Dok­lam pull­back – Ad­van­tage Modi

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

There is no doubt that the si­mul­ta­ne­ous pull­back from the Dok­lam stand­off by the In­dian Mil­i­tary and the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) is ad­van­tage Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. Asia Times aptly summed up what In­dia res­o­lutely con­veyed to China, “What’s cer­tainly clear is that In­dia has no ap­petite for be­ing pushed around by its in­creas­ingly hege­monic neigh­bour (China)”. The di­rect imp­ish bul­ly­ing by Yang Je­ichi, China’s state coun­selor to NSA Ajit Do­val on July 27 by say­ing “Is this (Dok­lam) your ter­ri­tory” was met by the lat­ter’s re­sponse, “Does ev­ery dis­puted ter­ri­tory be­come China’s by de­fault?” Psyched in an aura of false su­pe­ri­or­ity, Yang must have been stunned.

It is well known that the “dis­puted” part is forced on Bhutan by China, the Dok­lam Plateau be­ing pri­vate prop­erty of the Royal fam­ily of Bhutan. Do­val re­port­edly as­serted that the ter­ri­tory was part of Bhutan and In­dia was obliged to look af­ter Bhutan’s se­cu­rity un­der an Indo-Bhutanese treaty. China had timed the Dok­lam in­tru­sion with Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit to the US, hop­ing for a smooth walkover. How­ever, it re­ceived a shock when In­dian troops phys­i­cally blocked the PLA ad­vance and Bhutan is­sued de­marche to China.

To say that China went berserk and mad would be putting it mildly; threats of at­tack­ing for teach­ing In­dia a les­son, threats and string of lies by Chi­nese of­fi­cials and diplo­mats in­clud­ing the Chi­nese am­bas­sador and his deputy in New Delhi, large scale mil­i­tary and fire­power dis­play in COT (China Oc­cu­pied Ti­bet) , daily vir­u­lent tirade by China’s state-con­trolled me­dia; in­tru­sions on foot and by air in Chamoli dis­trict of Ut­trak­hand, Chi­nese troops stone-pelt­ing and at­tack­ing In­dian pa­trol with rods on Au­gust 15 close to Pan­gong Tso, you name it. De­spite all this, diplo­matic par­leys were con­tin­u­ing.

Even­tu­ally, on Au­gust 28, the MEA and China’s For­eign Min­istry is­sued a si­mul­ta­ne­ous state­ment an­nounc­ing the “ex­pe­di­tious dis­en­gage­ment” by troops on the Dok­lam plateau that In­dia is treaty­bound to pro­tect. But the Chi­nese spokeswoman puck­ishly added that Chi­nese troops would con­tinue to pa­trol the Dok­lam re­gion, China will con­tinue to ex­er­cise sovereignty rights to pro­tect ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty in ac­cor­dance with the rules of the his­tor­i­cal bound­ary, and China hopes In­dia re­spects the his­tor­i­cal bound­ary and works with China to pro­tect peace along the bor­der on the ba­sis of mu­tual re­spect of each other’s sovereignty. While this may be laughed off as a face saver, the Chi­nese rhetoric has a deeper aim when read in con­junc­tion with ear­lier Chi­nese an­nounce­ment that In­dia had with­drawn from Dok­lam, con­vey­ing the PLA stayed put.

It is ob­vi­ous that the joint state­ment was agreed upon much ear­lier by both sides, which was si­mul­ta­ne­ous with­drawal and had been sug­gested by In­dia at the very be­gin­ning of the stand­off as the only re­spectable way out for China. The Chi­nese ref­er­ence now to “his­tor­i­cal bound­ary” and that China will keep pa­trolling the area is mis- chievous be­cause she has been wrongly re­fer­ring to the 1890 Treat and the Tri-junc­tion to jus­tify her ag­gres­sion. In­dia could have re­pu­di­ated these Chi­nese as­ser­tions and made pub­lic the agree­ment for si­mul­ta­ne­ous with­drawal but chose to re­main silent. The Chi­nese in­tru­sion also was a diplo­matic fi­asco at the global level. Not even Pak­istan, China’s clos­est ally, sup­ported the Chi­nese ac­tion. On the con­trary vet­eran Pak­istani Gen­er­als were openly crit­i­cal on Pak­istan TV that In­dia has stymied the Chi­nese at Dok­lam, China has threat­ened to at­tack In­dia, In­dia has said it is ready for all even­tu­al­i­ties, and China has not done any­thing.

Then there is also the BRICS meet that China hosted in Septem­ber, at­ten­dance of Prime Min­is­ter Modi to which had not been con­firmed by In­dia. In­dia had al­ready boy­cotted the con­fer­ence on One Belt One Road ini­tia­tive chaired by China, right­fully be­cause China went ahead on the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) through In­dian Ter­ri­tory of POK with­out ref­er­ence to In­dia. If the Dok­lam Stand­off con­tin­ued, Prime Min­is­ter Modi may not have at­tended the BRICS sum­mit in China. This would have shown Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in poor light es­pe­cially with China hav­ing clob­bered to­gether BRICS as a se­quel to the US and the West. Be­sides, Xi is bat­tling se­ri­ous in­ter­nal dis­sent within the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) and Modi’s ab­sence at BRICS would have low­ered Xi’s rat­ings in the forth­com­ing 19th Congress of the CPC.

Be­sides, China en­joys an over­all $60 bil­lion trade sur­plus with In­dia and trade with In­dia is ex­pected to rise to $300 bil­lion in next five years. In ad­di­tion china has $60 bil­lion worth of projects un­der­way in In­dia, with more on the hori­zon. Con­flict would have hit the mas­sively slow­ing down Chi­nese econ­omy; Chi­nese re­ac­tion to In­dia im­pos­ing anti-dump­ing duty on 93 prod­ucts of im­port is in­dica­tive of this. Geopo­lit­i­cally also, China was un­likely to find sup­port in case of con­flict – not even from Rus­sia, ASEAN or Nepal. On the con­trary, a pos­si­ble big­ger mar­itime al­liance with In­dia in­cluded may have been feared in event of grow­ing Chi­nese mil­i­tarism. Con­flict would also have ad­versely af­fected the OBOR and Mar­itime Silk Route (MSR) of China.

De­spite the mil­i­tary and eco­nomic might of China, there is no way she can de­fend against dis­rup­tion of these gi­gan­tic ten­ta­cles stretched across the globe. Mil­i­tar­ily too, China re­alises that at­tack in the moun­tains re­quires 5:1 or greater nu­mer­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity, well-trained In­dian Army is bet­ter placed strate­gi­cally and ca­pa­ble of at­tack­ing as quid-pro-quo ba­sis, the IAF has ad­e­quate weaponry to pun­ish the PLA, and China will face con­se­quence in the In­dian Ocean.

But the bot­tom-line is that the Dok­lam pull­back does not sig­nify any change in China’s poli­cies. That is why Gen­eral Bipin Rawat has warned that there could be many more Dok­lams. And, In­dia is ready for an­other Dok­lam at Dok­lam too.

LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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