The standoff between the Indian and Chinese armies at Doklam shows no signs of a resolution. With 3000 troops from the either side at the tri junction, the tension has been rising. A Chinese academic said that China is planning a “small-scale military operation to expel Indian troops within two weeks” from the Doklam area even as an editorial in state-run Global Times on Saturday accused the Modi government of “recklessly” pushing New Delhi into war by adopting a “hard line” towards Beijing. The editorial comes a day after the Chinese defense ministry said that India should not test its patience over Doklam and that “restraint has a bottom line”.
“China will not allow the military standoff between China and India in Doklam to last for too long, and there may be a small-scale military operation to expel Indian troops within two weeks,” Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said in an article in Global Times. Hu further wrote that the “Chinese side will inform the Indian foreign ministry before its operation”. However, he did not elaborate on how he had arrived at the “two-week” period.
Meanwhile, Chinese consul-general Ma Zhanwu said peace and tranquillity along the border were valuable to both countries and they should focus on areas of shared interest. “There are always differences, problems. It’s just like brothers and sisters. If you have a brother or a sister you will have differences. You might have differences with your parents as well. But that doesn’t mean you totally stop dealing with your brother on other issues,” he said.
In New Delhi, the rhetoric is similarly tough. For instance, when Beijing invoked the 1962 war and its humiliation for India, Defense Minister Arun Jaitley replied that “India of 2017 is different from India of 1962.” Likewise, General Bipin Rawat, India’s chief of army staff also acknowledged the possibility of an Indo-China war and said that the “Indian Army is fully ready for a two and a half front war.” The government’s recent authorization of the army to make emergency purchases of ammunition, stores, and spares for several weapon platforms also point toward an impending short, intense war between India and China. Taking it further, some policy observers have directly compared the current standoff with 1962 by casting new actors and settings; Narendra Modi and Bipin Rawat instead of Jawaharlal Nehru and B.M. Kaul, and Doklam in place of Dhola Post.
Wait & Watch Game
For New Delhi, the most preferred option is a mutual withdrawal by the two armies from the contested area. The next best option is the continuation of the status quo, a prolonged standoff at the site where Chinese road construction has been stalled. The Chinese thus cannot build the road to the militarily important Jampheri ridge, and diplomats of the two countries can use the prolonged period of détente — of a few months if not more — to find an amicable solution.
The attractiveness of a prolonged standoff lies in a precedent from May 1986, when an annual Indian army patrol discovered that the Chinese army had occupied an Indian patrol point in Sumdorong Chu valley in Arunachal Pradesh. It was close to the location of the initial confrontation which had started the 1962 conflict. India formally protested to the Chinese in July, who replied with a straight face that they were, just like India, improving border management.
India moved in troops, occupied the dominating Longrola and Hathungla heights, setting up military posts in the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Chinese soldiers. India’s offer not to reoccupy the post next summer, if both sides withdrew troops, was rejected by China. The rhetoric from Beijing went up, when in October, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping warned India, via the US Defence Secretary, that China would have to “teach India a lesson”.
In May 1987, foreign minister N.D. Tiwari went to Beijing en route to North Korea and conveyed that New Delhi had no intention of aggravating the situation. A formal flag meeting took place at Bum La on August 5, 1987 and the military de-escalation started. Diplomatically, it took another seven years to restore status quo at Sumdorong Chu. The stand-off led to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s historic visit to Beijing in December 1988, where the two countries agreed to negotiate a boundary settlement and maintain tranquillity pending that settlement. By taking a strong military position at Sumdorong Chu, India’s aims were met and the path for future agreements between the two countries was also laid.
State owned Media
Using Chinese Media to misguide their own public and shape international opinion about the present situation, by lying about how China’s wrong stand is right, while at the same time garnering support of the international community, so as to justify if PLA takes any military action, China’s acts should not be viewed as transgressions but rather as valid responses by the international community. That is why China is bombarding the media with daily press briefings through its official media. China’s nervousness is exhibited by regular and venomous threats by mouthpieces like Global Times and Xinhua.
With the audio-visual and photos released by Chinese media in the past few weeks of PLA war exercises, China is trying to create an impression that PLA is in such a position that it can assimilate the entire Indian Army in its Indo-China Border. This approach is to undermine Indian defense forces and their motto is to deter and demoralize Indian military so that they are psychologically on a back foot. At the same time, the morale of the civilian population is also crushed. An example of this is China trying to remind India about the 1962 war while at the same time China says it will interfere in Jammu and Kashmir as well as liberate Sikkim.
Will China Take the Risk?
To those who follow Chinese provocations and warnings, and their continuous references to 1962, it seems that Beijing is preparing for an imminent and unavoidable war with its neighbor. However, it is sure that Sun Tzu’s descendants will think twice before such a move. First, Beijing’s current priority is translating their economic might to global public support in favor of their impending superpower status. Though the international community has acknowledged China as an economic superpower with footprints in every corner of the globe, the world is not ready to accept China as a future leader. The main reason behind this unacceptability is Beijing’s inability to provide alternative norms and rules for the crisis-ridden neoliberal values and Western-led global governance system.
In this context, if China takes the risk of waging war against India, it will only strengthen charges of Chinese interventionism and imperial tendencies. In other words, a war against India will ultimately destroy the image China is desperately seeking — that of a benevolent superpower which emerged out of a peaceful transfer of power. Unless and until Beijing could ensure a war against its powerful neighbor has the generative capacity of remaking the world order, the best option for Xi Jinping is to follow Sun Tzu’s advice: “the skillful leader subdues the enemy without fighting.” Here, the only option left for Beijing is to convince the world that New Delhi is an existential threat. However, it is not an easy task since Doklam is situated in territory disputed between China and tiny Bhutan.
So the Theory is that domestic calculations and preferences hold India back from going to war with China, in China’s case it is their international image that prevents them from doing so. Hence there “shouldn’t” be a war.
Since the incumbent government in New Delhi is going to face re-election in 2019, a war with an uncertain outcome is not a good option for them. Since Beijing is attempting to step into the shoes of Washington and be the new global hegemon, waging war with its neighbor is a bad look for them as well. Therefore, India and China have only one option: to prepare for an indefinite standoff to and then come back to the negotiation table like May 1987.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday. “We have already said that war is not an option, and diplomatic channels are being used to defuse the situation.” All the war ended with a table so let’s be intelligent and go on the table without WAR.