Sikkim Stand­off — China’s Dilemma?

China has re­solved its bor­ders with all its neigh­bours less In­dia and Bhutan be­cause of its ex­pan­sion­ist aims to­wards the In­dian Ocean


China has re­solved its bor­ders with all its neigh­bours less In­dia and Bhutan be­cause of its ex­pan­sion­ist aims to­wards the In­dian Ocean Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

THE SIKKIM STAND­OFF BE­TWEEN PLA and the In­dia Army is per­sist­ing. China has tried ev­ery trick in psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare, us­ing its of­fi­cial spokesper­sons and me­dia, which is all state-owned, to ca­jole, bully and threaten In­dia with “dire con­se­quences” in case In­dia does not with­draw but In­dia has stood fast. Even af­ter the visit of Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Ajit Do­val to Bei­jing, Chi­nese me­dia spread the fake news that In­dia has re­duced its pres­ence in the stand­off area but Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj has re­futed this lie in Par­lia­ment.


China has re­solved its bor­ders with all its neigh­bours less In­dia and Bhutan be­cause of its ex­pan­sion­ist aims to­wards the In­dian Ocean. In suc­ces­sive border talks with Bhutan, China has suc­ces­sively ex­panded its claim lines, akin to what it has been do­ing with In­dia, never hand­ing over a map marked with what its ul­ti­mate claims are. For past sev­eral years, PLA (Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army) troops have forcibly in­truded into the post of the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) in Dok­lam Plateau, stay­ing put for an hour or so, and telling RBA troops to va­cate the plateau, claim­ing it as Chi­nese ter­ri­tory. The mere fact that a big coun­try like China is in­dulging in such an­tics against a peace­ful coun­try like Bhutan that gives promi­nence to the hap­pi­ness in­dex of its cit­i­zens, shows to what ex­tent China can stoop to il­le­gally oc­cupy ter­ri­tory, slic­ing it off salami-style, as she has been do­ing with In­dia. China wants to cap­ture the Dok­lam Plateau be­cause it over­looks Chi­nese Posts in Chumbi Val­ley of China Oc­cu­pied Ti­bet (CoT). But for In­dia, the strate­gic im­por­tance of Dok­lam Plateau lies in the fact that this high ground not only over­looks the sen­si­tive Siliguri Cor­ri­dor, its oc­cu­pa­tion by China will turn the flanks of In­dia de­fences in Sikkim, mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble.

De­lib­er­ate Chi­nese In­tru­sion

Over the years, China man­aged to con­struct a Class 9 un-met­alled road lead­ing to the Dok­lam Plateau but trou­ble be­gan when Chi­nese troops started ad­vanc­ing through the Dok­lam Re­gion to­wards Doka La. On June 20, 2017, Bhutan served a de­marche to China against the Chi­nese ar­bi­trary ac­tion of con­struct­ing a road in the Dok­lam Plateau, which is prop­erty of the King of Bhutan. The de­marche, a for­mal state­ment, was served through the Chi­nese em­bassy in Delhi on June 20 since Bhutan and China do not have diplo­matic re­la­tions. Ma­jor Gen­eral Vet­sop Nam­gyel, Am­bas­sador of Bhutan to In­dia, told the me­dia, “The PLA started mo­torable road con­struc­tion in the Dok­lam area to­wards Bhutanese Army camp at Zom­phlri. We are in bound­ary res­o­lu­tion talks with China and have writ­ten agree­ments that pend­ing final bound­ary set­tle­ment, peace and tran­quil­ity be main­tained along the bound­ary and both sides re­frain from uni­lat­er­ally al­ter­ing the sta­tus on ground. Bhutan has con­veyed to China that road con­struc­tion is not keeping with the agree­ments be­tween two coun­tries. We have asked China to stop road con­struc­tions and re­frain from chang­ing the sta­tus quo. Dok­lam area is near the tri-junc­tion is part of the bound­ary talks be­tween Bhutan and China.” This be­lied China’s claim that by stop­ping PLA troops from the bla­tant con­struc­tion, In­dian troops were vi­o­lat­ing sovereignty of Bhutan.

