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India needs to be ready for a long haul in Doklam: Analysts

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 20 July 2017, 13:06 IST
(Prashanth Vishwanathan/ Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As the standoff with China continues at the tri-junction with Bhutan, India must be prepared for a long haul and all possibilities, including that of a conflict, analysts and former diplomats say.

While the Chinese want to exert their supremacy in Asia, India must continue to stay put in its position on the Doklam issue, which has direct implications on the national security.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar Tuesday told a Parliamentary committee how efforts were afoot to solve the impasse diplomatically. However, with both sides sticking to their guns, a quick solution does not seem likely.

With the Chinese maintaining a 'no talks' policy till the Indian troops withdraw – something India is not comfortable with – little is expected out of National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval's Beijing visit later this month. He is to participate in the BRICS NSA summit.

The Doklam issue will likely come up during Doval’s visit, said Ashok K Kantha, former ambassador to Beijing.

The NSA will be hosted by Yang Jiechi, China's state councillor and special representative for border talks.

“I do not think the Chinese will budge from their position,” former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said.

That said, India doesn’t seem to have much elbowroom. “There are no good options in near sight for of this standoff,” Jabin Jacob, a senior fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, said.

“India will not withdraw for Chinese moves in Doklam have direct implications on India's national security. Similarly, China sees it as an opportunity to end the India-Bhutan relationship,” Jacob said.

According to Sibal, if India budges from its stand now it might have two serious consequences:

  • security of the Siliguri corridor would be compromised
  • India's relationship with Bhutan would go for a toss

“India cannot withdraw. If they do, China will set up shop there,” Jacob said.


Step back, now!

The only way out of the impasse is that the Chinese stop road construction in Doka La and move back to their initial positions, Kanwal Sibal said.

Calling it a “deliberate provocation”, he questioned China’s need for a motorable road there. “We are not threatening China in the Chumbi Valley. It is the other way around,” he said.

“India needs to maintain its position,” said Kantha, also associated with Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies and Vivekananda International Foundation. New Delhi needs to keep reiterating how India and Bhutan have different points of view to the happenings, according to Kantha.

Statements by the foreign ministries of both Bhutan and India last month maintained the need to restore the status quo.

“The only way out of such situations is that you talk,” Kantha said adding that the Chinese are being unrealistic with their demands and their hardened stance. The former ambassador was equally upset with the Chinese media for its continued rhetoric.

“It is good that Indian media has maintained sobriety. There is nothing to be gained from such tit-for-tat polemics,” he said referring to the multiple articles that have appeared in the Chinese media 'warning' India of consequences if the troops do not withdraw.

“However, it is a good sign that the situation on the ground is under control,” he added.


Address the right challenges

Sibal pointed out that this standoff may also be a function of the Chinese aggression and provocations in the South China Sea which have gone largely unchallenged not just by the Philippines or other smaller South East Asian countries, but also by the US.

China may as well be testing waters with India. And as Jacob said – “Trying to bully Bhutan, a smaller country in the process.”

“But their attempts may be based on a gross misreading of the 2007 friendship agreement between India and Bhutan, which among other things also maintains that both countries will not do anything which jeopardises each other's national security,” Jacob explained.

Meanwhile, Jacob did see signs of de-escalation. The recent exercise in Tibet by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which is otherwise normal in the summers, a season of military drills was advertised perhaps keeping in mind the ongoing standoff.

“Looks like it was more of a message to the domestic audience that we are prepared to take on India,” he said explaining how it may be a signal to de-escalate. According to Jacob, a country which is readying itself for a war “would not advertise it” and rather “would like to maintain an element of surprise”.

However, Jacob said the standoff may continue for years and that it has happened before.

“It is nothing new for India and China,” he said. Kantha too says that India needs to be patient and that it needs to maintain its position.

Sibal, meanwhile, thinks India needs to be prepared for all eventualities. And that if the Chinese think conflict is a solution we must be prepared for it. “We have no other choice,” he said.


First published: 20 July 2017, 13:05 IST