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China dares India

China dares India

With the Chinese Ministry of Defence on Monday warning that it would step up troop deployment and training at the China-India border if Indian troops were not withdrawn immediately from the tri-junction point in Bhutan where they have been facing off with troops of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) for more than a month now, it has become clear that China is making clear that there cannot be 'two Suns in the sky' — or, as a Chinese idiom says, 'one mountain cannot accommodate two tigers'. With its rekindled, atavistic nationalism, China plainly wants to be Asia's sole tiger. The Doklam stand-off should be seen as yet another instance of cartographic aggression, which China often engages in. Many of the points involved in the current stand-off are disputed or disputable.The Sikkim (India)-China border was the only settled segment of the nearly 4,000-km-long India-China border. It adheres to the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890, signed between Britain and China, though the exact location of the tri-junction is today in dispute. The Indian side puts it near Batang La, while China claims that it is located at Mt. Gipmochi further south. The Bhutanese are rather equivocal about China's claims, acknowledging that Tibetan graziers had free access to the Doklam plateau and the Dorsa Nala area, but accept the fact that the tri-junction is at Batang La. China has long eyed this area. With China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) gaining impetus from Beijing, and completion of infrastructure programmes such as the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway, China appears to have turned its attention to the Doklam plateau, eying an opportunity to establish a strong presence close to the Indian border. The Doklam plateau has indirectly figured in the several rounds of border talks that have been held between China and Bhutan. China appears willing to make concessions in the north, in return for land in the west, comprising the eastern shoulder of the Chumbi valley which incorporates the Doklam plateau. As a result, the present incident is not just a no-frills border incident on the pattern of incidents reported from different points on the disputed Sino-Indian border. At present, neither side appears to be in a mood to cede ground regarding the dispute. The grandiloquence from the Chinese side has been unusually high-pitched 'India should withdraw its troops to the Indian side of the border to uphold the peace/tranquillity of the China-India border areas as a precondition for essential peace talks'. Although China might have temporarily stopped its road construction programme, it appears determined to hold on to its position. India is equally clear that it cannot afford to back down, as of now, having gone to Bhutan's assistance at a time of need. With both sides pulling their socks for displaying a show of strength, it might provoke an incident with inadvertent magnitudes. The Doklam stand-off is like two sides of the coin for India and China. While for China, the issue is one of territorial 'sovereignty', for India, it is related to its national security. Both appear irreconcilable. And, China had always shown its aversion to make territorial concessions regarding areas over which it once claimed sovereignty. India, for its part, cannot be seen to be compromising on its national security. And, the 'mens rea' so far shown by Beijing is any indication, possibilities, and consequences are both immense and serious. India must also read proper meanings into China's unwillingness to hold talks at the highest level. China is categorically laying down difficult pre-conditions for talks, though India is open to the idea of discussions without preconditions. The geopolitical situation, meanwhile, is in a state of flux. Scope for mediation from quarters friendly to both countries is, hence, limited. If anything, China seems to be more advantageously placed than India. India's friends are most unlikely to pressure or persuade China to step back. This leaves India to play a lone hand. The only silver lining is that both India and China, though for different reasons, are reluctant to engage in an open conflict — one that could prove detrimental to both. The Chinese economy is slowing down at present and the main preoccupation is to regain its past momentum. India's reluctance again centres on the economy. Its concerns are that a conflict would stymie economic growth. Both, therefore, have valid reasons not to provoke a conflict. Beijing is currently waging full-throttle psychological warfare over Doklam to tame India. Deception and mendacity are its tools. If India gives in, it will endure strategic subordination and ignominy forever. China, which fomented the Naga and Mizo insurgencies, taught its "all weather" client Pakistan how to wage proxy war against India. China's strategy is to subdue India by attacking its weak points, striking where it is unprepared, and stymieing its rise to the extent possible. As part of this strategy, it is waging a multi-pronged unconventional war without firing a single shot. It is closing in on India from multiple flanks, extending from Nepal to the Indian Ocean.

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