have worked hard to establish institutional framework to discuss all issues to ensure peace and tranquillity in the India-china border areas. India is committed to working with China to find peaceful resolution of all issues in the border areas through dialogue.”
In July, in a statement to Parliament, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj urged both India and China to pull back— seen as a response to Beijing’s demand of a unilateral pullback by India.
In another statement to Parliament in August, Swaraj indicated there could only be a diplomatic solution to a military standoff with China and advocated patience in India’s handling of the problem.
The Indian foreign ministry also stated that diplomatic contacts were on between the two sides to resolve the standoff. The ministry also recalled that in June, Prime Minister Modi had reached an understanding with Chinese President Xi that differences between the Asian giants should not be allowed to become disputes. This was during a meeting between the two on the margins of the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Kazakh capital.
All this came amid news reports of China carrying out war games in Tibet, close to the standoff site, and India moving large numbers of troops to the area.
Then, 73 days into the stand-off, on 28 August came the news that both sides were beginning to disengage. A two-line state- ment from the Indian foreign ministry said that thanks to diplomatic contacts, the two countries had agreed to “the expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the faceoff site at Dokalam”.
It later added that the disengagement had been completed “under verification”.
Two weeks after the resolution, there is still no official word of how the agreement was reached. And in the absence of an official explanation, theories abound. One of the theories is that China saw it prudent to make a tactical retreat given that India and Bhutan were seen to be on more solid legal ground. And with the BRICS summit coming up, China would not have wanted to jeopardize a showpiece event hosted by it for Dokalam.
“With the economies of countries like South Africa, Brazil and Russia not doing well, India’s absence at BRICS would have been telling,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. He pointed to the fact that India only confirmed Modi’s presence at the BRICS summit a day after India and China announced their military disengagement.
On the margins of the BRICS summit, Modi and Xi met and agreed to adopt a “forward looking approach” in the relationship between India and China, said foreign secretary Jaishankar.
“One of the important points which was again made during the meeting was that peace and tranquillity in the border areas was a prerequisite for the further development of our relationships, and that there should be more efforts made to really enhance and strengthen the level of mutual trust between the two sides,” Jaishankar said.
Given that India and China were neighbours, areas of differences would exist, “but it should be handled with mutual respect” and efforts made to find common ground in addressing those areas, he said.
In the defence arena, “the personnel involved in defence and security must maintain strong contacts and cooperation, and ensure that the sort of situation which happened recently do not recur,” Jaishankar said.
Analysts say one of the major takeaways from the Dokalam episode is the need for better border management. “We had agreements in 1993, 2005 and 2013. I think the many provisions suggested in these should be better implemented,” said Kondapalli. One of the suggestions to be implemented was the setting up of a hotline between the political leadership of the countries, he said.
Happymon Jacob, a professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, says India would have to be more wary of China in the future.
“India has long enjoyed a special status in the South Asian region and often treated it as its exclusive backyard. With China expanding its influence in the region and competing for status and influence, it considers South Asia along with India in it, as its periphery. And China is unlikely to respect India’s exclusive primacy in the region,” Jacob said.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal noted that India’s strong stance had fundamentally altered the dynamics of bilateral relations. Previously, India was seen as not standing up to China. Post-dokalam, that had changed and this was likely to be noted by countries in South-east Asia, which have maritime boundary issues with China, such as in the South China Sea.
“They will draw the right conclusion without India having to project Dokalam as a victory,” Sibal said.
Many irritants dog Sino-indian ties. They include the unsettled boundary dispute, a ballooning trade imbalance in China’s favour (India’s trade deficit with China mounted to $46.56 billion last year), Chinese infrastructure construction in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which is disputed between India and Pakistan.
China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir. Also, under an agreement signed between Pakistan and China in March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of territory claimed by India in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) to China.
From the Chinese point of view, the fact that India continues to host the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a “splittist”, is an irritant. India’s outreach to countries like Japan, Vietnam and others in South-east Asia is also viewed with suspicion by China.
In a seemingly bold move, India has reportedly sold Brahmos cruise missiles to Vietnam, which has strained ties with China over a maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
In 2014, India had extended a $100-million export credit for defence deals to Vietnam and increased energy ties with the country.
For now, though, China and India are making the right noises.
“Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi have held successful bilateral talks in Xiamen and both sides should conscientiously implement the consensus of the leaders and ensure healthy and stable development,” Chinese foreign minister Wang said in Xiamen, following the BRICS summit. *