Chinese Chequers: Doklam re-visited | The Financial Express

Chinese Chequers: Doklam re-visited

When Chinese started making the roads in Doklam area in 2017, the same was objected strongly by India despite the fact that it was in Bhutan. Chinese moved to Doklam area with their road construction equipment on Jun 16, 2017 which was checkmated by India by mobilising its troops on Jun 18, 2017. Consequent to mutual talks including diplomatic push, both the countries decided to withdraw their troops from the face off site on Aug 28, 2017.

Chinese Chequers: Doklam re-visited
India-China border. (Photo| PTI)

By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)

The geographical connects between India, China and Bhutan exist in a manner that the Chinese incursions even in Bhutan affect the security concerns of India in a substantial manner. It is more pronounced when incursion /advances/infrastructure developments are undertaken by China in the Southern as well as South Eastern locations in the Chumbi valley.

It is so because our narrow Siliguri corridor exists immediately South of Chumbi valley. India has already articulated its security concerns to China on multiple occasions on this facet but China seems not understanding the Indian concern at all.

When Chinese started making the roads in Doklam area in 2017, the same was objected strongly by India despite the fact that it was in Bhutan. Chinese moved to Doklam area with their road construction equipment on Jun 16, 2017 which was checkmated by India by mobilising its troops on Jun 18, 2017.

Consequent to mutual talks including diplomatic push, both the countries decided to withdraw their troops from the face off site on Aug 28, 2017. While this was touted as a major victory for India but the ground factors remained fragile. Chinese have been making some regular efforts to extend the road but the situation has been kept under control.

China always remains unpredictable in its actions thus following Sun Tzu’s philosophy to the hilt. When Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, an article appeared in the media where in integration of Taiwan was first stated priority. Indian border issues were relegated even after the East China Sea issues. But everything appears to have changed.

India was not expecting any Doklam like issue in 2017 as border resolution talks had commenced between China and Bhutan. India had also adopted a pragmatic approach till the time its own security concerns were addressed. China despite all this, needled India by extending reach in Bhutanese territory which had serious security implications for India. India had no choice but to respond the way it did.

Given the LAC and border issues between India and China, China is already in the possession of Aksai Chin , an Indian claimed territory in totality, it was therefore hoped that any incursion or conflict escalation was more likely on the borders of Arunachal Pradesh and not in the Eastern Ladakh but within less than three years from Doklam resolution, it made large scale incursions on the LAC in the Eastern Ladakh in Apr-May 2020.

In addition to making incursions, it also changed its claim lines also in the few areas. The LAC stand off has resulted in both sides mobilising more than 50,000 troops in Eastern Ladakh area. This surprise move by China has disrupted Indian defence forces in multiple ways. In addition to the increased expenditure, it has also disrupted the theaterisation plan and related issues in some way if not in totality. 

While India entered into 16th round of Corps Commander level meet on Jul 17, 2022 with a lot of hope to seek progress on the three pending issues but the same resulted in a stalemate despite a marathon discussion extending beyond 12 hours.

It was obvious that Indian analysts and defence planners were now focussed on the fragile fabric of  peace on the LAC and were getting ready for conflict escalation, China surprised once again to strategically shift Indian attention to another end of geo-spectrum where in there are reports of villages now blooming closer to Doklam area as has been reported by the media through satellite pictures.

It is a common tactic of China to surprise its adversaries as part of a well thought out strategy and continue progressing its national aim with perseverance. It’s a nation which is not in a hurry. It is equally important for India not to be in a rush to restore the LAC / border issues with China.

Instead, it will be a better approach to keep inching forward as part of reverse salami slicing all along the LAC with China. All this can only be sustainable if we further enhance the focus on infrastructural development and all weather connectivity to reach 100 percent passes on the LAC at least with cl-24 or higher specification roads. The infrastructure push can also  be  part of our suzerainty markers which will be a key issue always in all future negotiations.

It is hoped that all stakeholders in the Government are taking note of the  Chinese moves not only in the vicinity of India and its neighbourhood but also in other parts of the world. The checkmating effort will be needed at all levels but will require substantial enhancement in Comprehensive National Power (CNP) in all the domains. Economic advancement of the country and positive use of youth bulge are key needs to be addressed besides serious push to the capacity surge to the Indian defence forces.

Certain facets of Chinese behaviour have already emerged in Eastern Ladakh and Doklam. The areas of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh will also see some incursions at some point of time. The latest plan of China to make a highway close to LAC to link Tibet with Xinjiang is a step in the conflict escalation domain. This will necessitate the whole of the Government approach including various changes needed for infrastructure development as the same has been a major impediment including cost escalation. Re -energised effort will be needed to look at the security challenges emanating not only from China but also from the collusivity between Pakistan and China.

Chinese chequers are at play at various locations on the India – China border, latest happening at Doklam again exactly after five years from the previous Doklam standoff of 2017. India needs to craft its response carefully including employment of diplomacy along with military power to thwart the Chinese Chequers.

Author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He can be contacted at trinetra.foundationonline@gmail.com and tweets from @chanakyaoracle.

Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

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