China timed this de­lib­er­ate in­tru­sion and road con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity in the Dok­lam Plateau with Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit to the US know­ing full well that In­dian troops will be forced to re­act, giv­ing ex­cuse to China to snub In­dia by clos­ing the pil­grim­age route to Kailash-Mansarovar via Nathu La. Con­sid­er­ing the strate­gic im­por­tance of the Dok­lam Plateau, un­armed In­dian troops blocked the ad­vance of PLA troops, wit­nessed world over. What China claims the Tri-Junc­tion is not the one rec­og­nized by In­dia — China has mis­chie­vously shifted it south­wards by cou­ple of kms in or­der to ex­pand her claims. China claims the tri-junc­tion at Mount Gip­mochi but the ridge line on Hi­malayan ter­rain sup­ports In­dia’s claims that it lies on Batang La. In fact, Ti­betan his­tory spe­cial­ist Claude Arpi states that “Ac­cord­ing to Sikkimese records, Gip­mochi is Batang La, 5 km north of Doka La.” This is what In­dia claims. In ad­di­tion, In­dia has cat­e­gor­i­cally told China that In­dia has mil­i­tary agree­ment with Bhutan and that al­ter­ing sta­tus quo is not ac­cept­able to In­dia. To China’s sly ref­er­ence to 1962, De­fence Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley bluntly re­minded China that to­day is not 1962.

China is mad that In­dia has re­fused to join the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC), which pos­si­bly was taken as granted by the Com­mu­nist Party of China. With­out In­dia join­ing, the eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity of the CPEC is un­der cloud. But then China went ahead with its CPEC project com­pletely by­pass­ing strate­gic, se­cu­rity and ter­ri­to­rial sen­si­tiv­i­ties of In­dia, es­pe­cially when CPEC is run­ning through PoK, which is In­dian Ter­ri­tory. The Indo-US re­la­tion­ship also ap­par­ently scares China. The state-owned Chi­nese me­dia says that In­dia “needs to be taught the rules”. China un­der Deng Xiaop­ing in­vaded Viet­nam in 1979 “to teach Viet­nam a les­son” but in­stead learnt a les­son them­selves. Xi Jin­ping was then Sec­re­tary in the Chi­nese Min­istry of De­fence un­der Deng Xiaop­ing. Again dur­ing the 1986 Sum­dorong Chu in­ci­dent, Deng Xiaop­ing threat­ened to “teach In­dia a les­son” but even­tu­ally had to re­treat. All that In­dia needs to do is re­main res­o­lute. As far as China’s threat that In­dia “needs to be taught the rules”, there sure is scope. In­dia can­not stop Chi­nese goods com­ing into In­dia, but the In­dian pub­lic cer­tainly has the choice to shun Chi­nese prod­ucts. The $60 bil­lion bi­lat­eral trade im­bal­ance in favour of China must be elim­i­nated. Bully or rogue, China must un­der­stand she can’t keep clap­ping with one hand.

China’s Dilemma, Bul­ly­ing and Subterfuge

China’s dilemma is the fake aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity that the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party has built around it­self, putting China in a tight cor­ner. To top this, hav­ing usurped to­tal power unto him, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is in tear­ing hurry to re­al­ize his pet project, the ‘China Dream’ in or­der to put him­self on the same pedestal as Mao Zhe­dong. In­dia has sug­gested mu­tual melt­down from the stand­off area, as was done dur­ing the Sum­dorong Chu in­ci­dent, which is the only vi­able and re­spectable op­tion but so far China has not agreed. China wants In­dia to with­draw first but In­dia has bluntly told China this is not ac­cept­able; with­drawal from the area has to be si­mul­ta­ne­ous.

