Doklam has set a benchmark for Sino-India relations for the future
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 19 Oct , 2017

It has been unable to digest the rebuff dealt by Bhutan, which has consistently rejected its proposals. It is possible that the entire episode was based on its assessment that Bhutan will succumb to the pressure and vie for peace by offering a proposal for establishing diplomatic relations with China. It is also possible that China wanted to test the strength of the Indo-Bhutan Treaty by hitting at a point which did not violate the Indian Territory but only the Bhutanese region, though seriously impinging upon the strategic interests of India in a crucial sector. If this was the Chinese game plan, it got the message loud and clear; India will not accept any violation of Bhutanese territory, no matter what the cost.

Doklam has proved to the world in general and China in particular, that Bhutan is firmly in the inner circle of India’s strategic imperatives and its net security provider.

Had Bhutan succumbed to the Chinese game-plan and reached an agreement with China, it would have created dangerous geo-strategic precedent for both. China would then go to town, declaring that it has resolved the boundary problem with every State in the south, across the Himalayas, and it was only India which was not keen on doing so. This would have also created a serious trust deficit between Bhutan and India, which would have proved too costly for both the States.

It has been said that Chinese incursion at Doklam was essentially to pay back India for the latter’s refusal to attend the ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’ Conference in Beijing, which was attended by every country except India. India clearly had good reasons to avoid the meet as the show-piece of the BRI, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), runs through Gigit-Baltistan and PoK, both regions forming part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, which had acceded to India on 26 October, 1947, and is illegally under Pakistan’s occupation. Had India attended the Beijing conclave, it would have legitimized the illegal occupation of India territory by both China and Pakistan.

Chinese strong man, Xi Jing Ping has, of late, consolidated his position in the Chinese hierarchy. Today, he controls all the three wings which control China, bureaucracy, party and the PLA (as Chairman of the Central Military Commission). With the 19th Conference of the Communist Party of China scheduled from 19 Oct, 2017, Xi is trying to project the image of a strong patriot, willing to take risks in order to further China’s strategic interests. This would help him consolidate his position further and become all powerful before the actual conference took place, thus permitting him to make necessary changes in the powerful politbureau, where the next line of Chinese leadership will be selected.

However, this appears to be far-fetched as even without the show of force at Doklam, there appeared little resistance to Xi’s ambitious plans to further consolidate his position in China’s power structure.

It was also surmised that with BRICS Summit round the corner, a favourable outcome at Doklam would enhance Xi’s stature and at the same time, deal a severe blow to the image of India’s P.M. Narendra Modi, Xi’s obvious competitor in Asia. However, as the Doklam narrative did not go as planned, Xi decided to cut his losses and save the BRICS Summit. Even more surprising was a complete volte face by China, which joined other members to pass a resolution on terrorism, specifically mentioning terror organizations being provided shelter on its soil by Pakistan, China’s iron friend.

China’s Central Military Commission in 2003 formulated ‘Three Warfare Strategy’ which envisaged preparing the PLA to fight a modern war not just on ground but also in the realm of overall ability of its forces to influence public opinion, multilateral agencies and addressing the legal aspects of any war that PLA might have to fight. This strategy was refined in 2010, to include Media, psychological and legal warfare.

If one were to relate this strategy to Doklam, one would see a deliberate plan of the PLA to test its own ability while executing the above three dimensions of warfare. They tried every trick in the book to weaken Indian forces psychologically; their diplomatic offensive aimed at isolating India at the international level by aggressively telling the world that India was unnecessarily intruding into ‘what was matter to be essentially resolved between China and Bhutan’, was directed at influencing the world opinion on legal issues of the conflict. However, it was their use of the media which proved to be their undoing. Whereas India was circumspect, China went ballistic.

The standoff, having come in the background of China’s belligerence in South China Sea, and its obstructionist and obdurate stand on India becoming a member of the NSG and designating Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish e Mohamad as an international terrorist, robbed China of much of international support. Japan went to the extent of coming out openly in favour of Indian stand. The international community’s assessment that whereas China is an aggressive bully, India is a net security provider got a further boost and helped India gather much quiet support in the international community during the standoff. China failed to project India as an intruder. Besides Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, Philipines, Singapore and some other countries in the Asia-Pacific region gave their quiet support to India.

