Doklam standoff: Even as China continues to warn India of severe consequences over the standoff between its and Indian soldiers in the Sikkim sector, it is apparent that bullying tactics have put Beijing in a spot of bother. In past, China has successfully used such tactics against some South-East Asian nations but it apparently got it totally wrong by trying to use the same against India.
The standoff started in mid-June when China’s People’s Liberation Army tried to build a road in the Bhutanese territory of Doklam in Sikkim sector. China claims the area, which is strategically significant for India, as its own. PLA’s attempt to construct the road in the area was most likely a well thought out provocation, but China may not have imagined it would have to face such protest by India as well as Bhutan.
According to Sanjiv Misra, former secretary to Government of India and member, Finance Commission, there seems to be no “winning option” for China in Doklam at present because of the “unwavering stand” taken by India, supported by Bhutan. Writing in The Indian Express, Misra points out, “The Doklam venture is almost certainly a Chinese miscalculation.”
Misra has given several reasons as to why China made a miscalculation on Doklam, even as the exact reason for which Beijing made such a misadventure is unclear.
At a time when China is facing several critical issues like North Korean crisis, deepening US defence relationship with Taiwan, tensions in South China sea etc, Misra says, “the logic and the timing of the confrontation with India in a remote corner of the Himalayas defies easy explanation.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping is preparing for re-election for a second term in the 19th plenum of Communist Party of China in October, it would be a huge loss of face for him if PLA withdraws.
However, China can’t even risk an armed confrontation with India. If it does decide to got to war against India, Xi would hardly gain much domestically, but end up denting his image globally. Moreover, a military conflict with India would derail Xi’s dream OBOR project. Why? Misra explains, “Unlike past imperialisms, coercion and commerce do not mix easily in present times.”
The state of Chinese economy, under the authoritarian Communist regime, is not as sound as Beijing’s propaganda machinery loudly proclaim while drawing comparisons with India. Misra writes that Xi has invested much on consolidating his political power than on economic reform. His anti-corruption movement targeted at opponents has “fostered fear and riven the party into several faction.”
An armed conflict with India at this point of time would lead to a slowdown of not only the Indian but Chinese economy. Being a democracy, India is in a better position to survive through the jolt of slowdown, unlike authoritarian China. Misra says, “China requires rising prosperity to justify the draconian curbs on individual freedoms, allowing growth to slow is a risk which Xi has been unwilling to take.”
China’s war-like posture against India may also “propel other powers such as the US, Japan and India to unite against it,” he adds