Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications

‘Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications’, Aakrosh, Vol. 20, No. 77, October 2017, pp. 60-76.

Extract:

In mid-June 2017, India and China began a long standoff in the Doklam area of Bhutan that came to an end only in late August. The crisis originated when a Chinese road-building party moved into an area that was part of a dispute with Bhutan, an activity that the Indian side deemed was an attempt to change the status quo in an area uncomfortably close to the sensitive ‘Chicken’s neck’ corridor connecting mainland India with Northeast India. As long as the area – part of the trilateral meeting point of the borders between Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan – only saw grazers or the occasional patrol party from China and Bhutan visiting, there really was no major cause for concern. But the Indians refused to countenance permanent Chinese construction in the area and on apparent request from their Bhutanese counterparts moved to physcially block the Chinese from continuing with their activity. The Chinese were clearly surprised, not expecting the Indians to intervene so decisively on the side of the Bhutanese in territory that after all did not belong to India and was the subject of another bilateral dispute altogether. The Chinese reactions in turn were a cause of much surprise for the Indians – the Chinese Foreign Ministry and state-run media began a campaign of vociferous protests and open threats quite unlike usual Chinese practice of either ignoring Indian reports of Chinese transgressions or of giving pro forma responses. In the Doklam case however, there were repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary. The Chinese kept stressing for a long time that this was ‘the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’. Chinese rhetoric constantly suggested that India not doubt China’s demand for Indian troop withdrawal or that it would do what it took to have India out of ‘Chinese territory’, even suggesting ‘a military response may become inevitable’. The Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was, for instance, targeted by name in several Global Times editorials or op-eds. In the end, the Indians stood their ground and the Chinese had to climb down but there are important considerations for India from the entire episode and the way the vehement Chinese criticism of India through the incident and after.

Continue reading “Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications”

China and its Neighbourhood: Perspectives from India and Vietnam

Jabin T. Jacob and Hoang The Anh (editors), China and Its Neighbourhood: Perspectives from India and Vietnam (New Delhi: Pentagon, 2017).

Vietnamese edition: Trang Quoc voi lang Gieng: Quan Diem Viet Nam va An Do (Hanoi: Vietnam Social Sciences Press, 2017).

Summary

This volume is an attempt to develop a more nuanced understanding of China’s foreign, security and economic policies by bringing together perspectives from two of its most important neighbours, India and Vietnam. This is a unique exercise because these two countries have a long history of both contending and cooperating with the People’s Republic of China. Even as India’s boundary dispute and Vietnam’s maritime territorial disputes with China have persisted, both countries have, in recent decades, also managed to successfully develop close economic relations with their northern neighbour as well as cooperated extensively with Beijing on regional and global issues of significance and mutual interest. Yet, the growth of China’s capabilities and ambitions, and the decline of its impulse towards multilateralism present challenges for India and Vietnam in their neighbourhood. It is against this backdrop that the authors in this book examine China’s bilateral relations and its role in regional multilateral organisations as well as the balancing behaviour of other powers in the region. In the process, this work also seeks to strengthen the sinews of the comprehensive strategic partnership between India and Vietnam by building closer ties between the research communities in the two countries and giving it greater analytical heft.

In India, Vietnam has the image of an uncompromising bulwark against China and almost any discussion of India’s external options vis-à-vis China is not complete without bringing Vietnam into the picture. Hanoi, meanwhile, sees India as a big neighbour to China and that while the relationship between the two countries has had its ups and downs in history, New Delhi now seems to be both cooperating and competing with China. India’s experience of dealing with China holds lessons for Vietnam. At the same time, it is extremely essential for policymakers and strategic analysts in India to keep a close eye on the dynamics of the China-Vietnam relationship itself. How relations between the two most successful communist regimes in the world – politically and economically speaking – will develop remains to be seen. There are both lessons to be learnt and cautionary tales here. New Delhi should have a realistic assessment of the lengths to which Vietnam will go in countering China’s assertiveness in the region given that it is the smaller country. At the same time, given Vietnamese history, there is also scope for calibrated measures to support Vietnam’s national capacity.

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The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?

The standoff between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan has been resolved with each government putting out differing versions of the exact terms of the settlement. But it is certain that status quo before 16 June this year has been restored. The Chinese have stopped their road construction in the area, which had led to the Indian action in the first place and Indian troops have pulled back to their positions.

The Chinese government has sought to sell the deal as a case of the Indians having blinked, of having bowed to Chinese threats and coercion. It is doubtful that the line has much purchase even within China where the netizen community might have constraints on their conversations but are not stupid and not entirely without access to information from the outside world.

What then explains China’s high-decibel campaign of vilification against India in the wake of the standoff and which shows no sign of letting up even now?Continue reading “The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?”

In the Wake of Doklam: India-China Relations Entering a New Phase

This article was originally published as, जबिन टी. जैकब भारतचीन संबंध नये दौर में’, राष्ट्रीय सहारा, 29 July 2017, p. 3. The original text in English follows below the Hindi text.

