Millennium Post

India's firmness pays off

Despite withdrawal of troops from Doklam, Beijing will continue to embarrass New Delhi.

Indias firmness pays off

Earlier this week, the nearly two and a half month long face off between the Indian and Chinese troops at Doklam in the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction ended. The danger of a war between the two Asian giants receded as both countries agreed to withdraw their troops simultaneously and restore the status quo ante June 16. The Chinese agreed to drop the idea of building a road in Bhutan's territory. This is what has actually unfolded. Yet, there is a wide difference in the statements issued by the Foreign Ministries of the two countries .

In a simple and straightforward statement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that on the basis of extensive talks held between the two sides, "expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing." The MEA statement added that the troop withdrawal was done after "obtaining an assurance from Beijing that it would halt road building in the area" as it compromises India's defensive positions.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry's statement, on the other hand, was substantially different. In Beijing, the spokesperson of the Ministry said that it was "pleased that trespassing Indian personnel have all pulled back to the Indian side of the boundary." It went on to say that "The Chinese side will continue to exercise its sovereignty and uphold territorial integrity in accordance with the historical conventions." There was no mention of the Chinese stopping the road building project. Persistent media questioning failed to elicit any reply on this point from the Chinese spokesperson. The Chinese version gave the impression that it was India which had 'trespassed' into Chinese territory, that good sense prevailed on India and they vacated the trespass.
Even in ending the standoff, the Chinese side was graceless. It resorted to chicanery coupled with devious and dubious language which has become the characteristic of Beijing. They kept up the pretence till the end that they have emerged victorious. This mentality that "the Indians were in the wrong and they have now admitted it" does not bode well for the future.
But why did the Chinese ultimately decide to dismount from the high horse they were riding in Doklam? There are several reasons. First, Beijing realised that India was not going to give in to Chinese threats and intimidations. If the Indian 'trespassers' were to be driven out from what the Chinese called "our territory", it would mean war and that would be too risky an option. The resultant situation might spin out of Beijing's control.
Second, Beijing was quietly told that unless they ended the confrontation, the Indian Prime Minister might find it difficult to attend the BRICS summit that is going to be held from September 3 to 5 in Xiamen city. Narendra Modi staying away from the summit would have been a great diplomatic discomfiture for Beijing which went against the interest of Beijing.
Third, India's low-key but unremitting diplomatic offensive against China, keeping all major powers informed of the developments at Doklam, paid off. India exposed the Chinese design of being the aggressor and trying to play the victim card. China might also have weighed carefully the impact of the Doklam crisis and its denouement on her smaller and weaker neighbours. India had successfully stood up to Beijing's muscle-flexing and refused to blink. The traditional Chinese policy of bluff and bluster failed to make India budge from its stand.
For a number of reasons, any attempt by China at changing the ground reality in Doklam militarily is fraught with danger. Such a precipitate action by China may bring the US and Russia openly on India's side. The terrain in which the war was to be fought put India at an advantageous position vis-à-vis the Chinese.
There is yet another factor. A war started by the Chinese and meant to be 'localised' at Doklam can easily become a full-scale war. In such an eventuality, there is a possibility of the Indian navy blocking the egress and ingress of Chinese commercial ships through the Malacca Strait. As has been pointed out by several defence experts, despite the Chinese Navy's superior fleet strength and firepower over the Indian Navy, the latter would be fighting a war in its own territorial waters while the Chinese Navy will have to conduct a war three thousand and five hundred kilometres away. Thus, advantage India.
Even in an unlikely worst case scenario of China launching a nuclear strike on India, whatever happens to India, China will not emerge from such a war unharmed, unscathed, and unscratched, to put it mildly.
The Doklam crisis has blown over for the present but it has again underscored the necessity of putting in place an Asian defence architecture to facilitate mutual help and cooperation between India and the other smaller countries against an aggressive and expansionist China.
(The views are strictly personal.)

Barun Das Gupta

Barun Das Gupta

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