The Doklam standoff between India and China had put the Trump administration in an awkward position and it was not eager to get embroiled in, especially at a time when it was grappling with North Korea and seeking Beijing’s assistance, an American expert has said. India and China on Monday ended their 73-day standoff in Doklam by withdrawing troops from the area, just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China to attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit. Jeff Smith, research fellow, South Asia, The Heritage Foundation, said that the Trump administration was put in an uncomfortable position by the Doklam crisis. “This was not a dispute they were eager to become embroiled in, particularly at a time that they’re dealing with an increasingly intractable problem in North Korea and seeking China’s assistance on the matter,” he said.
Noting that he has no direct insights into the internal discussions within the Trump administration on the Doklam issue, Smith said, “If you read between the lines the Trump administration’s comments on the dispute, they, like Japan, were de-facto supportive of India’s position.” “If China’s bottom line was a full Indian withdrawal as a precondition for negotiations, by encouraging talks without preconditions the Trump administration was essentially signaling to both parties that it supported Delhi’s approach and ultimately that’s what happened,” said Smith, who had testified before multiple congressional committees.
“Fortunately, despite its maximalist position in public, behind the scenes China was flexible enough to negotiate and ultimately reach a mutually face-saving, sufficiently ambiguous settlement that satisfied both sides’ minimum requirements,” he said. Smith – who has replaced Lisa Curtis, now appointed as Director South Asia National Security Council, White House – said in many ways India showed China and the world that it took the high road, spoke softly, and carried a big stick. “India clearly articulated its goals and it achieved those goals,” he said, adding that China has been very successful in gray zone coercion tactics in the South China Sea and elsewhere. According to Smith, whoever was advising the Chinese government and proposed that strategy failed to account for India’s resolve on the matter. “I think there will be a period of review and reassessment in Beijing; an effort to find out what went wrong,” he added.