RSS

Category Archives: China

Misery Seeks Company – China Courts India to fight US Trade War

Misery Seeks Company – China Courts India to fight US Trade War

US sanctions against China seems to be having its intended effect. As pressure mounts, China’s change of stance is becoming more evident. According to recent reports President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are likely to meet at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November in an effort to work out a solution. But the meeting of the two leaders may not produce any dramatic resolution, given the tough stand of both the countries.

That the Chinese economy is bearing the brunt is in no doubt. Ford reported that its September sales in China fell 43% compared to same period last year. This comes in the midst of a big slump in Chinese auto sales. The IMF, for its part, has already signaled the slowdown of the Chinese economy and put its GDP growth estimates for 2019 at 6.2%. Despite all the bad news on the economic front, Chinese leadership continues to put up a brave face.

The US appears to have its strategy cut out. Vice President Pence, in a hard hitting speech at the Hudson Institute, unequivocally charged China with interfering in US elections and warned of consequences. In its 2018 National Defense Strategy paper, the US has clearly identified the two ‘revisionists powers – China and Russia’ as main threats.  The paper goes on to further recognize ‘China’s military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics in its efforts to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to its advantage’ and perceives it as a long term threat to US interests.

The series of events leading up to the new set of tariffs on Chinese imports as well as the subsequent pronouncements should leave no room for doubt about US intentions. If anything, it is clear that the US will not stop with just the trade war. It is only part of an overarching strategy to contain Chinese influence globally.

China’s strategy, on the other hand, seems ambiguous and is banking on flat defiance of the US as a measure of projecting its power. It has unleashed a massive propaganda campaign, particularly in the US media, in a determined bid to win friends. Not surprisingly, many pundits have opined on how the trade war with China is unsustainable and could hurt the US too. But all this may not really alter the situation on the ground which is firmly in favor of the US

On the international scene, China has used its influence to marshal its friends and allies in an attempt to build a coalition to portray the US as the chief villain of the world. In this context, it is indeed interesting to see that China has reached out to India, pontificating on the requirements of ‘a stable environment that will facilitate the growth of the two key economies’. In its attempt to win India to its side in its trade war with the US, it has called for the two countries to join together to bring about a ‘more just and reasonable international order’.

China’s change in tone and tenor – evident in its statements and diplomatic outreach – is only symptomatic of the severe stress on its economy and political leadership. There are also indications of a lack of cohesion amongst its leadership in responding to the US.

Many in India recall the often rancid and undiplomatic statements emanating from its foreign office during the Dokhlam crisis. But the very same establishment has now unleashed the equivalent of a diplomatic charm offensive. This only highlights the fact that the country is up against the wall in its bid to untangle itself from the costly trade war.

But India is no China in every sense of the word. Its economy is a not as big, nor is it as lopsided and heavily dependent on exports to the US for its survival. Secondly and most importantly, India is a plural democracy in the truest sense of the term and is in no danger of a systemic collapse if and when sanctions are imposed.

It is worth pointing out here that following the Pokhran II nuclear explosions in 1998, many countries including China, Japan and Canada condemned India. China, for its part, was at the forefront, demanding international actions against India. But now that the tables have turned, China has suddenly discovered the virtues of ‘regional economic stability and growth’ by working together.

When the US did impose sanctions on India in May 1998 following Pokhran II, the country did not implode. The fact was that its citizens rallied together in support of the democratically elected government. But in China’s case, their leadership is acutely aware that prolonged sanctions could trigger internal unrest and rebellion that could easily threaten its structural integrity as a nation state.

Unlike China, India’s relationship with the US is on an entirely different footing. It has no overt or covert aspirations to unseat the US as the world’s superpower, nor does it have a confrontationist approach to it. But it is indeed true that, like China, India probably has a boat load of differences with the US, on issues ranging from trade to political and world view. But that is par for the course betwixt democracies.

But at the end of the day, despite the differences, the US and India, as history bears witness, have resorted to bilateral discussions to resolve these issues. Unlike China, there is no public record of India threatening or confronting the US.

Being an authoritarian set up, China lacks that fundamental connect with the US or India. At a time when it is in serious trouble with the US, it cannot pretend a have a comradery with India since the latter too is ‘impacted by Trump’s unpredictable trade policies’.

Definitely, China is expending its diplomatic resources in creating a mirage of a synergy with India out of a non-existent common cause.  The ground reality is that the leadership in India and the US are aware of the phoniness of this outreach by China.

In fact India must – and there is ample evidence to think it has – see the speciousness of this argument. It cannot join hands with China to make a common cause. India’s world view and priorities are different and dictated by New Delhi, not Beijing.

Misery loves company and China’s outreach to India is definitely a case in point.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 15, 2018 in China, Donald Trump, Economics, Foreign Policy, Trade, US

 

Trade War – US Trumps China

Trade War – US Trumps China

As part of a worsening trade war, President Trump on Monday, September 17th, 2018 announced a slew of new tariffs on imports worth $200 billion from China. A 10% tariff will come into effect later this month which will then rise to 25% from January 2019. Not to be outdone, China too has responded with tariffs on $60 billion of US goods that includes meat, nuts, alcoholic drinks, chemicals, etc.

