Doklam stand off

Vikas Kapoor
Present Doklam  stand off is a typical reminder of the similar situation in which stand off between India & China happened in 1987 at Sumdorong Chu.
Doklam (the offlate place of Unease among India, Bhutan & China) :    Bhutan is one of the two south Asian countries with an unresolved boundary dispute with China. The other is India, of course !!
India and China are already involved in a major standoff for over a month now in the Doklam or Doka – La region, also known as the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction, located along the Sikkim border. The conflict between the two countries is believed to be the most serious border dispute of late.
It all started after China accused India of violating border agreement saying Indian troops had allegedly entered the Doklam region and stopped the Chinese troops from constructing a road. India responded by saying the border dispute is yet to be resolved and China should “desist from changing the status quo.”
The China – Bhutan 470 Kms long border is in proximity to India’s Siliguri corridor, also known as “chicken neck”.The Siliguri corridor connects India’s northeastern region to neighbouring Nepal, Bangladesh & Bhutan. Therefore , the major problem between China and Bhutan lies in defining the Tri-Junction of the India – China – Bhutan border. With respect to the China – Bhutan common boundary, while the Northwest part of the boundary constitutes Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in Samste, Haa & Paro districts, the central part constitute the Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys in the Wangdue Phodrang district.
The disputed territory with Bhutan has strategic importance for China, first the disputed territory shares a border with Tibet, 2ndly, the Doklam plateau lies immediately east of the Indian defences in Sikkim, which not only has a commanding view of the Chumbi valley but also overlooks the Siliguri corridor (around 80 Kms) further to the east.
As of now 22 rounds of negotiation between China & Bhutan have been held. The boundary dispute between the two countries came to the forefront in the 1950s when China began publishing maps depicting the ill-defined boundary with Bhutan. 22nd round of discussion happened at Shaanxi, China, in July 2014, followed by a joint statement that Chinese side is determined and sincere to make joint efforts with Bhutan to seek as soon as possible a Just & reasonable solution to boundary issue that both sides could accept. Despite the several rounds of negotiations till now both sides showing political willingness to resolve the border, the Final resolution remains elusive. One of the major reasons for this has been Bhutan’s proximity to India.
China Bhutan boundary negotiations have never been solely about territory; they also reflect the larger Geo – Political dynamics of South Asia, which is ultimately driven by India – China relations.
On August 8th, 1949, The Government of Bhutan signed “a treaty of perpetual peace & Friendship” with India that allows India to guide Bhutan on external matters. This is basically the bone of contention for China. China has always been offering through different Negotiation tables to Bhutan by giving more land in exchange for adjustment for Tri – Junction border of India. However, this offer has been turned down by Bhutan always. China has also been trying to fuel Bhutan’s aspirations for greater economy in its external matter, & since 1950s, to exclude India from boundary negotiations with Bhutan. After 30 years and 22 rounds of negotiations, while the boundary issue remains unresolved, the possibility of a final settlement does not seem to be bleak and impractical.
Bhutan despite so many repeated attempts by China, did not agree with China even turned down  very generous package deal in 1996 which included Doklam Trijunction,  as it has far reaching security consequences on India. In 2003, his majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck personally led his troops to to flush out thousands of Indian Militants from jungles of southern Bhutan. Bhutan also supports India at various International forums, apart  from being  the only country which along with India has not joined China’s One Belt One road summit. Bhutan till now does not have diplomatic ties with China. Some have taken all the above to imply that Bhutan is an India Protectorate which is Inaccurate assessment and shows a lack of understanding of the complex nature of the relationship between the two countries. In Bhutanese culture, a philosophy called “Driglam Namzha” an important lesson of this philosophy is having the ability to stoop and conquer, a quality imbibed by the Bhutanese leadership.
Bone of contention has always been McMahon Line, a border line between Northeast India and Tibet proposed by Henry MacMahon at the 1914 Simla Convention.
