The Doklam dispute is a significant landmark in Asia’s geopolitical landscape. It unveils in no uncertain terms the Chinese leadership’s muscle-flexing posturings to solve conflicts
Since 16 June troops from India and China were locked in a bitter stand-off at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction following China’s initiative to build a road in Doklam. India rushed its troops to protect Bhutan’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. The Chinese road building project was perceived as an aggressive attempt to gain strategic military advantage over India in China’s vast project of encirclement of India. The intrusion into Bhutan’s territory in Doklam was also viewed as Beijing’s angry answer and a move to provoke India after its refusal to join China’s OBOR, the One Belt One Road grand project, which can be viable only if India’s 1.2 billion consumer market is accessible. What irritates and angers China, though unofficially stated, is India’s active role in thwarting China’s expansionist policy in Asia.
The Doklam dispute came to an end through diplomatic engagement which India favoured. The terms of the disengagement of border personnel at Doklam are unclear to media though Chinese state media claims victory in a face-saving posture to appease nationalist sentiment. What is clear is that China has withdrawn its bulldozers and stopped road construction in Doklam. It was deemed necessary to cool tempers ahead of the BRICS summit to be held soon in Xiamen and have a conducive environment for talks, which would not have been possible if tensions at the border continued. The presence of the Indian PM in Xiamen would have been greatly compromised if Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a bitter stand-off at Doklam. A pragmatic approach has been taken to favour talks among the main stakeholders of the oncoming BRICS summit.
A few points are worth considering on the stands taken by India and China since the stand-off broke out on 16 June and the attitudes adopted by both countries. From the outset, the Chinese leadership was reluctant to hold talks and rather behaved like an emerging superpower dictating its will to India. The Indian leadership stood firm, ignored China’s war threats and responded without unnecessary jingoism. China’s state media, the mouthpiece of Beijing’s communist government, had been on an offensive mode during the two-month dispute and had continuously issued veiled threats of war. The state-controlled media claimed that nationalist sentiment was running high in social media, a claim that other countries cannot check. Silence on the Indian side further unnerved the Chinese leadership and it went on to adopt a war rhetoric. The People’s Liberation Army attempted incursions into Kashmir and other parts of Indian territory were pushed back by the Indian army while Indian diplomats pursued efforts to bring China to talks.
The Doklam dispute is a significant landmark in Asia’s geopolitical landscape involving the two major powers. It unveils in no uncertain terms the Chinese leadership’s muscle-flexing posturings to solve conflicts. Chinese mouthpieces intervened in Indian websites and spat venom on the Indian government, its economy, its society and all, while others in China released a racist video on Indians. The recurrent diatribe was full of condescending attitude towards India, its lower economic performance, lower military budget, its poor masses, lack of toilets, internal rebellions and so on. Chinese financial support to those opposed to India is not a secret. The views repeatedly aired to cast ignominy on India’s economic, social situation and military equipment abstract from the ground reality of improvement and progress. The biased views are meant to flatter Chinese nationalist sentiment in whatever proportion state media choose to present it. Chest-beating and gratuitous running-down of a rival country to such a degree can in reality only serve to project a poor image of China on world stage.
Chinese media are inaccessible to answer back. In the event, it would be better for Indians to refrain from retorting against such propaganda and better to let China solve its internal issues by itself: its own poverty, widespread lack of hygiene, dubious quality of food, suspicious baby milk, lack of self-confidence, identity crisis, dissatisfaction with physical features, widespread cosmetic surgery to straighten nose and widen eyes, the shameless adoption of European names and American pom-pom girls, confused cultural bearings, imitation of western architecture in houses, heartless doctors stopping operations to demand more money and getting killed by patients’ relatives, provincial governors sending trucks to run over demonstrators and trade unionists, brutal eviction of house-owners to grab lands for estate developers, its frenetic creation of ghost towns, the inhuman treatment of rights activists, poor quality of certain products overflooding world market, rebel state Xin Xiang and restive inner Mongolia, and above all, its old civilization surviving in a blend of 10th century feudal mindset and 20th century imported western political ideology of Communism.
The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been wise not to respond to China’s verbal assaults. And even wiser of Indian top leadership not to budge an inch on the stand-off, ignore threats and remain silent until China’s spokesperson admits China will make necessary adjustments to end the dispute.
The Doklam issue also reveals the limits of warmongering postures, propaganda and chest-beating rhetoric. It sends a message to all of Asia that the use of force, sophisticated military progress, a trillion-dollar reserve and an aggressive rhetoric cannot yet blow hot and cold and unilaterally dictate terms. And the western model of one or two dominant superpowers is undesirable in Asia. The selective club of powerful mafiosi-style goondhas is still the privilege of the West. Trump can order the destruction of Syrian planes without seeking world advice, and give carte blanche to Britain and France to invade any country to promote western interests.
China’s supports in Asia are limited to Pakistan and North Korea. Its expansionist policy, creation of artificial islands in South China Sea and military agenda has earned China a string of hostile countries, some of which, like Vietnam and Laos, have already given India an edge in oil platform, economic opportunities and military bases.
It was too early for anti-India supporters and Hinduphobics, including those in Mauritius, to adopt the Iron Brother’s condescending tone last week in the press and rub their hands in anticipation of India’s submission to China’s wishes, claiming that India’s neighbours have ‘moved’ to China and India is isolated and has no choice than accept peace. These voices are still dreaming of reviving the 13th century invasion of India, and this time, by Pakistan with the help of Fire Dragon with the 30 trillion-dollar reserve which Indophobics praise as if it were their own money.
Sri Lanka has not ‘moved’ to China. It is deeply entangled in huge debts towards China for the 99-year bail of its port, which stirred street protests in the capital. At India’s bidding, Sri Lanka does not and will not allow China to set up a military base at its port. Bangladesh is another case of long-term debt contract with China. CPEC, the China-Pakistan economic corridor is a gateway for Chinese investment and labour first, Pakistani businesses second, and above all, soaring debts for decades.
Different countries enrich the world with different civilizational ethos. India’s greatest gift to the world is Buddhism. India has largely contributed to the development of thoughts in the West. It has embraced some Greco-Roman ideals for its own progress. Pakistani public, tired of military coups, have opted for democratic principles promoted during Nawaz Sharif years, and Pakistan is culturally and politically now in a position to embrace Greco-Roman ideals as India did.
It will take more time for China to make headway in this domain as long as it keeps the people under its thumb, muzzles free speech and opens and closes communication internally and with the world at its leadership’s whims and fancies. A long task lies ahead for the People’s Liberation Army to support partisans of Liu Xiabao and, one day, free the people from the grip of authoritarianism. In the meantime, the hardcore liners of the Communist Party, of which Xi Xiping is heir and has been invested with more powers like comrade Putin and Erdogan, have a field day riding on their high horses.