Rajya Sabha TV- Security Scan – ‘India – China standoff in Doklam’
One of the two biggest economies of the world –India and China– have been engaged in a month-long stand-off in the narrow plateau Doklam lying in the tri-junction of Bhutan, China and India. China attempted to build a road from Yadong to Doklam, located in Chumbi valley near Nathu La pass, that triggered this stand-off.
The Doklam Issue:
The present standoff in Doklam, highlights India’s virtual responsibility to protect Bhutan’s sovereignty from external threats, as per 2007 India-Bhutan Friendship treaty. As per Bhutan, the construction of road inside its territory by Chinese army, is also a violation of 1988 and 1998 agreements between China and Bhutan. China also refused entry to Indian piligrims to Mansarovar via Nathula pass in June,2017. Doklam is critical to India as it brings China closer in a vulnerable location towards the 27kms long Siliguri corridor or chicken’s neck. China has repeatedly disputed Bhutan’s claim over Doklam. Beijing considers this plateau vital to fortify the dagger-shaped Chumbi valley by piercing the trijunction.
- India and China have had relations for more than 2000 years. Silk road helped in cultural and economic relations, including the spread of Buddhism in China and visits of travellers Faxian (in 4th century) and Xuanzang (in 7th century) to India. The 21st century Belt and Road initiative by Xi Jinping to take a larger role in global affairs includes similar Silk road and Maritime Silk road belts.
- The newly formed democratic republic of India and People’s Republic Of China then signed Panchsheel in 1954 for peaceful coexistence. These principles later also formed the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), established in 1961.
- But, issues and border disputes arose for Tibetan sovereignty, claims on Aksai Chin region having McDonald line and McMohan line in Arunachal Pradesh. The Sino-indian War in 1962, after 1959 Tibetan uprising and 1961 Forward Policy of India took place at the same time of Cuban missile crisis which resulted in Aksai Chin coming under exclusive Chinese control.
- Since the late 1980s,both the countries have successfully rebuilt diplomatic and economic ties, and China has become the largest trading partner of India amounting to US $71billion in FY2015-16.
- However, relations between the two nations sharing a border of 3,488km, also had frictions by issues like Chinese military PLA incursions in India and, Chinese denial of visas on Indian passport in 2007.
- There is an emerging strategy from Chinese end to get closer to India through its neighbours for last decade through Pakistan (CPEC), meddling with Nepal’s politics, Sri Lanka and now Bhutan. China’s current claims over the Doklam plateau should be seen as another example of cartographic aggression which China often engages in.
- China has been keen to establish its physical presence in this region according to the 1890 Convention. With China’s Belt and Road Initiative gaining momentum and completion of infrastructure programmes like Lhasa-Shigatse Railway, China appears to have turned its attention to the Doklam plateau to establish a strong presence close to the Indian border.
- There are substantial differences between the current Doklam plateau issue and past stand-offs such as those in Depsang and Chumar or the 1986-87 Wangdung incident near Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh. Therefore, it would be a mistake to treat the present incident as another border incident on the pattern of previous incidents reported from different points on the disputed Sino-Indian border.
- China and India see the Doklam stand-off very differently. For China, the issue is one of territorial ‘sovereignty’ and for India, the issue is one of national security.
- This time, no bilateral meeting took place between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Hamburg. There were no consequential meetings subsequently, including during the BRICS conclave as well. China is categorically laying down difficult pre-conditions for talks, though India is open to the idea of discussions without pre-conditions.
Both China and India have one of the world’s largest armies with 23 lakhs and 13 lakhs active troops respectively plus military expenditure of more than 2% of their GDP. So, any kind of war between the two will lead to heavy casualties on both the sides. Apart from that, Chinese economy is also slowing down. India’s economic growth will also be affected if there is a conflict. It will be good, if this longest ever military stand-off between the two nations, near the so-called Chicken’s neck which connects India to its NE states, gets resolved diplomatically and peacefully.