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Chinese leaders reconciled to dialogue

Chinese leaders reconciled to dialogue

The visit of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to Beijing late last month and his interactions with the Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping have brought out two facets of the reality. First, contrary to the extremely provocative and threatening language used by the official Chinese media against India about the stand-off at Doklam, the political leadership is not itching for a war with India. Secondly, a tacit, if not a formal, understanding seems to have been reached that neither side will do anything to escalate the ground situation at Doklam. Contrary to the fulminations of the official media that Doval's visit will fail to budge China from its stand at Doklam and that apart from the formal meeting of the NSAs of the BRICS countries there will be no interaction of Doval with anyone else in the Chinese leadership, Chinese President Xi Jinping did meet Doval.

India refused to be provoked by the verbal belligerence of the Chinese media but made it known quietly and firmly through its actions that, come what may, it was not going to allow the Chinese troops to build a road in Bhutanese territory as the road will endanger the security of Bhutan and India. The war rhetoric of the official media and the restrained handling of the situation by the Chinese Government suggest that there is a lobby in the Communist Party of China (CPC) that wants to settle the Doklam issue by force of arms and 'teach India a lesson.'
The Chinese raised the question (which was highlighted by some Indian commentators as well) whether India has any right to speak on behalf of Bhutan. Article 2 of the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty of 1949 laid down that: "The Government of India undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan. On its part, the Government of Bhutan agrees to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations."
The Treaty was revised in 2007. The revised Article 2 freed Bhutan from seeking Indian guidance in foreign policy matters. But it said: "In keeping with the abiding ties of close friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and India, the Government of the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Government of the Republic of India shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests. Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other." Therefore, China's forcible intrusion into Bhutan to build a road in Bhutanese territory is an exercise "harmful to the national security and interest" of both Bhutan and India. India's action to prevent the unilateral attempt by China at road construction in Bhutan's territory is perfectly justified and legitimate.
At the G-20 summit held in Hamburg last month, India is believed to have been assured by both the USA and Russia that in the case of China waging a war against India, India can count on the two big powers. Quite possibly this is known to China as well. There are also certain other factors that should dissuade China from precipitating a war over Doklam. First, the terrain gives an advantage to India, not to China. A war will inflict far higher casualties on the Chinese side than the Indian. Secondly, India being the defender will have to mobilise much less manpower in the battle than China. Our mountain divisions can not only check but also repulse any Chinese attack in the region. Incidentally, India has sent more troops to the region since the middle of June when the face-off began and the Indian troops have dug in their heels. No use constantly reminding India of 1962. That history is not going to be repeated.
Thirdly, an all-out war with India in which the Chinese escalate a local war into a full-scale war and go to the extreme (and unlikely) length of using nuclear weapons will be more disastrous for China than for India. Destruction of India by China will completely upset the geostrategic balance and create a huge power vacuum that will see the emergence of China as a power challenging the most powerful country in the world – a prospect that the world will not watch by passively.
The Doklam incident may have something to do with the domestic politics of China. The 19th Congress of the CPC will be held in Beijing this November. China watchers say there is a possibility that Xi Jinping will seek a second term for him in the CPC Congress, something that has never happened in recent memory. Usually, the top leadership changes every five years at the Party Congress. A victory over India in a localised war for extending the territory of China in Bhutan will shore up Xi's chance of getting a second term. Incidentally, Xi is the current chairman of the Central Military Commission of the CPC, the highest body as far as the armed forces are concerned.
What seems likely at the moment is that both sides will desist from doing anything to escalate tension and let things be as they are. Then slowly, without any fanfare and publicity, both sides will quietly restore the status quo ante June 16. Diplomacy will succeed over jingoism and chest-thumping by the Chinese media. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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