(Image Source: MOFA China)
India is not a friendly neighbor; she is engaged at different borders with nations, posing a belligerent stance and in cases outright violation of territorial sovereignty of its neighbors. With Pakistan on LoC and through its clandestine ventures, with Afghanistan by interfering in their internal affairs and providing ‘financial help’ thus creating space for strategic depth against Pakistan, in Nepal by occupying Nepalese lands (Gobargadha Tapu, Saptari), and now her standoff with China on Doklam near Sikkim.
Beijing has asked India to withdraw her forces from the Doklam plateau, north of Doka La post, where Indian Army has set up some 80 tents. The standoff has now prolonged for more than two months. The Chinese call it a “betrayal” of the colonial era understanding of the boundary alignment in this area by Jawarharlal Nehru. The boundary was settled in a well recorded 1890 British era convention.
Doklam has always remained under the effective rule of China. The present standoff owes to construction of a road by China that India sees as a threat to ‘national security.’ The road upon completion will give China a better access to Chumbi Valley making the Siliguri Corridor (better known as Chicken’s Neck) vulnerable. Located in West Bengal (Indian State) it offers a connection between northeastern states with India. The construction of this road is a cause of deep concern for Bhutan and India. Bhutan wants to believe the Doklam area belongs to her and this brings her with India on the same page against China.
The standoff came weeks after Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, a state to which China lays a claim to. Tibet’s spiritual leader’s stay in India is a sore point between both nations. Contacts between both Bhutan and China are via their Commissions bypassing formal relations between states.
This is the second time a standoff between both has come at Sikkim. The last was in 1967 that led to many casualties for both the nations.
The question is; what does India derive from this standoff?
Modi’s foreign policy as a whole is on a dangerous fast track. He thrives on confrontational politics. In his headlong course, which he has chalked out for himself and India, he chose to ignore the 15 page document released by Beijing on the present stand-off. China has demanded India not only calls off the forces but also initiates a probe in this ‘illegal trespass.’
But is this only about Modi’s reckless foreign policy? Or is there something more than what meets the eye?
In the negotiations at the annual US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue in July 2017, where China sought the support of US on Doklam standoff, the meeting ended in a deadlock as American negotiators demanded an end to dumping of steel and a reduction in the adverse trade deficit by exporters of China.
Is the step by India to be seen as a diversion for China in light of her growing commitment to CPEC?
That both India and the US want to stall China’s rise as a regional power is a known fact. The standoff therefore needs to be seen in the bigger picture; keeping in view the bigger strategy, not one just focusing on one element within though this may be a part of it. However, India cannot bank on US and Japan’s support. None of these countries are likely to come forward with military help in case of a military conflict with China breaking out. China enjoys substantial ties with many nations including Israel, Russia and US who will not participate actively in case of an Indo-China conflict.
Many analysts have voiced fears of possibility of an outbreak of war between both India and China. Nothing is further from the truth. India is involved in trying to contain its disputed Kashmir region against the will of the local populace; she also wants to improve her economy, increase trade between other nations. Entering into a war at this point goes against her desired objectives.
As for China, she has no need to attack from Doklum where Indian presence is strong. Further, China has worked steadily and quietly on strengthening her economy and improving bilateral and multilateral trade agreements with other countries. Military conflict interferes in her progress.
What both countries need is an equation where both get a face saving. Back channel diplomacy is one option. One or two nations stepping in for both to come to an understanding is another. Or, a combination of both.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @yasmeen_9