By Zhang Ye
Since the Doklam face-off started over a month ago, India has given different versions of the reasons why its troops crossed the border to stop a PLA road construction team.
On June 26, Times of India reported that a PLA team invaded Indian territory by crossing the Sino-Indian boundary line in Sikkim section and triggered the face-off. On the same day a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by presenting a picture showing that it was Indian soldiers that crossed the border into Chinese territory, and two days later the Hindustan Times reported that General BipinRawat, chief of army staff of the Indian Army, denied that Indian territory was invaded by PLA troops.
On June 30 the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued an official document on the “recent development in Doklam area,” which gave a different explanation of the incident. It said a PLA construction party entered disputed territory between China and Bhutan, and “in coordination with [Bhutan], Indian personnel approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist from changing the status quo.” This indicates that where China entered is not Indian’s territory but Bhutan’s territory, and the purpose of India’s action is to protect Bhutan’s territory from China’s invasion.
However, as a third party of the Sino-Bhutan border dispute, does the Indian military have the right to trespass across the Sino-Indian established border to stop China’s road construction? If yes, it would be very dangerous, for under India’s logic, if Pakistan requests, a third country’s army can enter the area disputed by India and Pakistan, including India-controlled Kashmir.
Moreover, in a statement issued by the Bhutan government on June 29, there was no mention of asking for help from or consulting with the Indian government. According to diplomatic sources, the Bhutan government even didn’t know about India’s move to cross the border in advance.
So what are the benefits to India in the Doklam face-off? The area is of very huge significance in military and geostrategic competition. When China started to construct the road, India feared this would facilitate China’s projection of military forces and weaken India’s advantages.
However, the construction of a single road cannot change the military balance between China and India and the status quo. Therefore, it is India’s illusory fear of losing its military advantage in the South Asia that leads to its overreaction in the Doklam region. This triggered the face-off in this remote mountainous area, although the site of the road construction is well within China’s territory.
The other factor that should be considered is the ongoing border talks between China and Bhutan, a small mountainous country of only 700,000 people, deeply influenced by India in economics, politics and diplomacy. Since the 1980s China and Bhutan have conducted 24 rounds of border negotiations. Although the final delimitation hasn’t been completed yet, consensus has been reached on the practical geographic conditions and the direction of the boundary lines.
However, the progress of border talks is thought not to be in the interests of India, for if the border dispute is settled, China and Bhutan will establish a normal diplomatic relationship, which will strengthen Sino-Bhutan ties and weaken India’s influence over Bhutan. Many Bhutanese people complain that it is India’s interference that impedes the Sino-Bhutan border negotiation.
Moreover, the ongoing border row in Doklam has put India in a better position to increase its military presence in Bhutan, which will further strengthen India’s control over Bhutan. Therefore India sent its troops into the Doklam area in the name of helping Bhutan, but in fact, India is making use of Bhutan to increase its strategic advantage over China.
So the Doklam face-off is in nature a great power competition in the disguise of border dispute, a more complicated situation than past border disputes between India and China. Over a month into the standoff, the intention of India is becoming increasingly clear to the world, and more and more people believe that China has the right and power to defend its territory. As long as India keeps its military force there, it will fall deeper into the strategic dilemma created by itself, so withdrawing its troops out of the Doklam area is the only right approach to solving the crisis for India.
The author is a research fellow of PLA Naval Research Institute. firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion
Source: Global Times