China on the Back foot; India has the Edge
THE SINO-Indian Doklam standoff in the IndiaBhutan-Tibet Tri-junction area has entered a record third month mid-August. But, even though China continues with its sabre-rattling against India, its unprecedented undiplomatic and abusive rhetoric appears to be losing steam and substance in the eyes of the world.
China through its state- controlled media and think tanks has been indulging in warnings of “teaching India a lesson” worse than it did in 1962 and after weeks of shrill war cries even released a 15-page position paper on August 2 that accused India of “invading Chinese territory”. The paper prepared by the Chinese external affairs ministry however obfuscated vital facts such as China’s attempt to alter the status quo by intruding into disputed territory and falsely claiming ( for domestic consumption!!) that India had pulled out most of its troops from Doklam. The paper was released a day after President Xi, in a speech marking the 80th anniversary of the founding of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), vowed “not to permit the loss of any piece of Chinese land at any time or in any form.”
But Beijing forgets that its highly provocative act of building a road on Doklam plateau was in gross violation of bilateral accords it had signed with Bhutan (1988, 1998) and India (2012) all of which prohibit any alteration of the existing status quo without mutual consultations. The 1890 agreement that Beijing has been citing repeatedly but selectively – even though Bhutan was not a party to it – also lays in tatters its claim over Doklam, as the ‘1890 Accord’ itself identifies the age- old watershed principle for defining the boundary between nations in the mountainous regions. As the highest ridgeline separating river flows runs through Batang-la, and not Mount Gipmochi, Doklam, irrefutably, becomes part of Bhutan.
The grave Chinese provocation in Bhutan’s Doklam area is consistent with its tactics of rejecting any contention that the territory it wrongfully occupies is disputed while, at the same time, treating those areas as disputed where it wants to lay a claim. Also, China doesn’t hesitate to unilaterally go back into history (real or mythical), as much as it chooses to, in laying its territorial claims in its neighbourhood –its actions in South China Sea, even though castigated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), prove the point beyond any doubt.
Chinese wrongful unilateral action in Doklam might have been the result of PLA’s long time desire to give width to its extremely narrow Chumbi Valley area where it feels boxed in on both sides (East- Bhutan and West-India) with obvious military implications. However, the timing of the provocation suggests that it might also be as a result of Beijing’s grave displeasure at both India and Bhutan for giving a go by to its RBI/OBOR initiative.
While China has tried hard to build up a case for itself, its efforts have found few takers in the diplomatic world. Its endeavours to woo Bhutan away from India with whom Thimpu enjoys a ‘special relationship’ (as a guarantor of its territorial/sovereign security) have also failed to yield any result. As a matter of fact, the resoluteness shown by both nations and steadfast holding of ground in Doklam by the Indian troops in support of Bhutan has totally baffled Beijing.
It is evident that China’s attempts to cow India down by unleashing a combination of media, legal and psychological warfare to “win without fighting” a la Sun Tzu style have not made any headway; with India reacting in a cool, calm and collected manner but with firmness wrapped in diplomatic finesse that has won many a heart and admirers in the world capitals.
As far as the Doklam imbroglio is concerned, Beijing finds itself on the diplomatic back foot with the entire world taking note of its insatiable but wrongful hunger for additional (others’) territories.
China has delivered a fusillade of fresh warnings to India to back down or face dire consequences through its official and media mouthpieces, but, the big question is: Will China convert its so far bullet-less aggression into a full-fledged 1962-style shooting war against India?
Deception, tactical surprise, shrewd timing and use of overwhelming force has been the hallmark of Chinese warfighting doctrine in order to stun the enemy and achieve quick results, but even China understands that India of 2017 is vastly different from 1962. Unquestionably, there is great asymmetry in quantitative terms between the two countries where weaponry and manpower strength of the Armed Forces is concerned; how much of it can be applied in the area of conflict, coupled with political resolve and military genius – applied correctly both on the ground and in the air – can nullify the numerical superiority of an adversary.
Military positioning on ground favours India in Doklam, but it is the air power – if used to the fullest extent needed – that would turn the tables for India.
Beijing must be made to realise that it has much to lose if it tries to find a military solution and that dialogue is the only option to break the deadlock in Doklam.