By Curtis Stone
The military border standoff between China and India in the Dong Lang area (Doklam) reveals India’s geopolitical ambitions and motivation to use “protecting Bhutan” as an excuse for its own superpower dream. To defuse the crisis, India should immediately withdraw its troops from the area.
The current standoff began in mid-June, when hundreds of Indian border troops crossed the boundary in the Sikkim Sector of Doklam and advanced into territory claimed by China to obstruct the construction of a road. The assumption that China is the aggressor is just plain wrong. “We have repeatedly stated that Doklam has always been part of China’s territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Jul. 5. “There is no disagreement on the fact that Doklam belongs to China,” he added.
India has long sought to dominate Asia. “India considers China, which crushed India in the 1962 war, as its most serious security threat,” an unclassified document on India’s strategic interests concluded. In an intelligence assessment, the US argued that India’s key objectives have remained largely unchanged since independence in 1947. “Preeminent among these objectives is the desire to obtain recognition from its neighbors of India’s status as the region’s leading power,” the document said, adding, India seeks to curb the influence of others in the region.
Making territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf suggests that these long-held objectives remain as important today as they were years ago. According to an editorial in the People’s Daily by Zhong Sheng, or “Voice of China,” India’s intrusion into the area under the pretext of helping Bhutan not only violated China’s territorial sovereignty, but challenged Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence. Now, Bhutan is stuck in the middle of a geopolitical conflict that could spiral out of control and lead to a wider regional conflict.
All this suggests that the conflict started by India is not about “protecting Bhutan,” but about India trying to realize its superpower dream.
Fortunately, the two countries can and need to cooperate in many areas. For example, India benefits from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a multilateral financial institution founded to help increase connectivity across Asia. Three projects have been approved to date, including a power project and an infrastructure development project. Most recently, the bank approved a $329 million loan to build access roads to approximately 4,000 villages in all 33 districts of Gujarat. In addition, another six projects are being considered by the bank. At the same time, more Chinese companies are investing in India, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for closer cooperation.
India is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which means India has a voice on the important regional political, economic, and security issues that directly affect it. Furthermore, China and India are members of the BRICS association, an important platform for cooperation among major emerging economies, as well as members of the G20, the premier forum for international economic cooperation and global governance. In addition, China and India could always further enhance cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, which India is still reluctant to join in.
This is to say that the relationship is complicated, but China and India do not need to see each other as rivals for leadership in Asia. There is always the strategic dimension to relations, but emphasis should be placed on strengthening cooperation. For example, China and the Philippines are working out their differences on the South China Sea issue, and China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) endorsed a framework for a maritime code of conduct, an important step to ease tension in the strategic waterway. This shows that conflict is not inevitable. Steps can be taken to lower tensions and peacefully resolve differences, and India should follow suit.
But China has made it clear that its patience is wearing thin and is not endless. “If the Indian side truly cherishes peace, what it should do is to immediately pull back the trespassing border troops to the Indian side of the boundary,” Geng said on Aug. 3. Given the high stakes and the importance of good relations with China, the best strategy for India is to stop playing geopolitical games and turn its attention to finding ways to prevent future conflict between two growing neighbors.
Originally Published at Peoples Daily China