Amid some signs of thaw at the Dok­lam Plateau, China sud­denly es­ca­lated its rhetoric over the stand­off, warn­ing In­dia of “se­ri­ous con­se­quences” if it did not pull back its troops. Liu Jin­song, China’s deputy chief of mis­sion at New Delhi stated, “The crossing of the bound­ary line by In­dian troops into the ter­ri­tory of China us­ing the pre­text of se­cu­rity con­cern for a third party (Bhutan) is il­le­gal. The troops should be with­drawn im­me­di­ately, oth­er­wise there will be se­ri­ous con­se­quences.” Ear­lier re­ports in In­dian me­dia quot­ing gov­ern­ment sources talked of in­di­ca­tions that the Chi­nese could be wind­ing down their of­fen­sive pos­ture on the plateau where they had brought troops and heavy ma­chin­ery to build a road on Bhutanese ter­ri­tory but added that in­tent of China is un­clear. Sub­se­quently, speak­ing in Par­lia­ment, Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj was firm in stat­ing that it was China which had trig­gered the cri­sis, adding, “Our con­cerns em­anate from Chi­nese ac­tion on the ground which have im­pli­ca­tions for the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the tri-junc­tion bound­ary point be­tween In­dia, China and Bhutan and the align­ment of the In­dia-China bound­ary in the Sikkim sec­tor.”

While China had been shout­ing that no mean­ing­ful di­a­logue is pos­si­ble un­less In­dian troops uni­lat­er­ally and un­con­di­tion­ally with­draw, which In­dia has re­fused, it has now is­sued a 15-page state­ment clar­i­fy­ing its po­si­tion. Though the lan­guage is vit­ri­olic, China per­haps wants a res­o­lu­tion to the dis­pute, even de-es­ca­late. The doc­u­ment lies that In­dia has started with­draw­ing troops from a high over 400 to about 40 (In­dia main­tains its troop strength is con­stant at 350). It fur­ther al­leges that over 270 In­dian troops, car­ry­ing weapons and driv­ing two bull­doz­ers, crossed the bound­ary in the Sikkim sec­tor and ad­vanced more than 100 me­tre into the “Chi­nese ter­ri­tory” to ob­struct the road build­ing of the “Chi­nese” side. These are again bla­tant lies. It was Chi­nese who were us­ing bull­doz­ers. In­dia re­jected these false Chi­nese claims, the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs state­ment read­ing, “In­dia’s po­si­tion on this is­sue and re­lated facts have been ar­tic­u­lated in our press state­ment of June 30. In­dia con­sid­ers that peace and tran­quil­ity in the In­di­aChina border ar­eas is an im­por­tant pre­req­ui­site for smooth de­vel­op­ment of our bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with China.”

The Fu­ture

There are many pos­si­bil­i­ties that the fu­ture holds. The state of the Chi­nese econ­omy should not log­i­cally favour war and China knows very well that In­dia is no pushover, es­pe­cially with the ad­van­tage In­dia en­joys in the In­dian Ocean. More­over, the world opin­ion over the Dok­lam Stand­off is in In­dia’s favour, the mask of China’s “peace­ful rise” torn-off al­ready. Worse, China’s in­sti­ga­tion and sup­port be­hind North Korea’s an­tics and Chi­nese sup­port to Pak­istani ter­ror­ist lead­ers has be­come more than ap­par­ent. China has upped its ex­cur­sions in Bara­hoti area of Ut­trak­hand, in­clud­ing he­li­copters in­trud­ing into In­dian Ter­ri­tory. These again could be pres­sure tac­tics, in­tim­i­dat­ing In­dia into with­draw­ing from the Dok­lam stand­off. Such in­tru­sions in other ar­eas in­clud­ing Arunachal Pradesh could well be un­der­taken, even at larger scale, given the un­pre­dictabil­ity of the Chi­nese and the cor­ner they have got them­selves in. As men­tioned above, the only vi­able so­lu­tion is si­mul­ta­ne­ous with­drawal from the stand­off re­gion. This can be fol­lowed by a tri­lat­eral In­dia-Bhutan-China dis­cus­sion about the cor­rect lo­ca­tion of the tri-junc­tion to sort out the de­lib­er­ate con­fu­sion cre­ated by China. The fact re­mains that the tri-junc­tion has be along the ridge­line, which is Batang La – as claimed by In­dia. Mean­while, In­dia ob­vi­ously should be geared up for sim­i­lar de­lib­er­ate in­tru­sions any­where along the LAC, es­pe­cially in ar­eas il­le­gally claimed by China.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: Anoop Ka­math

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