Deng Xiao Ping was Chinese Supremo from 1978 to 1997 that had to face similar setback like Doklam in 1986, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) occupied vacated Indian posts in Sumdorong Chu/Wang Dung in Arunachal Pradesh.
The Indian Army then responded by airlifting substantial Infantry and Mechanized Forces to the McMahon Line in just 48 hours under able leadership of General K Sunderjee. Deng had warned India that she would be taught a “lesson” if she did not withdraw. American Defence Secretary, Caspar Weinberger acted as an intermediary in that row. India, however, stood firm and a military stalemate followed.
The then External Affairs Minister N D Tiwari visited Beijing in May 1987 and clarified that India was not interested in escalating tensions; paving the way for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China. The visit took place in November 1988, with Deng personally welcoming the Indian PM and setting the stage for seeking a new relationship with India.
Much has not changed in the last three decades and history has opened a new leaf with same story, in Sino-Indian Border Conflict. Only the actors have changed.
As a Strategic Master Stroke, China made Pakistan a primary instrument for her “Policy of Containment” against India and encircled her by (a) Creating China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir stretching to the Port of Gwadar through Baluchistan; (b) Its decision to position/supply eight PLAN Frigates and eight Submarines to Pakistan at Gwadar; (c) Strengthening her political and economic influence in Myanmar by building up the strategic port of Kyaukpyu in the Bay of Bengal, and (d) Shaping its Maritime Silk Route/Road by taking over Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.
Surprisingly, China miscalculated the response of India and Bhutan to its intrusion in Doklam. By intruding in Doklam, Beijing violated written agreements with Bhutan signed in 1988 and 1998, which pledged to “Maintain Status Quo” on the boundary as was before March 1959 and “Refrain from taking unilateral action, or use of force, to Change Status Quo on the boundary”.
It also violated the December 2012 “Agreement of Common Understanding” with India, agreeing to “Maintain Status Quo” pending a Tripartite Agreement on the location of the India-China-Bhutan Tri-Junction.
Doklam Stand Off moved through some interesting Strategic Moments. China expected India to withdraw forthwith due to her supposedly ‘Weak Military Disposition’. But she did not cater for Indian Option of deciding to ‘Stick It Out’. Due to her strategic success in the South China Sea and after defying the ruling of the International Tribunal in Island grabbing case, China was confident of brow beating India in subjugation by use of Aggressive Propaganda (Infotic War), Grave Military Threats (Muscle Power) and Citing Suitable Rules (Use of Law/Documents To Its Advantage) which is the latest type of Three-Pronged Warfare she practices. That is why she sent stern messages of Possible Embarrassment in Military Confrontation to India/nations who would be her potential partners in Various Strategic Partnerships.
Doklam is merely a Tactical Withdrawal by China. At a time and place of own choosing, she will definitely repeat her “Salami Slicing Tactics” in areas where PLA hold high ground. Doklam at Sikkim-Bhutan border is worst location for China for confrontation as India has huge advantages in Terrain, Logistics, Firepower and Number of Troops in this area. Any military misadventure could destroy the image of invincibility PLA has painstakingly built over the years.
China may undertake future intrusions in sections of borders where it enjoys Logistical Advantages and India has to be prepared for this. Since eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, India cannot afford to relax.
On the other hand, 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China is scheduled for early November this year. President Xi Jinping wants to give the party a new outlook. The politbureau and its Standing Committee are set to be re-organized where Xi Jinping wants to nominate his protégés.
Finally, Xi Jinping is said to be keen on getting approval of the Congress for an unprecedented third term as President in 2022. Therefore, Jinping could not afford to let Doklam remain a ‘thorn in the flesh’ as he unveiled his ambition before the Congress of the CPC.
The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) Summit is scheduled from 03 to 05 September at Xiamen in China. In the view of Doklam standoff, there was speculation about Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipping the Summit. China has given utmost importance to BRICS since its inception in 2009 projecting it as an Alternate Economic Model against Western Bloc.
The theme of Xiamen BRICS summit is “Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future”. Contradicting this slogan, Doklam standoff would have projected China as violator of International Laws for attempting to alter the Status Quo. Chinese failure to hold the same would also have been a face loss to China as India had conducted successful BRIC Summit in Goa in 2016.
At this juncture, PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China for the forthcoming BRICS Summit largely depended on our reading of Chinese intentions and its flexibility and on how President Xi Jinping decides to deal with domestic challenges he is facing. In the meantime, imaginative diplomacy was required to ensure China is given a ‘face saving way out’ from its present predicament in Doklam.
India was successful in convincing the world leaders that China was at fault in the disputed region. The US and the UK categorically asked China to resolve the matter diplomatically and bilaterally with India. The messages from the US and the UK came at a time when China was firm on its demand that Indian troops must withdraw from Doklam first. Later, Japan was more direct/vocal in saying that it was China which violated the international law at Doklam. Japan said that China tried to alter status quo at Doklam while suggesting that no country should try to change the existing positions without resolving the dispute. China’s effort to take Nepal along also did not yield desirable result with the Himalayan Nation stating that it would prefer neutrality to taking sides over Doklam.
Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat also had said that China is attempting to “Change the Status Quo” on its border with India at a seminar at Pune on 26 August, 17. He predicted that incidents like the current intrusion of China in Doklam are likely to increase in the future. Later, commenting on news of Doklam Pull Back, the General said that even when China and India have arrived at a decision of ‘Simultaneous Disengagement of Troops’ at Doklam, this is not the end of such attempts by China.
He warned that our troops on the border should not feel it will not/cannot happen again and gave message to the troops “Not to Let down the Guard”. He clarified that Line of Actual Control (LAC) has not yet been settled between the two countries and hence each has a different perception about it. The clashes on the border are normal and happen when any one side patrols near other side.
In Doklam both sides have decided to revert to Status Quo which existed before hostilities began when India challenged China’s intentions of building the road into Bhutanese territory. India must not trust China blindly/in Toto because it considers treaties merely inconvenient pieces of paper, and have a history of fabricating ‘Historical Documents’ that support its view ‘du jour’.
This was substantiated when Chinese Spokesperson Hua emphasized that PLA Troops would continue to patrol the area whereas India has decided to pull back in totality. India has never objected to PLA patrolling but its road-building project in this area. By Chinese return to the pre-16 June situations, India has secured a Notional Strategic and Diplomatic/Psychological ascendency over China.
India got China to stop the road construction which is a Strategic Ascendency for India. India had asked for withdrawal of troops on both sides. China has agreed to what India wanted which is Psycho Diplomatic Ascendency for India. It is NOT A VICTORY in Military Parlance. But it is a “Victory of Indian Strategy”. This particular situation could be termed as ‘Advantage India’ without spelling out diplomatic or military domain.
Henceforth, Indian Strategy to counter China should move beyond upsetting it in small face offs like Doklam. It requires a spread over decades with Clearly Defined Requirements for every Passing Year. And this has to be in addition of improving our Military Infrastructure of Roads, Railways, Advance Landing Grounds, Helipads, and Bridges along LAC.
But only military confrontation is never a solution to any problem. Mutual talks/dialogues also must go on because even taking the most negative view that the two countries are destined to be enemies, a posture of non-interaction is unlikely to damage the other country significantly, whilst mutual contact might help in discovering the capabilities as well as weaknesses of the other.
Arya Chanakya had aptly said that “when strength is exhausted, and bondages grip you, there is no solution in sight but when strength is restored and bondages break, there is a solution to everything”.