Nervous China triggers India-China border  stand-off escalation

Nervous China triggers India-China border stand-off escalation

by August 1, 2017 0 comments

The dramatic political victories of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India and President Donald Trump in USA led to consolidation of right wing ideologies in respective countries. The events were unpredictable and so fast that it impacted global political situation leading to a new world order. The USA leadership is willing to work with Russia and India is extremely close to USA today, both were unthinkable about two decades ago. China is extremely vulnerable with the rise of India because it will pose economic, political, diplomatic and military challenge. The current situation on the border is an attempt by China to disturb India’s ambition to be a dominant international player. China is pushing Pakistan to disturb India indirectly since many years but the India, USA, Russia tactical alliance is a bad news for China. China is protecting North Korea and there is a direct conflict brewing up between USA and North Korea, the Americans are consolidating navy fleet in south of Malacca, crucial to Chinese trade and commerce. To avoid international focus on North Korea, China has pushed troops to India border to make new international headlines.

The latest row erupted in mid June when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Dong- lang in China. The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north- eastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Bhutan. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it. India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12 mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland. And since this stand-off began, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down. There is a dreadful sense of dejavu about the way the stand-off appears to be escalating.

This is not the first time the two neighbors who share a rocky relationship have faced off on the ill-defined border, where minor incursions by troops have been common. The region saw armed clashes between China and India in 1967, and a prolonged stand off and build-up of troops along the border in Arunachal Pradesh in 1986-87.

‘Not a bluff’

Indian analysts believe China’s warnings cannot be ignored. “In general, the Chinese pattern of use of force has been to prepare the ground with adequate statements and warnings. Hence, I think we should not take them lightly or see it as a bluff,” a China expert told me.

In 1962, the state-run news agency Xinhua warned well in advance that India should “pull back from the brink of war”. During the Korean War in 1950 which pitted the US and its allies against the USSR, North Korea and communist China, the Chinese warned the US through India that if they crossed the yalu River the Chinese would be forced to enter the war. To be true, this doesn’t mean that China is girding up for war. As things stand, both sides can share some blame for the stand-off in what is a strategically important area.

In 2012, India and China agreed that the tri junction boundaries with Bhutan and Myanmar (also called Burma) would be finally decided in consultation with these countries. Until then, the status quo would prevail. India believes China violated the status quo by building the road. Indian troops were sent to resist their Chinese counterparts in the area only after Bhutan, which has close ties with India, requested India to help. China insists Indian troops invaded Doklam/Donglang to help Bhutan, and it was a violation of international law. Mr Lu says India should not “take trespass as a policy tool to reach or realize their political targets”.

Some analysts say India possibly made a mistake by openly conflating the building of the road with talk of potential “serious security implications for India”. “I agree that there were security concerns, but it was wrong for India to voice them strongly. We could have just said that China had breached the status quo. By overplaying the security angle, we may have scored an own goal, and the Chinese are exploiting it,” an analyst told me.

Tricky situation

He has a point. Long Xingchun, an analyst at a Chinese think-tank, says “a third country’s” army could enter the disputed region of Kashmir at Pakistan’s request, using the “same logic” the Indian army has used to stop the Chinese troops from building the road in Doklam/Donglang. “Even if India were requested to defend Bhutan’s territory, this could only be limited to its established territory, not the disputed area.”

Clearly, for the stand-off to end, all three sides need an agreeable solution without losing face. As China hardens its position, many believe that finding a “three-way, face saving solution” would be tricky and time consuming. Relations between the two countries are also at their lowest ebb in many years. Both sides possibly passed up an opportunity to resolve the crisis earlier this month when a potential meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Ham- burg did not happen. India said a meeting with Mr Xi had never been on Mr Modi’s agenda; and China’s foreign ministry had said the atmosphere was not right for a meeting.

India’s influential National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visit to Beijing for a meeting of Brics nations turned to be success. Doval, who is also the special representative for the India- China border, met his Chinese counterpart yang Jiechi. Both sides have made it a prestige issue. But diplomacy is all about keeping things going in difficult circumstances,” a former diplomat says. Despite the deteriorating relationship, a war is unlikely to break out.

‘The Indian Army should stand firm’ – Lieutenant General Dr D B Shekatkar (retd), PvSM, AvSM, AvSM, was in charge of the entire China front in Arunachal Pradesh during the Kargil War. The general, who served extensively in the North East, also compelled a record number (1,267) of terrorists in Kashmir, trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan to give up terrorism. General Shekatkar spoke to’s Archana Masih on the India-China standoff in the Sikkim sector.

Why a plateau in Bhutan is important for India:

I know the Dokalam area in Bhutan since 1992 where the Chinese are exerting their claim. It is at the tri junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and China. It is legally important for us because in mountain warfare, even a 10 feet high ground is of importance.

Over the years, the Chinese came during the grazing season, stayed for a few days with yaks and went away. They used to tell the Bhutanese that this is our area. For the last two years, the Chinese came in strength and started building roads on the Doklam plateau. It is also strategically located near the Siliguri corridor. Assuming it is occupied and deployed with guns and heavy armament, it is such a narrow patch that anyone who controls it will also controls the entry and exit from the North East. It can cut off the entire North East.

There are 2 to 3 hydel projects coming up in this area where India has in- vested heavily. One project is Jaldhaka (on the Indian side of the India-Bhutan border). The Chinese have entered the Doklam plateau because it overlooks the Chumbi valley which is Chinese territory. This is the military reason why China is keen on the Bhutanese territory. When sensitive territory goes into the hands of your enemy or adversary, he becomes more powerful in military terms.

Assuming the Chinese take over that area (the doklam Plateau) they will not stop at that. they will keep pushing further. It will be easier for them to further expand their territory.

The reason for the current India- China stand-off:

Linked to this is that Bhutan is a small country. It is a sovereign country, but there is a small training detachment of the Indian Army to train the Bhutanese forces. It is located at Thimpu and a place called Ha in the Chumbi valley. The Indian Army has been in Ha for decades, which is a training establishment. The Doklam Plateau is at close proximity to this place.

When training the Bhutanese army on operational parameters, the Chinese troops entered the area and because the Indian Army was present there, they were told to go back. That is how the Indian Army got involved and China claims that Indian Army has entered the Doklam area. The Chinese in the past come and go, but this time the Chinese were trying to bulldoze their way through the Bhutanese army into the Doklam Plateau.

On China asking the Indian Army to withdraw and India’s refusal to stand down:

China has no business to tell the Indian Army to withdraw because that is Bhutanese territory. If at all, somebody should ask the Indian Army to vacate, it is Bhutan. The Chinese are telling the world that the Indian Army has ingresses into their area. The Indian Army should stand firm. I feel the Chinese will vacate that area in two months after it begins to snow.

In Kargil also, both the Indian Army and Pakistan army used to withdraw, but in 1999, we found they did not, which led to the Kargil War. This time, I don’t think the Bhutanese army will vacate that area lest the Chinese continue during the winter. Then there will be open war. Therefore, the Bhutanese army will now have to stay there. The Indian Army should continue to remain there to support the Bhutanese army.

The Indian army will not fight anybody else’s war, but they should be there and be prepared. Once the Chinese retreat, India will also go back and leave the area for Bhutan. The Indian Army can be positioned 3 km or so behind the Bhutanese army on the Doklam Plateau.

On the Chinese stance in the present tension:

As per Chinese strategy they will continue to harp that this area belongs to them. According to the 1890 and 1914 treaty that area doesn’t belong to them. They will try and show that the Indian Army has ingresses into their territory. The Indian Army cannot ingress into China through another country. If the army had crossed over from Sikkim it would have been a totally different thing, so that stand doesn’t hold good.

Why India needs to build world opinion on China:

As strategic framework, India should now build world opinion on China on the following issues:

  1. China is the only nation in the world which officially protects two rogue nations Pakistan and North Korea. When a member of the United Nations Security Council protects two rogue nations does it qualify to be a member?
    Should not the world body take up this issue in the UN General Assembly to remove China from membership of the Security Council and take away its veto power?
  2. China’s military strength is based on its economic strength.Economic strength depends on industrial strength. If China’s economy is affected, its military will get impacted. We should not sustain the Chinese economy and look at it as economic warfare.
  3. India should engage China on the seas so that China’s influence does not increase in the South China Sea. Our strategy should be to engage with the Philippines, vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan.
    India should be able to engage China in the Indian Ocean ring, starting from the Straits of Malacca to the Straits of Hormuz Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles, Gwadar. India should take world leaders into confidence and engage China. That should be the grand strategy. India should let it be known to China that they have been helping terrorists operating in India  the Naxalites, insurgents in the North East. If India does even 2% of what the Chinese are doing, they will not know how to handle the Tibetans and the people in Xinjiang.

Political Editor Prakhar Prakash Mishra comprehensively studied the international and national press on India China border standoff and he has compiled a report taking out best of reports, coverage, interviews  to highlight the perception and the reality of the current buildup. Inputs from CNN, BBC and prominent Indian media are incorporated to offer a broader prospective.







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