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Post Dokhlam Roadmap for India

Post Dokhlam Roadmap for India

In an earlier piece the reasons for India’s firm stand on the Dokhlam standoff were explored. It must be acknowledged that this misadventure by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has created an atmosphere of suspicion and enormous distrust between China and India. The million dollar question that lingers on is the impact of the standoff on the complete spectrum of ties between two as well as other countries in Southeast Asia. The potential diplomatic as well as economic fallout will be watched closely.

Firstly, the diplomatic fallout. There is no doubt that the élan and sophistication displayed by the Government of India in the handling of the standoff has yielded a big diplomatic dividend for India, not seen in decades. It must be stressed that this windfall is short-lived and India must strain every bit of its political and professional foreign policy expertise to consolidate this into concrete long term benefits. A business as usual or a fatalistic approach would certainly fritter away the gains.

The US and Japan definitely see India as the wronged party in the dispute and have commended it on its refusal to buckle under PLA pressure. India must cash in on this new respect it has gained from these two key nations and recast its foreign policy doctrines and take a fresh look at military and strategic alliances.

Soon after the standoff, the second trilateral meeting between US, India and Japan issued a statement on September 19th 2017, reiterating their resolve to keep “the free flow of lawful commerce in the region and around the globe, including the South China Sea”. India must use this anti-China posturing of this group to its favor and garner wider support of friendly powers against an expansionist China.

Further, the trilateral meet in an apparent reference to China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), called for respecting “international norms and sovereignty and territorial integrity on connectivity initiatives”. This again is in India’s favor given that the bulk of the CPEC runs through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), which is a disputed territory. India must prepare an action plan to counter CPEC and brief world capitals to gain their support for India’s position.

India’s foreign policy establishment must also labor to translate this windfall into powerful levers for negotiation at the decades-old border / Line of Actual Control (LAC) talks with China. India must negotiate from a position of renewed strength and extract the most in its favor, at least in the Dokhlam sector.

The annual naval exercise MALABAR could be expanded to include new members or a conduct a new set of similar naval exercises with participation from more countries. India should specifically invite ASEAN members to join the exercises. This will enhance the reach of India’s blue water navy by providing greater global operability, reach and enhanced maritime expeditionary capabilities. Most importantly it will get India the concurrence of Southeast Asian countries in building a powerful deterrence against China.

The US, long aware of the prowess of the Indian military, has been actively persuading the political leadership to espouse a more pro-active policy that involves sending Indian troops on combat missions outside India. It will not be a surprise if India reviews its current stand on sending its troops to join other countries in combat roles.

Post Dokhlam, Indian troops may be fighting alongside other friendly powers, particularly the USA in Afghanistan. If India agrees, then it could not only help restore order in that war torn country, but also help keep watch on Chinese and Pakistani forces in POK along the CPEC. This will also open up a new dimension in India’s counter terror operations by monitoring the western and northern borders of Pakistan.

The Dokhlam standoff has left its ugly scars on bilateral trade between the two countries. India and China, over the years, have built a huge trade relationship.  Currently India has   running deficit of over $60 billion. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar recently attributed this ‘alarming’ trade deficit to restrictions on trade and market access in China for Indian companies.

Similar complaints have been heard from the US and other large economies.  China has a mammoth trade relationship with the US – with the latter holding a huge deficit of nearly $350 billion (2016). Recently, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer called China an “unprecedented threat to the world trading system”. So the US will definitely be empathetic to India’s travails against dumping of Chinese goods.

The standoff in Bhutan has only incentivized India to openly join hands with the US and Japan to seek punitive corrections and protectionists relief against China. It will be no surprise to see India use this as a powerful instrument of its trade & economic diplomacy against China.

It must be mentioned that these diplomatic and trade offensives by themselves may not help India stop Chinese intrusion into its territory or stop dumping of cheap Chinese goods. But they will certainly ensure that it is not business as usual for the Chinese or the PLA.  India must strive to build a “loose coalition” that will help in the UN or impose economic sanctions against a self-acclaimed world power.

However, India must understand that it has to fight its battle by itself. It cannot count on other countries to fight by its side, notwithstanding the rhetoric we hear today. From that perspective, India must continue to pack power into its military since the world – and China in particular – only respects military power. History shows that authoritarian states behave themselves when the adversary is equally strong.  The recent conciliatory stand by China, no doubt shows that it is respectful of Indian military might.

But this is not to say that every intrusion or challenge should be resolved by the military. There is a time and place for military operations, so too for diplomacy and negotiations in international affairs.

In balance however, it would be prudent to choose diplomacy and negotiated settlements over military solutions. This is well understood by the PM Modi and President Xi Jinping. Hence reaching out to China and charting a course of mutual growth and prosperity would be the common sense yet pragmatic approach. This is precisely what India had pursued, albeit with the backing of the iron fist of its military.

If China chooses to accept India’s friendly gestures, it will be the dawn of a new era. But whatever measures the two countries take to rebuild bilateral relations, the scar of Doklam will remain for a long time to come. It is now incumbent on China, not India, to rebuild its trust and reputation that lay in tatters in the heights of Dokhlam in Bhutan.

Indians will remember the Dokhlam stand off for a long time to come.

