Doklam conflict might be much more than a mere territorial issue


  • The recent faceoff at Doklam is a message about China’s ire at India building alliances with its adversaries in Asia, and with the US.


India China Bhutan standoff over Doklam Plateau

A change of mindset is vital

  • Ever since the Doklam crisis began this summer, strategists in India have been hostage to what might be described as a “Little Wars”
  • Military debate has centred around the prospects of a limited border war, or a protracted but non-violent stand-off, like the Sumdorong Chu crisis of 1987-88.
  • The stand-off might, indeed, end with a negotiated settlement, but there are grimmer prospects, which neither side has considered with care.

What does China want?

  • China’s aggressive posture on its periphery, the expansion of military bases in the South China seas, the sharpening of territorial disputes with Vietnam and Japan, the enabling of North Korea’s nuclear programme is not an outcome of the might it harvested during the 1980s.
  • It looks like the legacy of Chinese insecurity born of the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s, which left the country a strategic orphan
  • Ever since that split, aggression on the peripheries — first delivered against India in 1962 — has been a key tool for China.

Sino – Soviet showdown

  • Since 1965, the Soviet Union began to mount increasing coercive pressure on China — at one stage, even proposing a joint strike with the United States to cripple its nuclear-weapons programme.
  • In March 1969, a contingent of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers a Soviet border outpost on Zhenbao Island, killing dozens and injuring scores. The incident brought Russia and China to the brink of war, a conflict that might have led to the use of nuclear weapons. But after two weeks of clashes, the conflict trailed off.
  • From 17 divisions in 1965, Soviet forces facing China in the far-east grew to 27 divisions by 1969.
  • The threat lead China to engage in the second of its post-split border wars, attacking Soviet border guards on Damansky island on the Ussuri river — the first-ever skirmish between troops of nuclear powers.
Via: Wiki Commons

Beijing’s use of coercion

  • Faced with a second period of strategic isolation , in the form of the breakdown of the Sino-United States alliance,China is again turning to coercion.
  • Doklam,  like other recent stand-offs in Depsang or Demchok, is not about a road: It is is a message about China’s ire at India building alliances with its adversaries in Asia, and with the United States.
  • Beijing seeks, through the threat of force, to instruct India on how countries ought to conduct themselves but, more powerful than they were in the 1970s, countries like India and Vietnam are unwilling to comply.

Way ahead

  • Beijing and New Delhi must make the effort to engage in a creative dialogue about how a changing Asia’s tensions will be managed, aware that the price of a single misstep can be mass death.
  • The two Asian powers share common cause on several fronts, from globalization to climate change, and both would be wise to focus on cooperation instead of military brinkmanship
  • China and India have broadly similar interests and approaches on a wide range of international questions.
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