The ongoing stand-off between India and China over Doklam could make both countries enemies with severe outcomes, feel Chinese experts. According to the South China Morning Post, Macau based experts feel that China’s Strong arm tactics with India and Bhutan with regard to the trilateral border dispute in the Doklam region, could push New Delhi further away from it and may make it an enemy. The protracted eyeball-to-eyeball border stand-off now over 40 days old in a desolate region of the Himalayas, has not only raisedtensions between the two Asian giants, but could also potentially threaten China’s trade and infrastructure One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative,” the South China Morning Post has quoted experts, as saying. Currently, both sides are blaming each other for escalating the dispute by deploying troops in the area. China has called on India to withdraw its troops first before agreeing to any kind of dialogue. The South China Morning Post quoted Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong as warning Beijing to avoid playing psychological warfare with New Delhi. “It (China) should realise that even if it defeated India in a war on land, it would be impossible for the PLA Navy to break India’s maritime containment,” he said, pointing to the importance of the Indian Ocean as a commercial lifeline for Beijing. Official statistics indicate that China is heavily reliant on imported fuel, as over 80 per cent of its oil imports travel via the Indian Ocean or Strait of Malacca. “Unlike Southeast Asian countries, India has never succumbed to China’s ‘carrot and stick’ strategies.India is strategically located at the heart of China’s energy lifeline and the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, and offending India will only push it into the rival camp, which [Beijing believes] is scheming to contain China by blocking the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean,” Wong added.
The South China Morning Post quoted Sun Shihai, an adviser to the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies, as expressing his concern over what he described as probably the worst military stand-off in more than three decades. He cautioned that this could fuel anti-Chinese sentiment in India, as mistrust and hostility between the two countries runs deep. He said that if the border row is not properly handled, China’s efforts to expand its diplomatic and economic influence beyond the Asia-Pacific region through OBOR could be severely impacted. “India is one of the most important strategic partners for China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ because of its geographic location,” Sun said. The latest border dispute relates to the remote Doklam Plateau, known as the Donglang region by the Chinese.
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China’s assertiveness in protecting its sovereignty “at all costs”, will only deepen the political trust deficit between China and its Asian neighbours, feels Dr.Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, Research Associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. “China’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach has complicated problems further,” he added.
In India, China is widely blamed for the stand-off in Doklam after it attempted to build a motorway in the area. Beijing insists that the road construction project is on its side of the border. India has so far refused to join OBOR due to sovereignty concerns over the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan,both of which New Delhi considers Indian territories.
However, experts on both sides agree that the odds of the two countries going to war are slim, and would prefer a diplomatic solution.