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 8th BRICS Summit: India Hosts, China Gains

The 8th BRICS Summit in Goa in October this year, India came close on the heels of the G-20 Summit at Hangzhou in China and appears more or less to have had the same agenda except that it was smaller in size and therefore brought into sharper focus the contradictions within. The BRICS grouping remains an unbalanced one. China is in a league of its own in the BRICS – both in economic terms as well as increasingly in the political sphere. India is the only other member that has a strong economy – the other three economies are in various stages of stress. However, the grouping is also about taking political positions and here once again, China’s dominant weight has seen statements taking on anti-Western tilt.Read More »

India, the NSG and China: Time to Move Away from the Blame Game

As India’s application to membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) comes up for renewed discussion at a consultative meeting in Vienna later this November, several questions about China’s possible response remain.

The Indian argument for putting effort into the pursuit of NSG membership is that this ‘would place our existing cooperation on a predictable basis and facilitate the enhanced investments, industrial tie ups and technology access required to accelerate augmentation of nuclear power capacity in India’.[1]

Targetting China

Justified as this may be, this is an argument that however, holds less sway in public perception than the one about China being the only country that stands in the way of India’s aspirations. Read More »

US FON Ops and China’s Continuing Challenge

Originally published as Jabin T Jacob, China’s aggression in South China Sea a global challenge’, Hindustan Times, 4 November 2015.

In late October, the American destroyer USS Lassens sailed within a 12 nautical mile territorial waters limit claimed by China at Subi Reef in the South China Sea. China has no right to such a claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the US was exercising its rights to freedom of navigation under the Convention.

Predictably Beijing has protested while others have cheered the US action but American freedom of navigation (FON) operations are nothing new and have been carried out regularly in other seas despite the fact that the US itself has not ratified UNCLOS. In the South China Sea itself, the US has carried out FON operations previously to counter excessive maritime claims by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.Read More »

China and the Modi Visit to Bangladesh

China-Bangladesh relations have progressed significantly over the years. China has been Bangladesh’s largest trading partner for several years now and is also increasingly a major investor in the country with commitments to various physical infrastructure projects ranging from bridges and railways to water and sewage treatment plants. After the World Bank withdrew from the project of building of a bridge over the River Padma in Bangladesh’s southwest, it is the Chinese that have agreed to step in.

There was little coverage of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in June this year but it is worth noting that China sent Vice Premier Liu Yandong to Bangladesh in late May to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Bangladesh. Read More »

The Why of China’s Actions in the South China Sea

Shorter version published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘China’s “moral code”’, The Hindu, 1 July 2015.

In mid-November 2006, Chinese television broadcast a documentary series titled, ‘The Rise of the Great Powers’ (Daguo jueqi) that studied the rise of nine world powers starting with Portugal and ending with the United States in the present with Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia/Soviet Union in between. Produced by a group of eminent Chinese historians, the series was telecast during primetime and took the country by storm with its bold, impartial look at the reasons behind the rise and fall of powers in the modern era.

The broadcast of the series opened up the discussion of China’s rise to a wider domestic audience; in hindsight, it might have been the beginning of China’s move away from Deng Xiaoping’s 24-character strategy, that enjoined it to “…hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.” Read More »