“Doklam can render overhyped ‘Asian century’ stillborn … how Beijing responds will shape its texture”

With the standoff in the Doklam region continuing between India and China, strategic affairs analyst Commodore (retd) C Uday Bhaskar, Director of Society for Policy Studies, spoke to Anam Ajmal about the issues at stake in the current hostility and ways to diffuse tensions:

Jul 7, 2017
With the standoff in the Doklam region continuing between India and China, strategic affairs analyst Commodore (retd) C Uday Bhaskar, Director of Society for Policy Studies, spoke to Anam Ajmal about the issues at stake in the current hostility and ways to diffuse tensions:
How is the current standoff in the Doklam region any different from previous standoffs between India and China?
Doklam is very different from previous standoffs between India and China. In this case it is an intrusion into Bhutanese territory by the PLA and this lies at the tri-junction of Bhutan, China and India (Sikkim) adjacent to the dagger-shaped Chumbi valley. Indian troops in the area urged the Chinese construction team to desist and pull back – but in vain. In the intervening period, the standoff has become more intense.
What is at stake for Bhutan?
At stake is Bhutan’s status as an independent, sovereign state that is located between the two Asian giants and the sanctity of agreements between nations over matters of competing territorial claims. Furthermore, the confidence and trust that Bhutan has reposed in India to look after its external relations and defence is also on the anvil.
What is the reason for India to take such a firm stand in the Sikkim region currently?
There are multiple reasons for India adopting this firm but non-provocative stand over Doklam. The first is the responsibility it has assumed in relation to Bhutan’s external relations. If China’s creeping assertiveness is not resisted by India, the credibility of the Indian government in honouring its agreements to its neighbours would be seriously compromised.
Secondly the terrain advantage in the Sikkim/ Chumbi sector which currently gives India a tactical edge would be diluted by PLA’s advance into the east Sikkim-Doklam area. Such ingress into Doklam would expand China’s footprint in the Chumbi valley and bring PLA more proximate to the narrow Siliguri corridor that connects the Indian mainland to the northeast.
And finally, the resolve and perspicacity of the Modi government in dealing with such a challenge from China is now in public domain – and the intemperate turn of phrase from Beijing has only exacerbated the matter further.
The standoff has lasted for very long. How dangerous can it be?
The current situation is grave and should not be allowed to turn dangerous – that is, the current ‘jostling’ could slide into physical scuffles and injuries; and the worst case exigency is an exchange of ordnance – inadvertent or otherwise. That would be dangerous.
Has the treaty for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas signed on September 7, 1993, outlived its purpose?
No, to the contrary it is most relevant now and its resilience is being tested. Since 1993 the two sides have respected the sanctity of peace and not a shot has been exchanged in anger. Commitment to this spirit of ‘shanti’ ought to be reiterated and existing dispute resolving arrangements revitalised.
What could the measures be to tone down the hostility between the two countries?
Take the issue out of the public domain – Global Times (GT) in China and some Indian media outlets are illustrative of how emotive nationalism can be enthusiastically stoked with potentially dangerous consequences. Hopefully PM Modi and President Xi can have a quiet chat at the G20 Summit in Germany to defuse the standoff. The Depsang incident of April 2013 and the modus vivendi arrived at could be a template.
Providing Beijing a ‘dignified’ way out without PLA having to blink or lose face would be a prudent option for both Bhutan and India.
What do you think about the views being expressed in the Chinese media about the standoff?
I am not surprised by the tenor of what media outlets like GT have been spewing. There is a hard-line ‘teach neighbours a lesson’ constituency in China that often makes such intemperate statements. India has its own variants. Perhaps GT gets a tacit nod from the powers that be in the government to be strident. What is of greater concern is the posture adopted by Chinese officials including the envoy in Delhi.
To its credit the Indian government has been restrained in its responses and has held out the olive branch. How Beijing responds will shape the texture of the overhyped ‘Asian century’. Doklam can render it stillborn.
Times of India, July 8, 2017

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