"China seeks to save face by spinning mutual-withdrawal deal with India as unilateral Indian withdrawal, and PLA to continue to patrol Doklam. Having claimed Doklam to be its area, China cannot publicly accept mutual withdrawal. Yet, under the deal, that's precisely what it accepted," Chellaney tweeted. China has time and again shown intent to grab land and the Doklam standoff should be a lesson for India to step up its defence preparedness and not lower its vigilance along the LAC. According to Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, China has traditionally always blinked first, but it is a land grabber.
Doklam stand-off is ending – predictably with both India and China agreeing to mutually withdraw troops from the area of dispute. And even as China indulges in face-saving by terming it a unilateral withdrawal, foreign policy and strategic affairs experts are in little doubt that India has managed to score a big diplomatic victory here. According to strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney, China will not publicly acknowledge that the withdrawal has been mutual. “China seeks to save face by spinning mutual-withdrawal deal with India as unilateral Indian withdrawal, and PLA to continue to patrol Doklam. Having claimed Doklam to be its area, China cannot publicly accept mutual withdrawal. Yet, under the deal, that’s precisely what it accepted,” Chellaney tweeted.
A statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs reads, “In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Doklam. During these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests. On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going.”
The standoff was in relation to China trying to build motorable roads in Bhutan’s Doklam. Bhutan was reported to have sought Indian help, after which the latter’s security forces stationed themselves in the region to check China’s intent. It was also in India’s strategic interest to stop construction of roads in Doklam as these could be used to isolate the crucial Siliguri corridor. China had been conducting military drills and stepping up the offensive throughout the time period of the standoff. There were even reports of stone pelting between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh region, and shallow incursions by the former in Uttarakhand. So, what led to this mutual withdrawal of troops? Did China blink first?
Experts are of the view that the Indian government’s dignified and cool response in the face of China’s unprecedented psychological warfare paid off. “China has withdrawn because it didn’t have any other option. Despite the intense warmongering that its state-owned media indulged in, Indian government has maintained outstanding diplomatic cool,” says Colonel (Retd) KV Kuber. “That is one of the big factors that have forced China to take a step back and agree to maintain status quo in Doklam. Now it is trying for face-saving by stating that it will continue to patrol in the region. That’s okay, their ego has taken a beating, they wouldn’t admit that it’s been a mutual withdrawal,” Kuber, an independent consultant Defence and Aerospace tells FE Online.
Hoping for better days ahead for relations between the countries, Harsh V Pant says, “The Sino-Indian ties have been recalibrated for the better, and the credit for that goes to the cohesive foreign and strategic affairs policy of this government.” “India did not fall prey to China’s continuous warmongering and psychological warfare. We maintained our cool, at the same time stepping up defence preparedness along various fronts,” explains Harsh Pant, Distinguished Fellow and Head Strategic Studies at ORF.
India’s upper hand in the local conflict and China’s international isolation
China would have lost in a local conflict, say experts. That’s another reason for the standoff ending, says Kuber. “Yet another major reason for China coming to its senses is the fact that in case of any local conflict (like Doklam), India would always have the upper hand. India would win hands down,” he believes. “In case of a larger conflict, like incursions in Ladakh and Arunachal, China would have found it very difficult to justify internationally. US and Japan have been supporting India, and China would not want to invite such an open wrath,” Kuber adds.
Agrees Sreeram Chaulia, a renowned strategic affairs expert and the author of Modi Doctrine. “In Doklam, the scales are fairly balanced when it comes to a fight, so China wouldn’t like to risk losing its soldiers either,” Chaulia has told FE Online earlier.
Harsh Pant of ORF is of the view that China realised that it had little international support on the issue. “China realised that it had isolated itself internationally on the matter. US was making the right noises, at one end signalling support for India and at the same time telling the two countries to restore status quo. China realised that it was becoming increasingly difficult to live up to the vicious threats that it had been issuing,” Pant says, adding that “the upcoming BRICS Summit, where PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping would have interacted, may have played a role in the decision to mutually withdraw from Doklam”.
Attention India! Don’t lower your guard
China has time and again shown intent to grab land and the Doklam standoff should be a lesson for India to step up its defence preparedness and not lower its vigilance along the LAC. According to Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd), Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), China has traditionally always blinked first, but it is a land grabber. “China has blinked first, that was expected. That’s been the case since 1967. But the Chinese are land grabbers, one can never afford to be lax in their case,” he tells FE Online.
ORF’s Harsh Pant also believes that India should not be taken by surprise next time. “My view is that even as we have managed to send the Chinese back from Doklam, security forces should continue to stay alert along the long LAC and Indian policy makers should keep their eyes open for the possibility of the Chinese opening another front. We should try not to be unpleasantly surprised next time!,” he adds.
As Chellaney cautions in a tweet, “…Doklam crisis isn’t over, only process of disengagement is under way. A resolution hinges on China honoring its end of deal.”