The Chinese backing down at Doklam has been alternately getting overrated and underrated alike. While some tabloids have started absurd comparisons (such as calling Ajit Doval some kind of ‘James Bond’), others have been quite openly calling India a nation of dumb luck. Reality is quite different despite these farfetched claims.
After the 1962 conflict, China entered a brief period of political isolation in the world. With the Sino-Soviet split, India effectively became friends with China’s worst enemy – the Soviet Union. During the 1971 war with Pakistan, a decisive turning point was reached by both India and China – China realized that it would have to become the meanest military power in the region indigenously while India stopped its indigenous manufacturing stint and began its era of becoming an international arms dustbin (evident from the disappearance of the iconic Vijayanta tanks that won the 1971 war for us). Throughout the era of Deng Xiaoping, China was quietly strengthening its industrial muscle and today it stands at a point wherein the Chinese army could sustain long term wars with little to no international assistance from a resource point of view.
China’s infrastructural backbone in Tibet built largely by Tibetan slave labour has made Chinese mobilizations in Tibet some of the most herculean and fearful ones in recent history dwarfing the slow moving Indian infrastructural build up in the region. Even on the technology front, the Chinese army’s closest rivals are only Russia and the USA. And yet for all these advantages, China backed down. The reason is pretty self-evident.
China miscalculated on the actions of its lapdog North Korea, and unfortunately for them, the USA has recently elected one of history’s most unstable lunatics as its President. This quite easily played to India’s advantage as China was forced into a dangerous 2-front situation which it has been trying to avoid throughout history – on one front, Trump threatens war of the kind last threatened by Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, while on the other front India stands ready to fight a defensive war if necessary.
Ever since the Korean War in the early 1950s, China’s greatest paranoia has been a US led encirclement and for this reason, China follows a policy of promoting armed Communism in its neighbourhood which includes the Naxalite movement that began just after the 1962 war ended. The US on the other hand has its lapdogs in the region – South Korea, Japan, Taiwan. While India is no lapdog but is certainly a nation that looks up to USA.
India’s overwhelming dependence on the American arms industry is in itself an investment the Americans would want to jealously guard in the subcontinent. Any aggressive moves towards India would mean armed American intervention against the Chinese – renewing the old state of affairs that had existed during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. India has shown to the world the one thing it seems to have mastered in all this – its international nuisance potential. Whether we like it or not, we mobilized international opinion against China, fuelling further their perennial paranoia of capitalist encirclement. The only friends China has are Pakistan and Sri Lanka – 2 friends who have proven to be liabilities more than assets considering their inability to give India any kind of direct military trouble.
Russia’s ominous silence in the entirety of the Doklam crisis only showcases that even China ’s new best friends are not in a position to support them.
So in a way, the temporary thaw on India’s eastern front is largely because of China losing control of North Korean aggression. If anything, India would do well to learn that the only way to go forward is by following the Chinese example of an indigenous military-based industrial build up which might take years to achieve but nevertheless has to be achieved. We cannot be relying on the circumstantial kindness of the universe to thaw down our conflicts, as this time, it is North Korea’s actions that seem to have thawed the Doklam situation.
However, tomorrow, if there is no North Korean aggression to put China in a 2-front situation, China can have its war with India and considering the doddering US economy, we will not have allies either. In all this mutually assured destruction between India and China, the real victor would be Russia who now has gained a free hand in Syria and Ukraine thanks to the diversion of world attention to China. While China stands as an example of indigenously built self-sufficient military muscle, Russia stands as an example of the only nation that has understood the method to break and frustrate the USA’s century long policy of encirclement – something that military heavyweights like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union failed at. If India does not take this as a chance to learn something new, India might find it difficult to exist in the generation to come.