By Lt. Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd.)
The stand-off in Doklam is entering the third month. It is worrying to see the kind of coverage that this incident has generated. Practically every analyst seems to have war on his mind and they have been taking a lot of pleasure in painting various scenarios. TV channels have been running operational discussions and some analysts from the West have been painting war scenarios and working on games theory. It appears the whole world would be happy to see India and China go to war. Needless to say most of the people covering the issue do not know the Doklam area well.
Some reporters and analysts have written about the Three Warfares (三种战法). Readers would recall a series of articles on that subject published by Defence Aviation Post. It is quite likely that China has put into action the Three warfares technique.
The frequent question that one hears everywhere in India these days is that whether there will be a war between India and China. War is a very serious business and it should not be thought of in a cavalier manner like this. Fates of countries and societies change due to wars. One does not have go far to realise this. Let us take our minds back to the 1962 War.
Though the Indian armed forces alone cannot be blamed for the outcome of that war, it worked on their minds in addition to that of politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and people of India for almost three decades. This affected the bilateral relations between India and China adversely. Thankfully, it is fading away. Similarly, the result of 1971 War is still hurting all Pakistanis. The Century of Humiliation has been on the minds of Chinese and that chmay be a reason for the present stand-off in Doklam.
Coming on to Doklam issue, the rhetoric from the Chinese side shows no signs of abating. Media picked up and flashed a statement by Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, that China will launch an operation in two weeks and India’s Ministry of External Affairs will be informed prior to that. China put out a 15 page fact sheet incorporating all the statements that were made earlier.
However, it failed to address the queries raised by India, Bhutan and others. On 10 August 2017, Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo of Academy of Military Sciences wrote an article with a veiled threat to India in the PLA Website. It was not available in English. Many such articles have appeared for the local audience in China. The spokesperson also put out reports saying that 48 Indian Army soldiers and one dozer are present in Chinese territory on the last day of July. Approximately one week later, he said 53 personnel and one dozer are still there in Chinese territory.
It appears that China’s strategy is not to let this issue go away from the media, her population and international glare. This is also one of the rare occasions in which China is trying to defend her action through various means by putting out a map and photograph first and there after the white paper. All China Journalists Association hosted some Indian journalists to convey their view point. However, all these have been efforts to convey China’s position in a unilateral manner. She seems to be oblivious to the fact that there are others who have different positions to China’s on this issue.
Bhutan’s foreign ministry while speaking to the news agency ANI mentioned that Doklam belongs to Bhutan which was contrary to what Wang Wenli, Deputy Director General of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated. This statement put paid to some sceptics who claimed that the statement issued by Bhutan on 29 June was under coercion from India. India’s reaction has been consistent. It has been one of quiet, calm, firm and mature diplomacy.
The reaction to China’s White Paper on Doklam issue was a simple statement that “India considers that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas is an important prerequisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China” and mentioned that there is no change to the 30 June statement issued by it.
A section of the analysts have started feeling that it may be alright for India to pull back to give an option to China. Tactically that may be sustainable. But it will have disastrous consequences. Secondly, they will do well to remember that China respects strength and abhors weakness. Any show of weakness will be detrimental for all our future negotiations with China. It is not only about Doklam but also about the larger India – China relations.
As per reports, a major general level flag meeting held at Nathula on 11 August 2017 remained inconclusive. There were also reports that the Indian side suggested Chinese troops withdraw 250 m from their present positions that was rejected by Wang Wenli. He also asked how India will feel if China enters Kalapani area which is located at the tri-juntion of India, Nepal and China.
One is not sure whether India suggested such a thing. Both sides have mentioned that the normal diplomatic channels have been functioning. Mrs Sushma Swaraj, India’s Foreign Minister, has made two statements saying war is not an option but diplomatic solution is. All these indicate to the fact that despite the rhetoric, diplomatic discussions have been going on to resolve the issue.
As suggested by this author in an earlier article, simultaneous phased withdrawal by both sides will be a workable solution. For that, the Chinese side has to accept that any changes to the area of tri junctions need the concurrence of all the three countries involved. That may not be a difficult thing to do as she was a party to the understanding reached in 2012 regarding the tri junction areas.
If China’s spokespersons and some of her media continue to throw barbs at India it will make it difficult for both sides to come to a solution to the present crisis. Since both the sides have taken strong positions, the Doklam Issue is likely to take longer to get resolved. As the efforts to resolve this issue go on, it will also be prudent to get into an agreement to avoid such incidents in future.
As we go into the 70th Anniversary of our Independence, we need to thank the officers and men who have braved harsh weather and terrain conditions to stand their ground not only at Doklam but all along our borders to ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our motherland.
Readers may recall that we had started a series on One Belt One Road (OBOR). Doklam incident has overshadowed all other things. It is time to return to other important things and taking the glare away from this incident which may actually facilitate resolving the issue. Therefore, heads up for the next part of the OBOR series.