How Economics work
India – China, One of the Top 10 economies of the world, India at no. 6th & China at no. 2 after USA  :
India is the sixth largest economy in the world with a nominal GDP of $2.45 trillion. The country ranks third in GDP in terms of purchasing power parity at $9.49 trillion. The country’s high population drags its GDP (PPP) per capita down to $1,850. India’s GDP is still highly dependent on agriculture (17%), compared to western countries. However, the services sector has picked up in recent years and now accounts for 57% of the GDP, while industry contributes 26%. The economy’s strength lies in a limited dependence on exports, high saving rates, favourable demographics, and a rising middle class. India recently overtook China as the fastest growing large economy and is expected to jump up to rank fourth on the list by 2022.
China initiated market reforms in 1978, the Asian giant has achieved economic growth averaging 10% annually (though it’s slowed recently) and, in the process, lifted almost half of its 1.3 billion population out of poverty and become the undisputed second-largest economy on Earth. The Chinese economy has already overtaken the U.S. economy in terms of GDP, based on another measure known as purchasing power parity (PPP), and is estimated to pull ahead of the U.S. steadily in the following years. However, the difference between the economies in terms of nominal GDP remains large with China’s $11.8 trillion economy. However, the country saw its total GDP growth go down to 6.7% in 2016 and is projected to slow to 6.6% in 2017, and further decline to 5.7% by 2022. The country’s economy is propelled by an equal contribution from manufacturing and services (45% each, approximately) with a 10% contribution by the agricultural sector.China is India’s largest Trade partner but the balance is tilted heavily in favour of the Dragon imports risen from $ 43.5 Bn in 2011 to $ 61.3 Bn in 2017. FDI from China is relatively small but gaining momentum of late. India received in total (from all countries) $ 60 Bn in FDI in 2016-17, of which just $278 Mn came from China. Majority of FDI is in Automobile sector. China is 17 FDI source to India behind Japan (no.3) and US(no.6). Telecom, Smart Mobile phones share of China has gone up to 54% (estimated) in 2017. From just $464.8 Mn in 2016, Chinese investments in eCommerce have leap frogged to $ 1.9 Bn so far in 2017.
Present Govt Strategy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been Unrestrained while talking about China which is Economically, politically, technologically and militarily more powerful. He was the first senior political leader to caution China to desist from its “Expansionist tendencies” in his election speeches in 2014.   It was the first time,  Sikyong (Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government -in-exile) Lonsang  Sangay attended an Indian Prime Mininster’s swearing in ceremony. The very next year, Modi became the first Prime Minister to visit Arunachal Pradesh to mark statehood celebrations. It was for the first time in seven visits to Arunachal Pradesh that His holiness Dalai Lama was accompanied by a Union Minister. The Modi Govt. ignored Chinese displeasure on each occasion. If previous Govt. opted for appeasement, this Govt. has swung to the other extreme.
Under such security and geostrategic circumstances, the claim of the Chinese state media looks totally misplaced and hyperbole. Chinese Government is feeling domestic pressure as India resisted its attempt to alter Trijunction in Doklam plateau while it went overboard with provocative and war-mongering statements.
There are signs that diplomatic channels are working and progress is being made especially after National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s Beijing visit when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping among others. Over the past few days, both India and China have said that diplomatic solution is being worked out. External Affairs Minister’s remark in Rajya Sabha last week was that Doklam Stand off  is not a stand alone issue. As a country we are not negotiating only on Doklam, we are talking of bilateral relations in entirety & clearly solution will also emerge out of It.
It would be absurd for China to start a war over its own actions, and over disputed territory with a small country that has a security relationship with India under which India has acted. China’s credibility on territorial issues is very low internationally because of its action in the south china sea and repudiation of the UNCLOS award. It will suffer heavy causalities if it triggered a border conflict.
Fall out could be that China may support physically Pakistan outright in border disputes with India. It is, therefore, axiomatic that we expeditiously create a two front capability to safeguard our National Interests. The Option of thinning troops from China border to address the Pakistan front, as the Army has done in the past, is no longer viable.
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, scheduled to visit China early in September 2017, for a summit of BRICS leaders, would help ease out the situation & clear this impasse.
All in all, September could be a month to watch – Unless there is a complete China – Indian withdrawal by then. Meanwhile, storm clouds are gathering. “Supreme Art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” Sun Tzu.


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