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Doklam Détente: India's moral victory

Doklam Détente: Indias moral victory

Amid the sour standoff between the troops of India and China for over two and a half months, both the Asian giants have finally decided to de-escalate and withdraw their soldiers from the tri-junction which they share with Bhutan. Incidentally, this disengagement comes a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to Xiamen in China for the BRICS summit from September 3 to 5. And, the message is loud and clear from both the foreign ministries: The troop withdrawal has been 'mutual' and 'simultaneous', following standard operating procedures for withdrawal. And, if their separate announcements are any indication, it is a welcome sign for the diplomacy of both the nations and a better understanding between them has prevailed over the harsh rhetoric which was gaining currency over the past 10-odd weeks.

While New Delhi using a measured tone in context with 'expeditious disengagement of border personnel' as part of the understanding between the two countries indicates the government's 'wise' method of taking up diplomatic measures with the 'angry' dragon; China also said that Indian troops had withdrawn from the disputed Doklam plateau providing Beijing with the latitude it requires to end the stand-off peacefully. Despite some contrast in the versions of the statement provided by both countries about the disengagement, it is really soothing to know that both countries, at least, have been able to issue statements – with each taking cognizance of the other's constraints. With this de-escalation, both the countries now would be comfortable while addressing their domestic audiences as both seem to have agreed to disagree. The diplomats of both the countries must be hailed for pulling back from what many feared could lead into a full-blown conflict. Both New Delhi and Beijing respected the wishes of the Bhutanese government, which wanted an early end to the crisis.

But, has India's status quo ante really checked China's salami tactics? The answer is not 'yes' as China's antagonism towards India is nothing new. In the last few years, India had been unable to move even an inch towards resolving her disputes along the 3,488-kilometre border that it shares with China. Not only has China repeatedly blocked India's membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it has also taken Pakistan's side whenever it deemed appropriate. The reasons for the stand-off's conclusion, however, are easier to understand. China had attempted to threaten and coax India through public messages and mocking videos. But, it did not work. Indian troops were also better positioned on the ground, with more brisk supply lines than their Chinese counterparts, consequently causing uncertainty over the much-publicised BRICS Summit in the south-eastern Chinese city of Xiamen. The early resolution of the stand-off was a Hobson's choice for Beijing as it wanted to save its face before greeting the Indian Prime Minister. Though arguably the two sides demonstrated that despite the heated exchange of words, a peaceful and diplomatic solution could be found – its long-term implications are uncertain. While India has shown its firmness in protecting its own security interests as well as of its neighbours, China has done damage to its reputation in India by its poor handling of the situation.

Meanwhile, everyone hopes the decision on Doklam will guide the bilateral spirit beyond the BRICS summit to be held in Xiamen and once Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet there, diplomats must kick off something new to repair the cracks that have been appearing time and again over the past few months. This summit will be an opportunity for both sides to engage and move ahead with a positive frame of mind while initiating a road map to resolve such contentious issues.
We hope President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi will nurture their friendship to further bring about a rapprochement. Not to forget that on the sidelines of the recent G20 summit in Hamburg, both leaders hailed the momentum within the BRICS bloc under each other's chairmanship. No one can deny that India and China have more reasons to cooperate than to engage in a conflict. The Asian century is already on the cards and both countries have a job to lead it together, through mutual trust and diplomatic engagements. It is high time that besides formal diplomatic channels, a fresh dialogue is also opened up to further ease political tension, and pave the way for a peaceful resolution of Sino-Indian border disputes. It is relevant because, even though the two countries may be unwilling to start a border war, minor confrontations are possible if they cannot check such standoffs in the coming days. While Chinese officials are aware that India's domination in the subcontinent is not questionable, India too accepts China as an international superpower. The BRICS summit of September first week in China is yet another opportunity to move forward. If so, the de-escalation at Doklam is a welcome step.

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