China on the Back foot; In­dia has the Edge

India Strategic - - CONTENTS -

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.

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