The Doklam standoff is entirely of China’s making. It happened at a time when diplomatic initiatives launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi achieved their main objective of the world community accepting Pakistan as a terror incubator and taking a united stand against Islamic terror.
Both the US and Israel, after the Prime Minister’s successful visit to the two countries, agreed to fight terror with India. And for the first time, the world accepted the Narendra Modi doctrine that terrorism anywhere is a threat to the human race and that Pakistan has become the epicenter of terrorism for the world over. The US went ahead and declared Hizbul Mujahiddin chief Syed Salahuddin a global terrorist.
China stands out as the sore thumb, indirectly supporting the notorious terror perpetrators ensconced in our western neighbourhood and openly courting Pakistan with heavy defence and commercial investment there. China last year vetoed an Indian resolution to ban Jaish-e-Mohammed Chief Masood Azhar. The timing of the Chinese action now would look as if that country were offering sops to Pakistan at a time when the world at large is beginning to look at it as a rogue state. Like Pakistan offering covering fire for terrorists to sneak into India, the dragon is spitting fire against India in a bid to divert world attention from Pakistan’s discomfiture.
China may have misjudged Narendra Modi’s political gravitas. It may have decided that this will be the game as usual that it has been playing along the Indian border for many decades. But India under Modi is different. The country decided to have an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. Not only is India pushing back intruders, but it has decided to stay put and offer Bhutan the much-needed assurance of protection against foreign invasion. It is a game of nerves that China is playing. It wants to be the regional bully. It wants to help Pakistan in its asymmetric warfare against India. It wants to confine India to its past hyphenation with its much smaller western neighbour. It wants to slow down India’s growth which has already overtaken China and has emerged as the fastest-growing economy in the world attracting the largest FDI, all since Modi became Prime Minister.
In the last three years, Modi has consolidated his position as a world leader. The strategic alliance he is building with Israel, Russia and the US has piqued China no end. Even Russia, which at one time was moving closer to China, is today a huge trade and defence partner with India, and commercial interests have made it positively disposed towards this country. China is further rattled by the joint military exercises India is engaged in with US, Japan, Israel and South Korea. When China opened a corridor to West Asia through Pak-occupied Kashmir, India responded by developing the Chabahar Port in Iran and a road link connecting Iran, Afghanistan and into the heartland of the Arab world. For many years, China has been trying to encircle India, cultivating Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It partially succeeded in this mission during the UPA regime. However, in the last three years, Narendra Modi redrew the map, strengthened ties with all these countries, in fact even frustrated the grandiose Chinese designs in these countries. While in three years, Modi has grown in stature on the world scene, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not made much headway. In October, when the crucial 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is held, Xi perhaps want to present himself as a strong leader to turn power equations further to his advantage.
China has been unreasonable with India and all its neighbours. It has a problem with every country it shares border with. Its diplomacy is in a sham on the South China Sea front. If it escalates, it will be in trouble. As soon as Modi assumed office, he extended an olive branch to China, invited Xi to India, offering lavish hospitality and trade links and talks on all issues to find solutions mutually. Then China started arming Pakistan to the teeth, egging it on to create trouble in Kashmir, and fancifully trying to push ahead with the One Road One Belt initiative.
China has been using its captive media to spew venom on India. There have been daily articles reminding India of the “drubbing” it got in the 1962 war. In a befitting response, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said that the India of 2017 is not that of 1962. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in a strongly-worded statement in parliament espoused India’s position. “If China unilaterally changes the status quo at the tri-junction point, then that is a direct challenge to our security. Their demand is that we should withdraw our troops from there. We want that if we are having a conversation, if we want to have talks, then both should withdraw their armies. From our side, there is no unreasonable demand.”
Despite the border tension, India has been keeping up the diplomatic formalities, attending BRIC talks being held in China. Till now, India has been firm and cool. India has not been chest-thumping its capabilities nor spoken ill of China – because India believes in resolving the issue through dialogue. Since it was China which made the threatening move on the border, it should be the first to blink and withdraw to its previous position. India’s deployment was a response. So India’s troop removal cannot be the starting point of discussion.
Under Narendra Modi, India’s foreign policy has undergone a sea change. It has for the first-time become India centric. It is now more national interest driven than fanciful ideology driven. Hence China can warn, threaten and try bullying. But it may not work. As long as the Chinese stance is unreasonable and provocative, giving in to it will prove as disastrous as the European powers repeatedly giving into Hitler’s invasions before the World War II.