Doklam standoff: China is trying – very hard at that too – to intimidate India. From reminding India about the outcome of the 1962 war to warning of military consequences, China is getting aggressive by the day. Alas, to no result! India has not budged and China is poleaxed, feel foreign and strategic affairs experts. That China is used to bullying its way around in its neighbourhood is no secret. For China, India was no exception to its rule. Yet India has not bowed to its neighbour’s wishes on the Doklam standoff.
India and China have been involved in an over 50-day long face-off in the Doklam region of Bhutan. China wants to construct a road in that region, but Bhutan has reportedly protested against it. China on its part claims that Doklam falls under its territory. India’s troops have been stationed in Doklam after Bhutan reportedly sought help. Experts believe that it is in India’s strategic interest as well to stop China from building roads in the region since they can be used to isolate the crucial Siliguri corridor. China is surprised because it didn’t expect India to stick to its resolve for so long, say experts. But, why has its unprecedented psychological warfare failed to yield results till now?
Psychological warfare falls flat
“India, under PM Narendra Modi, has shown strategic resolve to stand firm and deter China’s barrage of threats,” says Sreeram Chaulia, a renowned strategic affairs expert and the author of Modi Doctrine. “China has to realise that India is no Philippines or Vietnam. We will not be brow-beaten by China and its warmongering,” Chaulia tells FE Online.
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Jagannath P Panda, Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses believes that China has been “taken aback by India’s decision not to allow the PLA to construct the road in Doklam. Such an Indian move is a surprise setback for the PLA and Chinese leadership”. “India’s bold and decisive policy with regards to the issue is not acceptable to the decision-makers in China since Beijing always treated India as a junior partner,” Panda tells FE Online.
According to Harsh V Pant, “India doesn’t have an alternative but to protect its strategic interests (Siliguri corridor) in the Doklam standoff”. “China has violated the tripartite agreement with India and Bhutan. They are trying to create facts on the ground,” Pant, Distinguished Fellow and Head Strategic Studies at ORF tells FE Online. Calling China’s behaviour “perplexing”, Pant says that India’s neighbour has indulged in “vicious and unprecedented warmongering” through its media. “It (China) assumed that India would back off after all these threats, but India has stood its ground. A series of factors have added to China’s ire; India’s invitation to Taiwan, Dalai Lama’s growing visibility here and the successful meeting between Modi and Trump,” he says.
China is seething – what’s the solution?
India has little to gain by withdrawing unilaterally from Doklam, says Pant of ORF. “The strategic resolve of the current Indian government has hurt China’s ego. For China, Doklam has now become a prestige issue, especially because it comes close to the Communist Party Congress. But it has little room to convince India to withdraw – it has hardened its stance further on issues such as NSG and Masood Azhar. Why would India then withdraw if it has little to gain from doing so?”
So, is a war on the cards? Chaulia is of the view that China is unlikely to escalate the matter to a military skirmish. “They would stand to lose as well. In Doklam, the scales are fairly balanced when it comes to a fight, so China wouldn’t like to risk losing its soldiers either. Going ahead, I think both China and India will withdraw, with the former stopping construction of motorable roads. In that sense we may see a victory of sorts for India,” he says.
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The solution to the Doklam standoff will most probably be found through the diplomatic route, Jagannath Panda of IDSA states. “In the coming weeks with the BRICS Summit and China’s Communist Party Congress looming. China requires India’s partnership on a range of regional and global multilateral issues, hence, the leadership in Beijing wouldn’t like to engage in a long confrontation with India,” he opines.
Lesson for India and China – no room for complacency
The Doklam standoff, Jagannath Panda feels, will be a game-changer in China’s foreign policy towards India. “I believe that India has taken a very wise decision not to leave Doklam plateau, despite China’s continued threats. This exemplifies the foreign policy posture and it will force China to rethink its foreign policy approach towards India in the longer run,” he says adding that the leadership in China will also take greater cognizance of India’s foreign policy moves in the region.
But, China is known for its tit-for-tat policy. Even if both the countries decide to mutually withdraw from Doklam, China may try to step up incursions along the LAC. This means that India cannot afford to be complacent and caught napping! “India is vulnerable along the over 4,000 km long LAC,” says Chaulia. “The Doklam standoff should be a wake-up call for India to step up the pace of building border infrastructure,” he cautions. “Additionally, we should put in all efforts to hasten the speed of raising the second division of Mountain Strike Corps. These will provide India with the necessary offensive capability so that China would think twice before crossing over,” he concludes.