Dealing With Chinese Dragon Breathing Fire At Doklam

India can ill afford Chinese build up in a region that could threaten its unity. An attack on Chicken’s Neck can separate mainland India from its north-eastern region.

Rajaram Sankla

Viewed geopolitically, China in north has always been a bigger challenge to India that its western neighbour Pakistan. When matters came head to head, the country lost its only war against China in 1962, while attaining convincing victories against Pakistan in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999.

This fact was not lost on former Defence Minister in United Front Government and MP Mulayam Singh Yadav. In Lok Sabha during zero hour on Wednesday, he reminded: “China is India’s real enemy than Pakistan that can do us no damage”. Clearer on this aspect was another former Defence Minister, late George Mathew Fernandes.

Soon after five nuclear tests conducted in May 1988 under the aegis Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA Government at Pokhran Range in Rajasthan, Fernandes described China as “potential threat number one” to India. What he hinted then was that India required nuclear weapons more to defend itself from its northern Communist neighbour, with which it had already lost a war.

Recalling these two non-Congress leaders is essential in view of the face-off between India and China at the Doklam plateau within the territory of Bhutan and adjacent to Sikkim (See image). China is trying to build an all-weather road in Doklam, which will enable it to have a strong presence close to the Indian border. India can ill afford to let China have its way and has thus resisted the dragon’s move in keeping with its 2007 Friendship Treaty with Bhutan. This is what has led to the face-off between the two Asian giants in terms of their economies and people.

China is demanding that India withdraw its troops to the Indian side of the border to “uphold peace and tranquillity” before any talks can commence on the issue. India too is quite clear that it is in the region to assist Bhutan at the time of its need under its 2007 Friendship Treaty with that country.

More importantly, for India, it cannot afford to let China have its way in Doklam, which overlooks the Chumbi Valley that is not far from “Chicken’s Neck” in Siliguri corridor of West Bengal (See image). This narrow strip of corridor, just 27-kilometres wide, connects the north-eastern States with the rest of India. Protecting this area is thus of vital importance to India and there is no way China could be allowed to establish a strong presence on Doklam plateau.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar maintained earlier this week that reports of a military standoff between India and China in Doklam were “vastly exaggerated”. He asserted that Indian diplomats were dealing with the issue at various levels. Talks are on at the commander, flag and special representative level to calm the situation.

Former National Security Advisor MK Narayanan has in an article observed that if the India-China deadlock is to be broken, an option available is Special Representative Meeting (SRM), whose task is to deal with border issues. “The Special Representatives should, hence, urgently establish contact and work out a modus vivendi that would ensure a solution without loss of face for either side,” he commented in his article.

State-owned Chinese daily, Global Times, too has asked India and China to exercise restraint and end the standoff on the border. An article published in it said: “Within China, there are voices calling for Indian troops to be expelled immediately to safeguard the country’s sovereignty, while Indian public opinion is clamouring for war with China. However, the two sides need to exercise restraint.”

There are thus saner voices on both sides, which, hopefully, shall prevail. Both China and India cannot afford to clash, as it would be harmful for both. China’s economy has slowed down and it would rather concentrate on rebuilding the economy. A conflict for India would mean harm to its own economic growth. Instead of conflict, cooperation between the two Asian giants would be mutually beneficial for both.

This is where an SRM mechanism could help, where both countries can find a solution without losing face.

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