Amid the ongoing standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Doklam area of Sikkim sector, India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval is in Beijing to attend a BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa — security summit. Over a month-long standoff has brought India-China relationship to a new low with free-flow of barbs from Beijing against India. China has asked India to withdraw unconditionally to bring normalcy to the relations. New Delhi has, however, refused to cow down in the face of the aggressive Chinese threat.
Doklam is a strategically important region for India. The standoff started when the Chinese soldiers tried to build a road in the region, which would have given China an easy access to India’s north-east. Officials on both sides were tight-lipped on Wednesday about Doval’s expected meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the two-day summit. It is expected that the two would discuss Sikkim standoff if they meet. Earlier this week, China’s state daily Global Times had, however, warned that India should not pin hopes on Doval’s visit to resolve the border standoff.
As there seems to be no end to Sikkim standoff soon, can Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Indian government do something dramatic to ease the tensions between the two countries.
According to Ashok Kantha, a former Indian ambassador to China, nothing dramatic should be expected. “I don’t think so. We are doing the right thing by handling the issue in a sober, measured manner,” Kantha was quoted as saying in an interview published by The Indian Express on Wednesday.
Kantha said India cannot withdraw “unilaterally” because the country has “very important stakes” in the region. “We can withdraw only if China heeds Bhutan’s request and restores status quo ante. Patient and painstaking efforts will be called for on our part. This is not something that will happen through a high profile or dramatic move on either side,” he said.
The former diplomat stressed on the need of talks and diplomacy to ease off the crisis. “Quiet diplomacy and quiet talks are required, first to lower the temperature, then to de-escalate the ground situation, achieve termination of the standoff, and eventually the problem,” he said.
However, Neville Maxwell, an international journalist who has reported on India-China for decades, said past Indian governments after Nehru didn’t try to open negotiations for the settlement of boundary disputes with China for fear of domestic resentment.
“So deeply has the toxic myth of “unprovoked Chinese aggression” bitten into mass consciousness in India, so convinced is the public that the desolate area of Aksai Chin is as much Indian territory as is Connaught Circus, that even Mr Modi would risk sinking his own popularity if he agreed to border negotiations,” Maxwell told The Indian Express.
The veteran journalist claimed there is “strong pressure” on India from Washington to “do no such thing”. “Indian hostility towards China can be one of the strongest cards in the American hand and is to be nurtured by all means.”
For Modi, it would require an “extraordinary act of political courage” to undertake a “policy reversal”, Maxwell said. The journalist, who covered 1962 war for The Time, also shared the example of Mikhail Gorbachev, who in a speech in Vladivostok in 1986 had signaled that the Soviet Union was ready to drop “no negotiation” position against China and Beijing had responded immediately.
“The result would be the same if Mr Modi dared, with the great geopolitical prize of cordial Sino-Indian relations — not to mention a Nobel,” Maxwell said.
Well, with Modi, we can always expect something dramatic.