Dok­lam face-off a power play by New Delhi in the dis­guise of bor­der dis­pute

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIEW - By Zhang Ye The author is a re­search fel­low of PLA Naval Re­search In­sti­tute. opin­ion@glob­al­times.com.cn

Since the Dok­lam face-off started over a month ago, In­dia has given dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the rea­sons why its troops crossed the bor­der to stop a PLA road con­struc­tion team.

On June 26, Times of In­dia re­ported that a PLA team in­vaded In­dian ter­ri­tory by cross­ing the Sino-In­dian bound­ary line in Sikkim sec­tion and trig­gered the face-off. On the same day a Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman re­sponded by pre­sent­ing a pic­ture show­ing that it was In­dian sol­diers that crossed the bor­der into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory, and two days later the Hin­dus­tan Times re­ported that Gen­eral Bip­inRawat, chief of army staff of the In­dian Army, de­nied that In­dian ter­ri­tory was in­vaded by PLA troops.

On June 30 the In­dian Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs is­sued an of­fi­cial doc­u­ment on the “re­cent de­vel­op­ment in Dok­lam area,” which gave a dif­fer­ent ex­pla­na­tion of the in­ci­dent. It said a PLA con­struc­tion party en­tered dis­puted ter­ri­tory be­tween China and Bhutan, and “in co­or­di­na­tion with [Bhutan], In­dian per­son­nel ap­proached the Chi­nese con­struc­tion party and urged them to de­sist from chang­ing the sta­tus quo.” This in­di­cates that where China en­tered is not In­dian’s ter­ri­tory but Bhutan’s ter­ri­tory, and the pur­pose of In­dia’s ac­tion is to pro­tect Bhutan’s ter­ri­tory from China’s in­va­sion.

How­ever, as a third party of the Sino-Bhutan bor­der dis­pute, does the In­dian mil­i­tary have the right to tres­pass across the Sino-In­dian es­tab­lished bor­der to stop China’s road con­struc­tion? If yes, it would be very dan­ger­ous, for un­der In­dia’s logic, if Pak­istan re­quests, a third coun­try’s army can en­ter the area dis­puted by In­dia and Pak­istan, in­clud­ing In­di­a­con­trolled Kash­mir.

More­over, in a state­ment is­sued by the Bhutan govern­ment on June 29, there was no men­tion of ask­ing for help from or con­sult­ing with the In­dian govern­ment. Ac­cord­ing to diplo­matic sources, the Bhutan govern­ment even didn’t know about In­dia’s move to cross the bor­der in ad­vance.

So what are the ben­e­fits to In­dia in the Dok­lam face-off? The area is of very huge sig­nif­i­cance in mil­i­tary and geostrate­gic com­pe­ti­tion. When China started to con­struct the road, In­dia feared this would fa­cil­i­tate China’s pro­jec­tion of mil­i­tary forces and weaken In­dia’s ad­van­tages.

How­ever, the con­struc­tion of a sin­gle road can­not change the mil­i­tary bal­ance be­tween China and In­dia and the sta­tus quo. There­fore, it is In­dia’s il­lu­sory fear of los­ing its mil­i­tary ad­van­tage in the South Asia that leads to its over­re­ac­tion in the Dok­lam re­gion. This trig­gered the face-off in this re­mote moun­tain­ous area, al­though the site of the road con­struc­tion is well within China’s ter­ri­tory.

The other fac­tor that should be con­sid­ered is the on­go­ing bor­der talks be­tween China and Bhutan, a small moun­tain­ous coun­try of only 700,000 peo- ple, deeply in­flu­enced by In­dia in eco­nom­ics, pol­i­tics and diplo­macy. Since the 1980s China and Bhutan have con­ducted 24 rounds of bor­der ne­go­ti­a­tions. Al­though the fi­nal de­lim­i­ta­tion hasn’t been com­pleted yet, con­sen­sus has been reached on the prac­ti­cal ge­o­graphic con­di­tions and the di­rec­tion of the bound­ary lines.

How­ever, the progress of bor­der talks is thought not to be in the in­ter­ests of In­dia, for if the bor­der dis­pute is set­tled, China and Bhutan will es­tab­lish a nor­mal diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship, which will strengthen Sino-Bhutan ties and weaken In­dia’s in­flu­ence over Bhutan. Many Bhutanese peo­ple com­plain that it is In­dia’s in­ter­fer­ence that im­pedes the Si­noBhutan bor­der ne­go­ti­a­tion.

More­over, the on­go­ing bor­der row in Dok­lam has put In­dia in a better po­si­tion to in­crease its mil­i­tary pres­ence in Bhutan, which will fur­ther strengthen In­dia’s con­trol over Bhutan. There­fore In­dia sent its troops into the Dok­lam area in the name of help­ing Bhutan, but in fact, In­dia is mak­ing use of Bhutan to in­crease its strate­gic ad­van­tage over China.

So the Dok­lam face-off is in na­ture a great power com­pe­ti­tion in the dis­guise of bor­der dis­pute, a more com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion than past bor­der dis­putes be­tween In­dia and China. Over a month into the stand­off, the in­ten­tion of In­dia is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear to the world, and more and more peo­ple be­lieve that China has the right and power to de­fend its ter­ri­tory. As long as In­dia keeps its mil­i­tary force there, it will fall deeper into the strate­gic dilemma cre­ated by it­self, so with­draw­ing its troops out of the Dok­lam area is the only right ap­proach to solv­ing the cri­sis for In­dia.

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