China does not want to settle the border issue, and if the issue has to be settled, it will have to be done on an equitable basis, and not on the basis of the Chinese notion of “sovereignty”, according to India's former Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal.
In an interview with Catch, Sibal said right from the beginning of the Doklam stand-off, the Indian strategy was to leave the door open for China to retreat and save face. “If we had reacted in the same manner and the level of verbal confrontation had become even higher, it would have been very difficult for both sides to retreat, especially China,” he argued.
About why China had raised the pitched of confrontation through its official media, Sibal said with a laugh: “When somebody is wounded, they cry out loud. So I think China was wounded and its cries were very shrill. Since we were not wounded, we did not have to cry so loud.”
China, he said, had to save face, as its calculations reflected in its threats and ultimatums to India failed.
“They had the feeling that there was a disparity between the two countries – their economy was five times larger and they had a much larger military – and that therefore India would buckle under their threats. They tested this over two months and realised that this was not working. So they had to very carefully look at their options.”
Since there was no question of an all-out war, given China's engagement in tensions around North Korea, Beijing either had the option of starting an incident at other vulnerable points on the border, or explore a diplomatic solution. Sibal pointed out that anticipating the former, India had already beefed up its military presence in vulnerable areas on the border. That left only the second option of exploring a diplomatic solution to mutually withdraw forces. That is what happened eventually.
The former diplomat felt that it was no point going into the details of who withdrew first, or whether the withdrawal of the armed personnel of the two countries was simultaneous or not. “It doesn't matter who withdrew first. What we said was that status quo ante must be restored, and this has been done by mutual agreement.”
A good message had now gone all around India's neighbourhood – especially to those who try and play the China card against India – that if India is genuinely threatened, India does not hesitate to react, Sibal said.
For a detailed analysis of the Doklam stand-off and its final resolution, watch the interview with Kanwal Sibal.