भारत के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकार अजित डोभाल बीजिंग में ब्रिक्स देशों के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकारों की बैठक में शिरकत करने चीन पहुंच चुके हैं। सभी निगाहें इस तरफ हैं कि क्या भारत और चीन इस मौके पर भूटान के डोकलाम क्षेत्रमें बने तनाव को समाप्त करने में सफल होंगे। लेकिन दोनों देशों के आधिकारिक बयानों पर गौर करें तो लगता है कि चीन किसी सूरत पीछे हटने को तैयार नहीं है। न केवल इतना बल्कि वह भारत के खिलाफ तीखे बयान भी दे रहा है। मांग कर रहा है कि उसके क्षेत्र, जिसे वह अपना होने का दावा कर रहा है, से भारत अपने सैनिकों को पीछे हटाए।

लेकिन इस मामले से जुड़े तय बेहद सरल-सादा हैं। भूटान और भारत के साथ अपनी अनेक संधियों और समझौतों का चीन या तो उल्लंघन कर चुका है, या उसने चुन-चुन कर संधियों और समझौतों का उल्लंघन किया है। उदाहरण के लिए उसने भूटान के साथ 1988 और 1998 में हुई संधियों का न केवल उल्लंघन किया है, बल्कि सीमा विवाद को लेकर 2005 में हुए समझौते तथा 2012 में भारत के साथहुए लिखित समझौते को भी काफी हद तक अनदेखा किया है। उसके ऐसा करने में भारत के सुरक्षा हितों के लिए स्पष्ट खतरा पैदा हो गया है।Continue reading “In the Wake of Doklam: India-China Relations Entering a New Phase”

India-China Standoff in Bhutan: Explanation and Prognosis

The ongoing standoff between India and China in the Doklam area in Bhutan is the result of a disagreement over the terms of the 1890 Convention Relating to Sikkim and Tibet signed by the colonial British government in India and the Qing empire in China. Contrary to the Chinese stress today on ‘Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier’ as the beginning of the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim, the Indian side has pointed out that the specific trijunction point should actually be the result of an adherence to the watershed as indicated in the same Article I of the Convention.[1] And as has been underscored by the 2005 Agreement between India and China, ‘the delineation of the boundary will be carried out utilising means such as modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys’ (Article VIII) and that ‘[p] ending an ultimate settlement … the two sides should … work together to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas’ (Article IX).[2]

 

Chinese Violations

Several points then are clear from this.Continue reading “India-China Standoff in Bhutan: Explanation and Prognosis”

Doklam Standoff: Not Forgetting Bhutan

In the latest face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam area, the role and place of Bhutan has been easily overlooked. It is the Bhutanese after all that are contending with Chinese over the area and it is they who invited the Indians to take up cudgels on their behalf against the Chinese.

Bhutan is, in many respects, probably India’s only genuine ally in the region and this too, is largely the result of that country’s unique political history and development. The Bhutanese monarchy has played a key role in nurturing a close and beneficial relationship with India and India has in large measure reciprocated. While a tiny country, Bhutan has always been favoured with fairly senior and always competent Indian ambassadors in its capital and maintains the Indian Military Training Team in support of the Bhutanese army. Also worth remembering is the fact that it was to Bhutan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first official foreign visit after taking office.

That said, India should simply count itself lucky that it has managed to maintain a special place for itself in Bhutan’s international affairs for such a long time despite the vagaries of international politics.Continue reading “Doklam Standoff: Not Forgetting Bhutan”

Explaining Action and Reaction on Doklam

Following the latest confrontation between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan, there is clearly an edge to the repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary. The Chinese have stressed that this ‘is the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’.[1] What should Indians make of this and what should we look out for?

First, the frequent statements from India that it is not today the same as it was in 1962 and the Chinese response that nor for that matter is China implies more than just the accretion of military capability and determination and will on both sides. These statements are also a reminder that both sides have a much more clearer view of each other shorn of romanticism on the Indian side and of an equally romanticized ideology-driven anti-imperialism on the Chinese side. Responsible leaders on both sides know the costs of war.Continue reading “Explaining Action and Reaction on Doklam”

Panama Switches Diplomatic Recognition from Taiwan to China

Taiwan has lost yet another member of the small group of countries that recognize it diplomatically with Panama in Central America making the move to build ties with the PRC instead. The last country to switch ties was São Tomé and Príncipe in December 2016. Before that it was Gambia at the beginning of the previous year. But in between it must also be recalled that there was the move in Nigeria to get the Taiwan representation to move from Abuja, the capital, to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, an attempt to curtail whatever limited diplomatic privileges that the Taiwanese enjoyed in practice there. Taiwan is now down to just 20 countries recognizing it officially.[1]

With the latest action, there can be no doubt that China under Xi Jinping is engaged in a long-term but steady strategy of trying to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and constrain its international space. Beijing is declaring in unequivocal terms that it does not believe that it can reach any form of accommodation with Tsai Ing-wen’s pro-Taiwanese independence Democratic Progressive Party-led government and that its patience to wait for reunification is diminishing.Continue reading “Panama Switches Diplomatic Recognition from Taiwan to China”

India’s Absence at China’s Belt and Road Forum

In May, China hosted its first heads of government/state-level event under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI Forum represents the culmination of over three years of intense Chinese diplomatic activity trying to sell what is likely going to be Chinese president Xi Jinping’s most significant foreign policy legacy.

For this reason alone, there should be no doubt that the Chinese initiative is strategic in nature – not just in economic terms or militarily but also in terms of setting regional and global political agendas.

Western notions of China’s models of economic development and global engagement or of its ambitions are possibly irrelevant today and nowhere near what the Chinese themselves seek to achieve. The BRI’s heavy stress on cultural contacts and people-to-people exchanges is often ignored but is part of a promotion of China’s soft power underlining in turn its political/ideological agenda. This agenda is a direct challenge to India’s own political values and system.Continue reading “India’s Absence at China’s Belt and Road Forum”