FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Why Doklam and Bhutan matter: India canít be seen to abandon its allies
Posted:Jul 3, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Abhijnan Rej 
 
As the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction continues, it is important to take a step back and look at the problem through the prism of the larger foreign-policy stakes for India at play. The available details at the time of writing are patchy and buried in claims and counterclaims, very few of which can be verified by non-governmental analysts. Compounding this problem is an attitude of been-there-done-that bravado among a section of the strategic community in Delhi who seek to downplay the standoff as yet-another-round of jostling between India and China. But the fact of the matter is that the current impasse has a completely different geopolitical contour with far-reaching consequences for India’s (often understated) grand strategy of regional primacy.
 
Rising beyond minutiae, the gist of the current standoff is simple. It has been implicitly accepted by the Chinese as such and explicitly highlighted by the Indian foreign office and defence minister. Both sides seem to agree that the geographical locus of the dispute lies in a small sliver of land in the Doklam region, claimed both by China and Bhutan. (The settled Sikkim-Tibet border is a red herring.) Faced with Chinese road construction on territory it considers sovereign, the government of Bhutan allowed Indian troops present in the area in the Sikkim sector to resist this encroachment, triggering the ongoing stand-off.
 
The road through Doklam could allow the Chinese to further run roughshod over a key precept of India’s foreign policy. As strategist C. Raja Mohan described it in a 2006 article, it has been that of “an [Indian] veto over the actions of outside powers” in South Asia, thereby establishing Indian primacy in the region. While India eschews enunciation of a South Asian ‘Monroe Doctrine’ that would demarcate India’s sphere of influence in southern Asia, recent Chinese actions have clearly sought to negate any future Indian move to consolidate its position as South-Asia’s pre-eminent power.
 
Whether it is constructing roads through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or drowning Sri Lanka in debt in order to gain eventual political leverage, Chinese push-back of Indian influence – and interests – in the region in the recent years has been alarming. Knowledgeable analysts now speak of pernicious Chinese influence in the domestic politics of Nepal. China wants to fund new ports in Bangladesh, some of which have dual-use potential. It is China that wants to circumscribe the foreign-policy choices of India’s smaller neighbours.
 
Enter Bhutan. It does not have formal diplomatic ties with China. Its military is close to non-existent. Through the 2007 Friendship Treaty, India serves as a virtual security guarantor of Bhutan. Bhutan on its part has allowed Indian nationals unfettered access to its territory which is not the case for, say, Americans. Most importantly, unlike Nepal in the recent years, it has carefully avoided playing its two behemoth neighbours against each other. One could argue that the closest India has ever come to being a mutual security ally of any country, albeit tacitly and informally, is with Bhutan. Of course, a less charitable reading – one that the Chinese seem to have in mind – is that of Bhutan as an Indian protectorate.
 
Whatever be the interpretation, one of the key Chinese objectives in initiating the Doklam standoff seems to be testing India’s resolve to stand by Bhutan. It should be an Indian imperative to not fold in this trilateral poker, for doing so has two far-reaching consequences. One, should India stand down, Bhutan will receive a message that its policy of relying only on India has not borne fruit. In that event, Bhutan will be tempted to open up to China by establishing formal diplomatic ties. China – having cornered Bhutan in face of an absentee protector – will invariably seek to change territorial facts on the ground as the ‘cost’ of its détente with that country. This, in turn, will change the subtle balance of forces in the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction in favour of China further imperilling the strategically-sensitive Siliguri Corridor.
 
Two, if India was to abdicate its responsibilities towards Bhutan, India’s other neighbours will, in effect, be told that India’s bark is far worse than India’s bite – and that relying on India as a countervailing force to the Chinese juggernaut is foolish. That surely cannot be good for India’s elusive pursuit of regional primacy. Aspiring hegemons do not abandon allies.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Ties between India and Japan are probably at their best ever, Japanese Ambassador to India H.E. Kenji Hiramatsu told India Review & Analysis’ Nilova Roy Chaudhury, as he outlined how the two countries have moved closer. Ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit
 
read-more
India's External Affairs Minister met with Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Tshering Tobgay of Bhutan and five foreign ministers on September 19 in interactions that mostly focused on bilateral issues.
 
read-more
That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.
 
read-more
Former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan said ‘In order to become a more developed country, India has to get people who owe taxes to actually pay them.’ This is one of the major objectives that Modi sought to achieve though demonetization and he has largely succeeded.
 
read-more
The two-day visit to Kashmir by a Congress team headed by Dr Manmohan Singh team has called for restoration  of the dialogue with the separatists to address the ongoing turmoil in the state.
 
read-more
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is expected to amend its constitution at the upcoming national congress.
 
read-more
Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders has urged Myanmar to grant international humanitarian organisations unrestricted and independent access to the conflict-torn Rakhine state to enable provision of humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people.
 
read-more
In an unprecedented warning delivered at a world forum, United States President Donald Trump on September 19 threatened North Korea with total destruction if his country is forced to defend itself and its allies against the threats from Pyongyang.
 
read-more
It is a privilege to be invited to this most prestigious of law schools in the country, more so for someone not formally lettered in the discipline of law. I thank the Director and the faculty for this honour.
 
read-more
Column-image

Title: A Bonsai Tree; Author: Narendra Luther; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 227 Many books have been written on India's partition but here is a firsthand account of the horror by a migrant from what is now Pakistan, who ...

 
Column-image

As talk of war and violence -- all that Mahatma Gandhi stood against -- gains prominence across the world, a Gandhian scholar has urged that the teachings of the apostle of non-violence be taken to the classroom.

 
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.

 
Column-image

This is the continuing amazing spiritual journey of a Muslim man from Kerala who plunged into Vedic religion after a chance encounter with a Hindu mystic under a jackfruit tree in the backyard of his house when he was just nine. It is a story w...

 
Column-image

History is told by the victors but in our modern age, even contemporary events get - or are given - a slant, where some contributors soon get eclipsed from the narrative or their images tarnished.

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive