UNSC, at a time when in the 1950’s the American President Dwight W Eisenhower was reluctant to buy the proposal.


  1. Henry Kissinger on China (page 428)
  2. Henry Kissinger on China (page 133)
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author


Postgraduate in business management from XLRI Jamshedpur, is widely travelled and immensely interested in and concerned about contemporary geostrategic developments. He has been a China watcher and has researched extensively on Asia-Pacific affairs. He has also written on developments in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Maldives.

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