It must, however, be said to the Chinese credit that once they realised that they were on a weak wicket, they did not stand on ceremony nor did they let false pride come in their way. They cut down on their aggressive rhetoric, thereby allowing behind-the-scene negotiations to bear fruit. After the standoff had receded to the background, China came out strongly against its hawkish elements for their belligerent stand.

Maj General Qiao Liang, a strategist and a serving officer of PLA, while addressing such elements within China, wrote in Global Times, “China and India are both neighbours and competitors, but not all competitors must be treated in the toughest way. Doklam confrontation was solved in the way it should have been….we should spare no effort to avoid pushing the country into a war as peace is the best outcome.” It is noteworthy to mention that during the entire Doklam crises, it was for the first time that PLA spoke about avoiding war.

Speaking about the Chinese compulsions of building a road, which created the crises in the first place, Maj Gen Qiao Liang further wrote, “ Many people would say that road construction in China’s territory was none of India’s business. Is this belief right? It is reasonable to some extent because road construction in this area is not matter of right or wrong, because we need to understand that it is not always right to do something right at any time. Only doing the right thing at the right time is correct.”

He even criticised those within the Communist Party who hawkishly recommend China using its enormous military strength to achieve a dominant position. Gen Qia, while addressing these elements wrote, “Many people think that….. Only war can demonstrate China’s power. But resorting to war is irresponsible….Whenever there may be a way to solve a conflict without war, war should be avoided.”

Ever since independence, India diplomacy has had a chequered history of ‘hits and misses’. Doklam can certainly be termed as their moment of glory, for India avoided war, stood its ground, did not yield to threats and show of force and yet ensured that its original objective (preventing China from constructing a road and changing the status of existing Tri-junction) was achieved without a bullet being fired, and more importantly, taking China on board as far as BRICS declaration, made a few days later, was concerned.

Doklam has set a bench mark for Sino-India relations for the future; the status quo on LoAC cannot be changed unilaterally by use or threat of use of force. The ending of the Doklam standoff is no guarantee that China will not resort to such tactics in future. India has at best postponed the crises and at worst got a few months reprieve. For far too long has India neglected the development of infrastructure on the Indo-Tibetan border, whereas, since early eighties, China has put in enormous resources in developing its military capabilities in Tibetan Plateau which directly threatens India. Therefore, India must make use of this opportunity to strengthen its defences, build roads and forward landing fields so that force levels can be built up in a short span of time as and when any emergency arises.

India must also make it abundantly clear to China that both countries cannot afford war. Therefore, it is in their interests to resolve the boundary question. After all, India-China annual trade runs to a huge 72 billion dollars, with India running a big trade deficit. With India growing at an average of 6 to 7 % annually, China has a big chance to invest in India and be a valued partner in its growth. Therefore, it is in the interests of both the countries to shun war and embrace peace.

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One thought on “Doklam has set a benchmark for Sino-India relations for the future

  1. No sir, Col. Tikoo, the Doklam confrontation is not yet the bench mark. Chinese generals in Tibet are out of control. They time their confrontation just when an important visit is about to happen. Whether they are directed by the highest political circles are not, we would never know.

    What these impossible, out of control generals need is avenue 3300another confrontation elsewhere. Whether it indulged in shooting war or just firing from the mouth, is not of any consequence. What they need to know is that India is not ready to back down.

    Everytime this type of confrontation happens and India does not back down, Chinese stature is dismissed and that is what Chinese political leadership does not want. Without an another one, they will continue to pretend invincibility.

    Then only the generals of Tibet will be transferred or disgraced. Until that happens, the Communist politburo will continue to encourage. It should be remembered that President XI is not fully in control of the Army. Some other members are behind the generals outburst at the border.

    President Xi may get full control of the Army after October meet of the Communist Party, still it will take him a year or two to fully establish himself Like Mao Tse Tung or Deng. Until then a message has to be delivered to the PLA that India is ready.

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