Doklam hangover: Crisis averted but threat persists as China renews focus on borders

About three months after India and China reached an agreement on disengagement at Doklam, a region disputed between Bhutan and its northern neighbour, special representatives from New Delhi and Beijing held the 20th round of border talks. They decided to work on the modalities to avoid another Doklam-like situation.

But in the last week of December Chinese were found building roads inside Indian territories at Tuting in Arunachal Pradesh. Their equipment was seized by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the workers were pushed back. The equipment were returned to Chinese side last week.

Reports suggest that frequency of incursions was exceptionally high last year, especially in the post-Doklam phase. Chinese forces made 415 recorded incursions during the last year, a jump of over 50 per cent compared to 2016, when 271 border trespasses were seen.

CHINESE GOVERNEMENT IS UNDER PRESSURE

Chinese government is still smarting under the compromise it was forced to arrive at to resolve the Doklam face-off days ahead of a BRICS summit it was to host. India was seen a gainer even though Beijing did not lose anything. Chinese media were flooded with reports raising concerns about the “security” of China’s southern borders.

Chinese commentators are serving warnings to India repeatedly referring to the 1962 war. Writing for a prominent website, Zhou Bo, an honorary fellow with PLA Academy of Military Science, said, “The fact that China and the former Soviet Union had a skirmish in 1969 means that war is still possible between two ­nuclear powers. India’s military resources cannot sustain a showdown with China.”

The fact that China and the former Soviet Union had a skirmish in 1969 means that war is still possible between two ­nuclear powers. India’s military resources cannot sustain a showdown with China. – Zhou Bo

This shows that the Xi Jinping administration is under tremendous pressure to exhibit that it is prepared to go to war with India over the question of border security. Post-Doklam, China has done exactly that.

CHINA SHOWING MORE MUSCLES ON BORDERS

As per the terms of disengagement, both India and China withdrew their troops – around 3,000 each – from the Doklam face-off site. But, a few weeks later, China strengthened its presence in the region.

Recent reports suggest that some 6,000-7,000 PLA troops are stationed not very far from Doklam. Even though no Chinese troops are present at the face-off site in Doklam, their presence at a distance of 2-3 km reflects a changed priority of China in the region.

China has increased the pace of road construction in Tibet near borders with India after the Doklam face-off. The ripple effect of Doklam was seen in Ladakh also – some 1,300 km away. The soldiers of the two countries pelted stones at one another. The border teams of India and China have sparred in Uttarakhand last year.

CHINA CHANGING NARRATIVE BACK HOME

Post-Doklam, China has launched a campaign to change the narrative that it buckled down under pressure mounted by India and the international community, which did not support Chinese version of status quo in the disputed region. However, with its forces present near Doklam, China has actually changed the status quo in contranvention to 2011 understanding that the two countries reached in 2011.

China has been vocal in stating its economic prowess compared to India. It serves the twin purposes of allaying fears of slowdown and stamping its superiority over India. Chinese media, controlled by either the government or the ruling Communist Party of China, have been repeatedly saying that India’s economy cannot sustain a military conflict with its “more powerful” neighbour.

A concerted attempt is evident to tell the Chinese people that Doklam crisis has cost India its security comfort that it enjoyed after 1962 war. Zhou Bo writes, “The Sino-Indian border will not be the same again, to India’s disadvantage. For years, the disputed border has not really been on China’s strategic radar, in part because of its emphatic victory against India in the 1962 border war, and in part because China’s major strategic concerns lie elsewhere.”

For years, the disputed border has not really been on China’s strategic radar, in part because of its emphatic victory against India in the 1962 border war, and in part because China’s major strategic concerns lie elsewhere. – Zhou Bo

China has become vocal in claming post-Doklam that it shares only 2,000 km border with India. New Delhi has been of the view that India and China share nearly 3,500-km-long border. China excludes the regions that it claims as its own in the northeast and also the areas of Jammu and Kashmir which it marks to its western province Xinjiang and all-weather friend Pakistan.

Chinese approach after Doklam incident is a clear indication that even though the crisis was averted four months back, the problem still persists. The security threat to India’s Chicken’s Neck that Chinese attempt to occupy Doklam posed in May 2017 still remains.

India Today