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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in China, Economics, India, Indian Army, Modi

 

Dokhlam – India stands up to China

Dokhlam – India stands up to China

India’s tough stand comes from a confident military

The Dokhlam standoff between China and India in the remote mountain heights of Bhutan had been under media attention for several weeks. It threatened to escalate into a full scale war between the two Asian giants

The dispute was triggered by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chinese army personnel who moved into Bhutanese territory to build a road on a thin slice of land which forms a tri junction between China, Bhutan and India. The road that the Chinese were attempting to build for movement of their armed forces was well inside Bhutan. India wasted no time and moved its forces into the area and stopped the Chinese on their track and refused to back down. By virtue of a decades old friendship treaty, India is obliged to protect the safety and integrity of the Bhutanese state. Hence the Indian military intervention in Bhutan.

For India, this encroachment was mortally close to the Siliguri Corridor or “Chicken’s Neck” – a 30 KM wide tract of Indian land that connects the north eastern states with mainland India. India had pretty much no option other than stop the Chinese from coming anywhere near the chicken’s neck. Hence it stood its ground, irrespective of the consequences.

The standoff lasted over two months and gave the world a unique perspective into the power play between the two countries. From the start, China took to an offensive media strategy, obfuscating the real issue of “salami slicing”– illegal grabbing of neighboring country’s land – and hoping India would be pressured to withdrawing its objections. The shrill language and open threats of war with India – something unprecedented in its crassness and lack of diplomatic finesse – stood out and stunned observers and diplomatic circles in world capitals.

India’s response on the other hand– as seen by the External Affairs Minister’s statement in Parliament – was well calibrated and dignified and stressed on diplomatic resolution of the standoff while simultaneously refusing to withdraw.

China had insisted on India’s unilaterally withdrawal to resolve the standoff. However, when the disengagement was officially announced, both countries had agreed to withdraw simultaneously, albeit 150 meters from the disputed area and on the same day. Most importantly, India had its way and had stopped China’s road building activity. A tame retreat by China, after all the bullying, huffing and puffing.

Whichever way the standoff is looked at, India seems to have the upper hand. For China, on the other hand, it has proved to be a major diplomatic and military embarrassment. Most importantly, it has spawned a reassessment by its other neighbors with whom there are current border disputes. For example, since the Dokhlam standoff, Indonesia has now openly challenged China on the South China Sea dispute.

The Dokhlam standoff has important consequences that will determine the future course of relations between the two countries. It will also greatly influence India’s relations with other nations that are wary of China, for India is the first power in recent times to standup to China’s bullying.  Thirdly, the standoff will be a new benchmark for negotiations on bilateral relations and border dispute, given that now India has an upper hand and has demonstrated it is politically willing and capable of considering the use of its military, if needed, to resolve border issues.

The reasons for India standings its ground against China are worth examining. Detailed review and analysis of the nearly 72 days eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation is indeed revealing. Three important tracks – military, diplomatic and economic – worked 24/7 to stitch together the disengagement agreement.

Unlike the Chinese media bluster and rude foreign ministry press briefings, India’s responses were mostly below the radar and off press, yet dignified.  India worked its diplomatic offensive by quietly briefing key world capitals and in return sought their support. Japan’s decision to openly support India was a big win for India, as the efforts of three years of hard diplomacy was paying dividends now. India even hinted economic sanctions – something that terrified the Chinese. Notably, permissions were denied for Chinese investments in Pharma sector.

While all these measures helped, it must be reiterated that it was the confidant Indian military that gave the political leadership the strength and guts to call China’s bluff. Sadly, the Indian and international press seemed to have ignored it.

It is well known that India has been ramping up its military capabilities over the last decade or so. But the pace has accelerated after PM Modi took office. The northern borders have received a fair share of the new investments in military assets. The refurbished Indian military is now light years ahead and among the top fighting forces in the world.

Secondly, given the vulnerability of the Siliguri Corridor, India has long shored up its military and strategic assets in the area and is well entrenched. Countless exercises conducted over the years have kept the forces on their toes to expect the unexpected. So this border intrusion was by no means a surprise to the Indian Army which was well equipped and exercised to take on the adversary.

Thirdly, at the tactical level, the terrain in the Dokhlam valley itself was not in favor of the Chinese. The Indian Army, occupying the heights, had unhindered view of more than 30 KM into the valley into China. Any troop movement would not only be devoid of the surprise element, but also be an easy target of the Indian army.

Fourthly, India quietly and swiftly put its troops on operational alert all along the northern border. It moved its C-130 J Super Hercules strategic aircrafts to bolster its existing strategic fleet based at the Air Force Station in Panagarh, northwest of Kolkata. This put the 17 Strike Corps as well as high altitude acclimatized divisions (59 Division) in readiness and within few minutes of flying from the standoff scene.

Militarily, it was sending unmistakable signals to China that it was no easy push over and that unlike 1962, it would have no hesitation in using its Air Force and other strategic assets if the circumstances warranted. Politically, this was a clear departure and demonstrated a new assertiveness that would brook no threat to the country’s integrity.

For India, the Dokhlam standoff has ended on a high note, but the problem of “salami slicing” by the PLA elsewhere is an ever present threat.  It would be foolhardy for India to let its guard down and drown itself in self-glory. For the PLA to venture into Dokhlam is nothing short of a glaring miscalculation and sheer stupidity. Round one to India.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2017 in China, Foreign Policy, India, Indian Army

 
 
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