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.

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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? Read more

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। Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

When Religion and Politics Mix: The Dalai Lama and India-China Relations

The Dalai Lama is slated to visit Tawang in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh from 5-7 April. The visit follows a public meeting with the President of India in December last year – the first of its kind in some 60 years[1] – and an address at a major Buddhist conference in the Indian state of Bihar in mid-March where he shared the stage with the minister for culture in the Indian central government.[2]

Beijing has expectedly protested loudly and vigorously, presaging a fresh round of tensions in the India-China relationship.

The Chinese have been trying to portray Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh itself, as the central issue in the India-China boundary dispute. In the process, they are trying to repudiate a significant clause of a landmark 2005 bilateral treaty, which stated clearly that ‘settled populations’ would not be disturbed in the process of resolution.[3] Tawang, with the largest Buddhist monastery in India and a population of some 11,000 at last count, is as settled as they come. This Chinese volte face – no doubt related to continued challenges to their legitimacy in Tibet – might be said to have been at least partially responsible for why the boundary negotiations have not moved forward for a while. Read more

1962: A Very Particular View

Book Review: Shiv Kunal Verma. 2016. 1962: The War That Wasn’t (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company).

This is a well-written book and goes into some considerable detail on each of the major battles of the 1962 conflict between India and China in both the Eastern and Western Sectors. The narrative is riveting and supported by maps particularly of battles in the Eastern Sector as well as reproductions of photographs of many important personalities and events associated with the conflict culled from multiple sources. These definitely add a heft and immediacy to the book often lacking in many historical texts. Without doubt, this is a labour of love, much effort, including by the author’s own family members has gone into it. To recreate the amount of detail there is in the accounts of battle the Verma certainly had access to some very personal reminiscences and he communicates the immediacy and tension of battle as well as the bitterness of defeat with verve and feeling. For these reasons alone, this book must belong to the shelves of any student of India’s wars.

And yet, this book is not without its flaws. Read more

Interpreting Ma Ying-jeou’s Visit to Taiping Island

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to Taiping/Itu Aba Island in the Spratly Islands on 28 January 2016 was justified among other things on the grounds that he visited men and women in uniform before every Lunar New Year and that he was seeking to clarify the legal status of the island.[1]

 

Omissions

There are however, some issues that need to be considered.

For one, Ma did not mention the visit to Taiping of his predecessor Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in February 2008. Standing before military personnel this omission perhaps weakened Taiwan’s/Republic of China’ (ROC) image and position, which is to say that there is an element of dissonance between the Kuomintang’s (KMT) position and that of its political rival. Read more