India must stand firm against China on the Doklam plateau issue – Kanwal Sibal

Chinese and Indian soldiers face off on Doklam Plateau (Bhutan)

Kanwal SibalChina’s diplomatic and media-channelled tongue-lashing against India reflects its frustration at not being in a position to take India head-on militarily in a localised conflict in this theatre without suffering heavy casualties. – Kanwal Sibal

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement in Parliament on the Doklam plateau stand-off should be commended.

It was restrained, unlike the belligerent statements emanating from the Chinese foreign office.

By declaring that China’s road building activity in Doklam was a threat to India’s security, she sent a firm message that India will resist Chinese attempts to determine the Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction unilaterally in violation of its understandings both with Bhutan and India.

Approach

Her approach that the solution to the impasse in Doklam lay in both countries withdrawing their soldiers to previous positions and restoring the status quo ante is eminently reasonable.

She has implicitly dismissed China’s imperious demand that India must first withdraw its troops from “Chinese territory” prior to any dialogue.

This attempt to dictate terms to India by a country that has deliberately triggered the current confrontation through a calculated act that it knew would attract an Indian response has been rejected.

India and China have had a conflict in this general area since 1967 but, more pertinently in terms of more recent experience, the two countries were locked in a confrontation in Depsang (2013) and Chumar (2014).

China has, therefore, not walked into the current border stand-off as an unwary party falling victim to unprovoked warmongering by a third country.

Swaraj’s statement is significant as it follows a spate of dire warnings from China, officially and through its state controlled press, that India should heed the lesson of 1962, that China will not compromise on the issue as it involves its sovereignty, that as its patience eventually runs out, China will use force to evict the Indian troops and so on.

If the purpose of employing thunderous language was to intimidate India and unnerve its leadership, the external affairs minister’s statement shows these tactics have failed.

The government is showing signs of confidence in dealing with the situation despite China’s psychological warfare against us getting a boost from some Indian commentators who have purveyed the Chinese line with some gusto and much of our media that has been uncritically disseminating China’s propagandist versions of the stand-off and echoing its menacing statements as well.

Preposterous explanations have been given by some China apologists in our country that China is building the road in Doklam because its infrastructure companies have run out of orders, and as its military have large budgets to spend, some powerfully connected construction company is trying to fill its order book!

One thought that the humongous Belt and Road Initiative, the $50 billion China intends to spend on infrastructure in Pakistan, and $20 billion that it is committed to spending on developing ports to facilitate the use of the Arctic route for trade with Europe provide massive opportunities for Chinese infrastructure companies.

That a line like this can be purveyed, fed probably by the Chinese embassy, with accusations against the Prime Minister for making a series of provocative moves against China and peddling scenarios of a crushing, humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese of our unprepared army headed by a politically appointed army chief, shows the extent to which we are ready to sap the national morale to the advantage of an external adversary because of internal political prejudices.

Reality

In reality, China’s diplomatic and media-channelled tongue-lashing against India reflects its frustration at not being in a position to take India head-on militarily in a localised conflict in this theatre without suffering heavy casualties.

Talk of evicting Indian soldiers from this area by force is just bluster.

If it opens a front in a disputed area elsewhere where it is advantageously placed—though we will be able to monitor a Chinese build up through our technical means and prepare ourselves—it will be seen as responsible for broadening the conflict.

If we, in return, opted to retaliate in disputed areas where we have advantage, it will mean a further step on the escalatory ladder.

China has no easy options just as we do not either. A sane Chinese approach, in its own interest, would be to resolve the current stand-off diplomatically on an equitable basis and tone down its trade-mark arrogant and crude behaviour.

If the Chinese up the ante in Kashmir or the Northeast, they must think of their political vulnerabilities in Tibet and Taiwan.

Reservations

Much is being made by some in Indian quarters of Bhutan’s reticence on the developing situation as a sign of its reservations about our intervention.

This too contributes to the Chinese game of weakening India’s position. It is politic on Bhutan’s part not to get caught too much in the cross-fire between China and India and let the latter handle the situation.

Bhutan’s statement about China violating bilateral understandings over this disputed area is sufficient.

By being too vocal and inviting more Chinese bullying, it will draw India into the quarrel even more, which would be undesirable for both Bhutan and India.

Some Bhutanese may prefer to distance themselves from India-China frictions for sovereignty reasons, but in falling prey to China’s strategy of destabilising India’s neighbourhood they would seriously hurt their own self-interest.

That Swaraj’s enunciation of India’s position has come before the national security adviser visits Beijing for a BRICS NSAs meeting means that any dialogue in Beijing will have to be within its scope.

India should neither seek escalation nor accept China’s hegemonic conduct. – Mail Online India, 24 July 2017

» Kanwal Sibal is a distinguished career diplomat who retired as Foreign Secretary to the Government of India.

Indian and Chinese soldiers face off on the Doklam Plateau (Bhutan)

Doklam Plateau (Bhutan)

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  1. US won’t sit idle if India-China conflict breaks out: Experts – Saibal Dasgupta – TNN – Jul 26, 2017

    BEIJING: The US is not likely to be an idle witness in the case of a military conflict between India and China and it might take actions to put pressure on Beijing, two experts told TNN in interviews.

    “I do not think that the United States would become involved in a border conflict between China and India, but I do think that an increasingly competitive China-India dynamic is likely to lead to increased security cooperation between the United States and India,” Zack Cooper, senior fellow at the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies told TNN.

    Cooper said the US is trying to balance against China’s growing power and India can play a major role in this balancing effort.

    “In that sense, if China continues to pursue its claims against India, Beijing risks creating an anti-China balancing coalition of its own making,” he said. “In my view, Beijing would be wise to de-escalate the crisis and resolve the stalemate without a violent conflict,” he added.
    Rising military competition between the US and China has kept Beijing engaged in recent weeks. The US might enhance its naval presence in case of a conflict in the India-China border, analysts said.

    “Should the ongoing push and shove turn into a hot war, Washington is expected to provide logistical, intelligence and material support to India’s military,” said Mohan Malik, professor of Asia-Pacific Center for Security in Honolulu. “It might even dispatch an aircraft carrier and submarines to the Indian Ocean to monitor and deter Chinese naval assets,” he said.

    Chinese concerns about the US taking sides with India were reflected in a commentary in government backed Global Times on Wednesday.

    “There are certain forces in the West that are instigating a military clash between China and India, from which they can seek strategic benefits at no cost to themselves. Washington applied this scheme in the South China Sea disputes,” it said.

    Malik said some Chinese strategic thinkers are favouring a short war would give India a bloody nose while helping China take forward its goal of achieving a Sino-centric regional order in Asia.

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