It took hectic negotiations, smart silent diplomacy, some cajoling and some coaxing to bring China to understand what’s best for it on Doklam standoff. India played the Chinese Checkers this time differently to the Dragon’s surprise. The ‘expeditious disengagement’ from India’s side came promptly as China took some time, matter of hours, to finally announce that it would withdraw its forces and road building equipment from the Doklam site. Good enough for us.
Armed with a major diplomatic victory, it catapulted as a face saver for China forseeing its 19th Congress session that holds the key to Xi Jinping’s existence and importance for the next five year term as also pacifying the hawks within the system and the nation. So the boundaries now remain status quo as India retains its position at the ridge top overlooking Doklam bowl. The foreign policy played safe and swift.
Notwithstanding the tiff having international and regional ramifications translating into credibility yardsticks, China’s neighborhood policy has already pitched the country as an enemy nation. Otherwise too a potentially dangerous and threatening future looms large with China’s intentions of creating territorial tensions and conflicts, as a manifestation of its DNA. Its coercive adamancy in South China Sea, its inimical designs for Japan and South Korea vis a vis North, antagonistic overtures to India and tiny nations of South Asia directly and indirectly including playing with Nepal’s fears of Indian aggression, its fomenting Pakistan’s anti India adventures, its Tibet and Taiwan ownership, are all but few signs of a nation’s hegemonistic myopia.
A lot would have been at stake, both men and material as business and bilateral, if the standoff had turned sour and tipped. Grim war rhetoric between the two Asian giants that are nuclear armed had worsened and bleaked the prospects of an irenic outcome. If we went by what China wanted we needed to vacate the Doklam area which belongs to them as against Bhutanese claims. Doklam, or as the Chinese call it Donglang, is the trijunction on Bhutan-India-China border. In the OBOR outreach China was caught on the wrong foot constructing road across the Bhutanese border that is of high strategic value for India giving it an edge at peeping at our chicken neck juncture.
Despite both India and China flexing their muscles over boundary issues, China’s ambitious initiative of One Belt One Road, a multilayered project aimed at far reaching expansionist designs smartly crafted, is germane to it. Its impressive economics are equally justifiable.
Emboldened by its belligerent advances in the South China sea and a fairly successful One China Policy, China assumed its unhindered passage through Bhutanese territory would have been a cake walk. At stake Bhutanese and Indian strategic and security interests, the retaliation by India in terms of troops build up in Doklam was a blow to Chinese grand design of engulfing the South Asian region bit by bit.
It was not just the matter of India being in pact with Bhutan over being a security guarantor, our concern articulated a larger hemisphere of the challenge it poses to India’s sovergnity. Incidentally events like these take years to finally come to resolve. And considering the fact that the Chinese Congress is due later half of this year the standoff was expected to prolong. Ineluctably domestic politics is something that no nation can overlook. Historically Wangdung in the eastern sector took 1986 to 1992 to be resolved. Sumdrochung stand-off continued for nearly a decade before there was an agreed mutual withdrawal. Ever since Tibet in 1960 it was always a militarized relationship between the two Asian giants although since Sikkim integration this kind of public spatting had not been seen like the present one on Doklam.
The Chinese chose to change the status quo this year when the season came. Ostensibly there’s no legal argument that they were pursuing on where the trijunction is, neither was there any possibility of a huge military gain for them right now. They were also well aware of India’s hefty presence with a fair amount of dominance, so there had to be some other gain.
Interestingly China is a nation in a hurry. Its vision of being at the top emanates from its obsessed nationalism and its history of colonialism. The fous et origen of China’s expansionist misadventures mirrors its sense of insecurity and so as a policy, nationalism thus becomes a crucial element in legitimizing Communist party rule.
The sloganeering of ‘China Dream’ by Xi leverages Chinese nationalism directly to the nation’s economic prosperity and globalization. Be it OBOR, One China Policy, South China Sea or China Dream, all are manifestations of the same simmering aspiration. BRI other than connectivity is anchored in China’s domestic as well as foreign policy. Additionally it also addresses the problem of overcapacity of its domestic market giving Beijing a seamless opportunity to spread its political influence along with global dominance aggressively.
As an analyst rightly put it China suffers from what Luttwak, a US strategy Expert, called ‘Great Power Autism’. Something that leaves the power insensitive to others concerns, which is what is happening to Chinese diplomacy. The hurry to become ‘the’ world power, (which it will be in future with the collapsing west), can be attributed to the fact of the expediency of its rise, accumulation of much hard power and its ascendency to power on the international stage. Characteristically Chinese are also apprehensive because they are not used to it and so not sure of it. Their moment of strategic opportunities, for them is ‘now’ when their relative power is probably the highest, maybe the highest it will be. Multiple factors like demography, their apprehension of a strategic push back, the power’s non feasibility, that they might grow old before they grow rich, ecology, the fear of not being able to sustain what they have achieved so far, how will their society absorb it, then where do they go, seem to be a cause of anxious worry to them. What they have achieved in such a short span of time is incredible and also the reason of their arrogance. The logical outcome then will be counterbalancing.
Again media plays a major role in propagating political decisions and building up phony war rhetoric. In China like in all communist countries media is not free. Everything is official and have their assigned functions. Global Times is like their pitbull, to make sure that China news gets everywhere with big noises. People’s Daily and Xinhua articulate what is being told by the parties to their cadres and so more realistic. What has changed is, Chinese signaling has shifted. They have realized the larger utility of creating noise to the people and social media has played a pivotal role in this direction. The one constant is the psychological pressure tactics used by them on other countries to fulfill their agenda. Noticeably Doklam standoff was no issue for Chinese media including their social media. It’s the US North Korea engagements that is sending jitters to the press and people more than their southern borders.
As per Defence sources China would never risk an allout war in the Doklam area as it is well aware of its disadvantageous position at Sikkim Bhutan China trijunction. As a policy by needling in Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh and Barahoti in Himachal it was ratchting up pressure to unilaterally withdraw. By standing by Thimpu in the case of Chinese interception, India has been successful in sending a terse message across. Seen in the larger context it is this challenge of authority that was irking China.
On home turf China is in a churn. Politically President Jinping is to face the nintheenth Congress to establish himself and consolidate power, economically China is not doing too well and militarily it is undergoing the greatest reformation and is not in a state of readiness to fight a war. Xi on the other hand has pitched himself to his people as someone who positions himself with Trump. As opposed to Trump he has vouched for globalization and climate change, taken firm stands on SCS and OBOR to impress upon his constituency. Internationally China is under great pressure from US to bring North Korea under control with whom China has immense and robust trade relations. US has threatened sanctions on China if it does not make Pyongyang fall in line. China is already messed up in South China Sea.
As for Bhutan China relations China does not have an embassy in Thimpu which China is trying hard for negotiating bilateral issues. Chinese have to dish out 250 dollars in advance to enter Bhutan as opposed to free entry of Indians in the Himalayan state. But Bhutan is well aware that once China comes into Bhutan it will not be the same. Despite China having made so much noise on Doklam, India chose to stay away from the bellicose rhetoric. Refusing to playing in their hands, India’s quiet diplomacy worked to our advantage. It also helped in reigning in worsening of the war mongering accompanied with media flare ups. Our restrained reaction kept the Chinese guessing too, blunting their war of perception to comatose.
As sources say, technically no trijunction issues with China are in a condition of resolution till the entire LAC of 4,057 km is sorted out, it was only diplomacy of the smartest kind that has taken the fizz out of China’s threatening posture. The fact being India is in a commanding position in this 89 sq kilometer area, China was testing India to buckle in. Noticably neither did President Xi Jinping mention Doklam in his address on August 1 nor did PM Modi talk of it in his ID day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Doklam standoff messaging is loud and clear. India is a responsible and bankable power and no power should mess with it. Respecting each others territorial and sovereign integrity, is the mantra to coexist and prosper.