Amid the ongoing stand-off with China over the border, specifically Doklam, a disputed territory between China and Bhutan; there have been a couple of important developments. Firstly, Japan has given its opinion in the form of Japanese ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu saying that no country should unilaterally use force and be reckless especially when tensions are running high. Japan is the first major country in the region to offer its stance publicly.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, he said in part, “We recognize Doklam is a disputed area between Bhutan and China and two countries are engaged in border talks.” This is significant given China and Japan themselves are in dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea. Japan has vowed to increase the budget for the coast guard to add five new patrol ships and over 200 more personnel in response to Chinese government vessels that have sailed near the islands on a regular basis.
In early August, the Chinese state run newspaper Global Times ran a story stating that China was planning a small scale military operation to expel Indian troops from the Doklam region. Though nothing came from it, the aggressive stance perhaps provides some indication as to the thinking behind the Chinese strategy; an aggressive one.
In the Global Times piece, Zhao Gancheng, the director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, was quoted saying, “…China could use military means to end the standoff and the chances of doing so are increasing as the Indian side is still saying one thing and doing another.”
The latest development, one that isn’t military or economical but on the face seems like a desperate tactic is a video which was produced by Xinhua, China’s official state news agency. The racist video, three minutes long ridicules India and Indians filled with racial stereotypes.
The video calls out Indian for being a bad neighbor because Indian troops carrying weapons “moved into China’s house without permission.” Sadanand Dhume, an analyst at American public policy think-tank AEI (American Enterprise Institute) writes that the video points towards China not interested in treating India as an equal –
Not to be missed. This is China's official sense of humour! Xinhua isn't quite sure whether it's producing a spoof... or a propaganda piece. https://t.co/8rNxG5CJXI— Ajai Shukla (@ajaishukla) 17 August 2017
“Instead of framing the disagreement with India as a legitimate dispute, Beijing has chosen to dismiss or mock New Delhi’s concerns that Chinese road-building on the Doklam plateau, claimed by both China and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, changes the status quo in a way that India cannot afford to ignore.”
Meanwhile, former Army Chief VP Malik believes there needs to be a full strategic review of India – China relations, at least from the Indian side. Speaking to the Indian Express, he believes that in light of the news over the past few months, bilateral relations may never be the same again irrespective of the way events play out going forward. He says, “We have reached the stage where there is a requirement to seriously review our policies toward China, not just diplomatically, economically, militarily also.”
With regards to the economic relations with China, there are no plans to single out Chinese investment proposals either by restrictions or slowing down on granting security clearances. Militarily, China is known to conduct small almost under the radar actions which combined pose a threat to another nation. For the Huffington Post, Vivek Mishra an Asst Professor of International Relations at NIAS Kolkata writes on China’s “salami-slicing” tactics –
“At Doklam, China's attempt to extend a motorable road and change the status quo blends perfectly into its salami slicing strategy which is fast packing a continental pack in the Asian domain, adding to its already existing robust maritime component.”
“While holding China off temporarily at Doklam, India's larger strategy should focus on preventing regional realities on the ground from changing. India should brace for a combined land-maritime juggernaut of Chinese salami slicing tactics—one that is surreptitiously headed towards the Himalayas in the north and the Indian Ocean in the south."
Author and Biographer Minhaz Merchant in an op-ed or DNA states that India must leverage China’s geopolitical pressure points to gain advantage –
“…the Doklam stand-off has three dimensions: Military, geopolitical and economic. So far, foreign ministry officials have been focusing on the military dimension. Several hundred troops confront a roughly equal number of Chinese soldiers on the Dolam plateau in the Doklam region.”
“Multiple pressure points have forced China on the defensive. India must play its economic cards well. India is the world’s third largest consumer market after the US and China. For all its bluster, China recognizes this. It should take a hard look at imposing tough new conditions on Chinese companies bidding for infrastructure projects.”
Former Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha states that reciprocal withdrawal by India and China can ease the Doklam stand-off. In an interview to The Hindu, he states that the current situation is different from what happened in 2013-’14 saying, “the rhetoric emanating from China is very heated, and that apart, China has placed a precondition for withdrawal for any meaningful talks.” The introduction of Bhutan has complicated matters on the ground even though there hasn’t been any widespread military activity as Indian maintains a measured tone which may not be applicable with the aggressive Chinese stance.
Speaking to broader bi-lateral ties between India and China he says, “The narrative of the relationship has been affected… India-China ties also have positive aspect and there will be an uncertain mix of cooperation and competition and how we manage the relationship will be a big challenge.”
In an op-ed for The Hindu, former National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan also puts the issue in a broader context –
“China in Asia is already exercising some of the political and economic leverages that the U.S. previously possessed. China has a significant presence in East and Southeast Asia, is steadily enlarging its presence in South Asia, and is also beginning to expand into West Asia.”
“Few other countries in Asia are, however, willing or in a position to tangle with China. A divided ASEAN again has provided China with an opportunity to demonstrate its economic and military muscle. China has been successful in winning quite a few friends among India’s neighbors such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.”
More columns by Varun Sukumar