Twix twin tempers
With China's development trajectory, there is every likelihood of more Doklam-like confrontations. China is practising the ancient wisdom: "subdue the enemy without fighting"
The stand-off at Dokalm has been a persisting concern since August 2017 when People's Liberation Army set out to construct a road that could potentially severe the Northeast from mainland India. The Doklam conflict did not escalate because of China's well-coordinated priorities of securing its domestic economy and establishing its hegemony subsequently in South Asia. While the sea route via Indian maritime territory is a vital commercial lifeline for China in terms of economic stability and sustenance, the ambition of marking its presence in the Indian Ocean Region has earned China a formidable stature.
Dokalm may house India's last military post on the Bhutan-China-Sikkim trijunction but it must be borne in mind that Doklam is not Indian territory. The dispute regarding the territory is between China and Bhutan, although this site is of tremendous strategic significance to all the three countries. Given India's relations with Bhutan, and particularly for its Protectorate status, India's extension into the territory is justified; but so is China's, given the dispute and China's undeniable capacity to overpower a state with regard to territory.
However, the panic created by the Chinese forces constructing more and greater military infrastructure in Doklam ought to remind one of the lapses that have put the Northeast and Indian security in such a vulnerable position. The northeastern region has largely been ignored altogether with regard to development and connectivity. The ethnically diverse, distinct, and dense region has been significantly isolated and alienated from mainland India. Had the region been secured with sound infrastructure and better connectivity in necessary collaboration with Bangladesh, and effective inter-community dispute-resolving methods in place, the threat looming over the chicken's neck would have been considerably reduced. So, while the Doklam stand-off throws up issues of keeping safe India's territorial integrity, it also brings into focus the more persisting concern of combining preventive development with progressive development in the Northeast so as to not just secure the region internally but also guard it against any external turn of events.
The laudable thing about China is that it does not compromise domestic stability for external ventures. Dealing with China in that regard is rather predictable and some foreseeing will come handy to keep matters non-confrontational. Despite the military stand-off, the trade relations between India and China function almost independently on the surface. The mutual dependence of the two economies has managed to keep the military encroachment at bay - but not resolved.
China's budgetary allocation for defense speaks volumes about how important territorial hegemony is for China. Compounded by how the balance of trade is tipping dangerously in favour of China and their growing investment in India, it is rather obvious that China's strategy is to first secure the domestic economy, then bring the opponent economy to a point of helpless dependency and then deploy the military to establish regional hegemony with greater impact.
With China's sophisticated development trajectory, there is every likelihood of more Doklam-like confrontations. That said, means and methods to counter and/or prevent such stand-offs must also be prepared in time. It remains a challenge for India to walk the tightrope between keeping a holistic growth of the domestic economy and asserting its claim along the borders to deter any armed encroachment. Undoubtedly, China is practising the ancient wisdom of Sun Tzu: "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting".
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal)