Chinese media signals troop withdrawal as a win

Last Updated: Tue, Aug 29, 2017 17:47 hrs
Doklam standoff

In what was seen as growing escalation in actions and words between India and China has now dissolved for the time being with the pullback of troops and China suspending the construction of a road in the Doklam region. Certainly a sigh of relief for both countries and the neighboring allies on both sides.

In China, the resolution has been cautiously welcomed. Particularly in time for next month’s BRIICS Summit hosted by China, as echoed by Hu Shisheng, Director at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations saying, “This is good news for the bilateral relations and BRICS. It means both governments are still keen on maintaining peace.”

Putting the current resolution in context, a week ago the Chinese state run Xinhua news agency in an editorial called for the withdrawal of Indian troops, stating it as a prerequisite for resolving China-India border issue –

The prerequisite for resolving the incident is clear: India must immediately and unconditionally withdraw its trespassing border troops and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary, as the Doklam (Dong Lang) region is undisputed Chinese territory.

Although China is a peace-loving country and firmly upholds peace, it will resolutely defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity and never allow any country to violate its territorial sovereignty for any reason.

China’s People's Liberation Army (PLA) welcomed the decision but told India to “draw lessons” from the episode while maintaining that it would stay vigilant and “defend its sovereignty.” Despite the announcements from both sides, neither country mentioned if China would stop construction of a road near the disputed border.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said China will continue exercising sovereignty and uphold territorial integrity in accordance with historical conventions. Just two days ago, the Xinhua news agency reported that India would face consequences as the stand-off entered the third month.

China’s Global Times, a publication known to take a hawkish stance when it comes to foreign policy and perceived adversaries, reported that Chinese border troops will continue to patrol the Doklam area. The paper has not been shy in its coverage accusing India of violating China’s sovereignty. The paper in its editorials has warned of the country’s military might and warned that India shouldn’t underestimate it.

After the withdrawal of troops, the publication painted it as a win for China as it states “China used a series of actions, including diplomatic engagement and military drills, to pressure India and eventually gained the result with India's withdrawal.”

It reported on 270 Indian troops crossing the eastern boundary into Doklam, China's sovereign territory, to obstruct Chinese infrastructure construction as a double standard as India had approved the military road to facilitate troop deployment near the western part of China-India border.

ECNS ran a report stating that India should get used to Chinese military drills. Quoting a Chinese military expert, it stated –

The training was targeted at specific issues revealed in a high-altitude drill conducted in July, aiming to enhance combat capability. The July drills reportedly included rapid troop deployment and different military units working together on joint missions.

Some Indian media outlets took China's military exercises as the "warning signal to India," said News World India. The Hindustan Times said that "the Indian Ocean drill is the first naval drill to be publicized by China in this period and could be interpreted as another strong message to India - aggressive military posturing in a region where the Indian navy is influential.

The South China Morning Post, in its reporting noted the difference in the details of the disengagement coming from both sides noting –

Beijing said Indian troops had pulled back by early afternoon. Indian media reports said the “disengagement” would not be completed on Monday. The Chinese foreign ministry said Indian military personnel had pulled out of the Chinese side by 2.30pm on Monday.

Commenting on the varying narratives which seem go into semantics of the language used by India and China; Sun Shihai, an expert on South Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was quoted in the South China Morning Post report on the differences in the way the news was put out saying, “There was deliberate ambiguity in the two foreign ministries’ statements. And each side’s media will write the narrative to suit the feelings of their audiences. We don’t know the details. It’s not appropriate to say which side has made the bigger compromise, or who is the winner or loser.”

In an op-ed for the SMCP, Sun Xi, a China-born independent commentator and Dr Faisal Ahmed an associate professor at the FORE School of Management, New Delhi, stated that as the tensions around Doklam eased, this was a positive sign and a good step towards dialogue – 

The recent “expeditious disengagement” of troops at Doklam plateau has created enough space for Sino-Indian political engagement in the near future. The way the scenario has unfolded, it is clear that the two countries do not want war but rapprochement, and there are reasons to substantiate it.

India and China have more reasons to cooperate than to engage in a conflict. Only when the two cooperate can regional security, stability and prosperity be ensured. It is high time that besides formal diplomatic channels, fresh Track II dialogue be opened up soon to further ease political tension, and pave the way for a peaceful resolution of Sino-Indian border disputes.

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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