With both India and China confirming the decision of mutual disengagement from Doklam, the more than two-month old military stand-off between the two most powerful nuclear Asian neighbours has been peacefully resolved. Undoubtedly, it is a diplomatic, political and strategic victory for India, the credit must go to the leadership of both countries for sending a powerful message to the international community that diplomacy is the best tool for resolving mutual differences. India’s assertion that every difference need not be turned into a dispute has been realised and accepted by the Chinese as well. The example set by both the neighbours will have a significant impact in the international arena.
Indian leadership and the diplomatic corps deserves credit for maintaining a steadfast stand during the entire crisis despite grave provocations.
“In recent weeks, India and China maintained diplomatic communication in respect of incident at Doklam. We were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests. On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going,” read the MEA statement. India and China have been at loggerheads for over two months over the stated dispute. The Indian diplomats have succeeded in restoring peace through negotiations, a big tribute to Indian diplomacy and a big setback to the war-mongers.
Indian leadership and the diplomatic corps deserves credit for maintaining a steadfast stand during the entire crisis despite grave provocations. The Chinese tried their best to bulldoze their way through coercion, threats and other elements of Asymmetric Warfare. The psychological warfare was mounted with full gusto. The state controlled Chinese media and the propaganda wing of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) played a significant role in drumming up the war hysteria. China had been insisting on withdrawal of Indian troops as a pre-condition for any dialogue or negotiations. India stood firm on its stand of simultaneous withdrawal by both sides.
China had adopted a very rigid stance on the issue. It had gone too far in provoking India but the calm and cool displayed by the Indian leadership further unnerved the Chinese who in their effort to bully India went to the extent of threatening a war, interference in Kashmir and promoting insurgencies but the Indians remained unruffled and insisted on resolving the issue through dialogue. China even went to the extent of condemning Japan, which made pro-India pronouncements appreciating the Indian stand. Now that the Chinese have submitted to the Indian will, it displays their strategic maturity because only a very well planned exit strategy would have enabled them to announce the mutual withdrawal of forces from the disputed territory.
The Indian diplomatic victory in Doklam will enhance the image of India among its neighbours and other friendly countries who will start viewing India as a truly dependable friend/ally.
It is not very clear as yet if the Chinese have agreed to discontinue with the road construction, the major bone of contention. If the initial reports confirming the Chinese abandonment of the road construction are true then it is a major strategic victory for India too. Though, Doklam is in Bhutanese territory India can ill afford to bargain the strategic advantage it enjoys in the area. The Indian diplomatic victory in Doklam will enhance the image of India among its neighbours and other friendly countries who will start viewing India as a truly dependable friend/ally.
The reasons that may have forced a change in the Chinese stance are in the realm of speculation only. But the obvious ones include Chinese realisation that PLA was not fully trained for a war. PLA is undergoing large scale reforms and reorganisation including purging of senior officers. The PLA thus is in a state of flux and the Chinese leadership was not very confident of its war fighting capabilities particularly of its Air Force and Navy. Xi Ping could hardly afford a military debacle particularly when he was not on a firm wicket domestically and the clouds of forthcoming 19th party Congress in October were hovering overhead.
The Chinese leadership also conceded to the fact that India enjoyed both geographic and strategic advantage in the area of dispute. The onset of the winters was also on the horizon and life on the plateau during these months is a nightmare. Once again the Chinese troops deployed in the open were disposed in a state of disadvantage viz a viz the Indian troops. China could ill afford to open a front in any other sector because it would have been labelled as an aggressor, a title China can ill afford keeping in mind its international ambitions. Though there is a huge gap in the balance of trade between the two countries, certain economic measures initiated by India also had a positive impact on the Chinese change of heart.
The firmness shown by Bhutan and the astute leadership displayed by the Bhutanese royalty (both the present King and his father His Royal Highness Jigme Singye Wangchuck) also deserves to be highlighted.
China historically is known to follow the policy of “teaching a lesson” to its adversaries and weaker neighbours. These are the few questions Indian planners and policy makers will have to keep at the back of their minds…
Another major factor playing on the mind of the Chinese leadership was the forthcoming BRICS summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen in first week of September. In a deft diplomatic move, India did not confirm the attendance or otherwise of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. China could ill afford the absence of Indian Premier in the summit because of the overhang of Doklam. The Indian boycott coming close to the heels of the boycott of the Belt Road Initiative summit would have severely dented the image of Xi Jin Ping, as a leader of international repute. It was therefore keen for early resolution of the issue and the same would have been adequately factored in the exit strategy planned by China.
Now that the issue has been resolved before the summit there is hardly any doubt in the presence of Narendra Modi. The summit meeting will now be held in a friendly atmosphere and is likely that the leadership of both countries may discuss the measures for resolution of the border dispute. It is a well-known fact that unlike his predecessors who believed in ‘leaving the matter for future generations to resolve’, Xi Jin Ping is keen for early resolution of the border dispute between the two giant neighbours. There are also reports that the Russian President Valdimir Putin has evinced keen interest in resolution of the boundary dispute between the two competing neighbours. A positive impact of the Doklam standoff and the resolute Indian stand is that China will be very careful in dealing with India during future negotiations on the boundary dispute.
Whatever may have been the compulsions and despite the fact that in the end the Chinese have displayed maturity in resolving the standoff, internationally it would be viewed as a climb down by China. China is known not to eat a humble pie so easily. Will this be viewed as erosion of China’s authority in the region and will China accept it? The message that goes to smaller countries is that China might not back its threats with substantial action. Will China be ready to live with this shame and accept virtual derecognition as the sole major power in Asia and accept India’s challenge as a growing regional power and its competitor in the region? Will it encourage the smaller countries to start looking into the eyes of China to withstand its bullying tactics and will China be willing to accept this humiliation?
China historically is known to follow the policy of “teaching a lesson” to its adversaries and weaker neighbours. These are the few questions Indian planners and policy makers will have to keep at the back of their minds and ensure that India does not become complacent. India must relentlessly continue on its mission of capacity and capability building against China. We have to match China both in logistics infrastructure and asymmetric warfare capabilities. It would be appropriate to quote Gen Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Army Staff, “The recent stand-off in the Doklam plateau by the Chinese side attempting to change the status quo are issues which we need to be wary about, and I think such kind of incidents are likely to increase in the future.” It would be true pre-mature to comment on China’s intent but going by the past experience India can ill afford to let her guard down. Meanwhile, China will continue to keep needling India through its proxy and ever willing conspirator against India ,i.e., Pakistan.