These announcements come in the midst of an already expanding trade and sanctions regime that has already engulfed the EU, Mexico, Canada, Iran and Turkey in its wake. But the response from most nations have been predictable. Fully understanding the potential threat to their vulnerable economies, Mexico and the EU quickly sued for peace.Canada too is in advanced negotiations to resolve outstanding issues. That leaves behind Iran and China in the crosswire.

This has sent shock waves in stock and currency markets all over the world. Many national currencies have tumbled, including India’s Rupee. But the collateral damage will be broader and deeper and continue to strike at the very root of “free trade” as we understand it today.

Several pundits have faulted Trump for his ‘aggression’ on China and have blamed him for what many see as the coming collapse of international trade. While one may disagree with the way Trump has executed the tariffs, he is absolutely right on taking on China. In fact the US has been very late in getting its act together on China.

A patient review of the events and facts may suggest the urgent need to hit the reset button on China. China is, by no means, a saint and has been violating every bilateral and multilateral agreement to further its trade. In fact many nations, particularly the smaller economies in the developing world have long complained of dumping of Chinese goods on their markets that led to the decimation of local businesses in these countries.

US too has long been wary of China stealing civilian as well as military intellectual property for several decades now. Further, China’s scant respect for international law – from its defiance of the International Court of Justice on the South China Sea judgement to coveting its neighbor’s land – is all well known.  If the international community has very little regard for China as a responsible world citizen, it has only itself to blame.

China may be believing it has arrived on the world stage as a super economy and a super power. That probably is the reason it decided to defy the US and impose counter tariffs. The ground reality, though, is that the US is still the largest economy with the most powerful military in the world.

Unlike China, the US has the power and means to impose sanctions and enforce it. The sanctions on Iran is a case in point where it has successfully prevented other nations from buying oil from it.

The Chinese on the other hand have a false sense of their international influence and authority. Their recalcitrance at the negotiating table earlier with the US has indeed surprised many. They seem to have played their hand wrong to their own detriment. The bottom line is that in the current trade war with the US, China will be alone as no other nation will openly defy the US to support them.

As regards the sustainability of the trade war, it is anybody’s guess as to how long this will last before a diplomatic resolution is negotiated. But given the asymmetry in trade – China exports over $200 billion compared to $80 billion of imports from the US – it is more vulnerable and will cave in sooner than later. China’s defiance is ill advised and amounts to a hara-kiri. Delay in arriving at a negotiated settlement will be a punishing setback for China and will undo decades of economic progress.

It must be mentioned here that international trade as we understand today is built on the twin pillars of economic pre-eminence and military might. These two pillars are then artfully packaged and deployed using sophisticated diplomacy to gain maximum commercial and economic advantage. Countries endowed with both emerge leaders and winners. That is the winning formula and all nations understand this very well. But for China to pretend it is on the same footing as the US is indeed churlish.

We must note here though, that history is a mute witness to the fact that when push comes to shove, the true intentions of nation states have emerged. The US and its allies have a track record of not hesitating to weaponize their trade relations and impose sanctions, which really is a proxy for their overwhelming military might, to ‘straighten’ things out.

Of course, this is not to suggest that the current crisis will transmogrify into open armed conflict. Far from it. But the consequences could be as devastating. However, in international relations, the dynamics and power equations keep changing depending upon the underlying economic fortunes of the country. The EU for example, given its weak fundamentals, may not be able to stand up to China. But the US, on the other hand, buoyed by a booming economy, has staying power.

For China, a prolonged face off with the US can have disastrous consequences at home. From unprecedented levels of unemployment to internal unrest and rebellion, anything in between may be a potential outcome.

The ongoing trade war between the US and its major trading partners has powerful lessons for India. India is caught between the US on one side and some of its own major trading partners – Russia, China and Iran – on the other. How India manages to successfully maneuver its way around these treacherous waters of international sanctions will determine – to a large extent- the survival and long term growth of India. But it certainly cannot adopt a confrontationist approach vis-a-vis the US. A collaborative approach will take it places, literally. Prime Minister Modi seems to be on the right track.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 19, 2018 in China, Donald Trump, Economics, India, Trade

 

Tags:

US – CHINA TRADE WAR – Why Trump will Win

US – CHINA TRADE WAR  – Why Trump will Win

 The rising trade tensions between the US and its major trading partners, particularly China and European Union have been making news for some time now. It may be recalled that the US imposed tariff on imports of Chinese goods worth $200 billion and had also threatened to impose tariffs on cars imported from EU.

But the European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker quickly visited Washington DC and appears to have successfully negotiated and resolved the trade issues, at least for now. The EU plans to buy more US liquefied natural gas (LNG) and soybeans and has agreed to work with the US “toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods”. Trump seems to have won hands down in the trade frictions with the EU.

But the trade war with China, on the other hand, seems to be following a different course with no resolution in sight yet. China too had imposed retaliatory sanctions on goods imported from the US. The US has further accused China of manipulating its currency and is now considering additional tariffs on goods worth $500 billion.

The consequences of this internecine tension could be severe and reverberate throughout the world. The IMF has warned that the current trade war could slow down world economic growth by 0.5% or cost the world $430 billion by 2020.  In its World Economic Outlook Update published in July 2018 IMF has warned that the global expansion that was witnessed over the last two years has plateaued and has become less balanced. It projects global growth to stay at 3.9% over the next two years. Translation – any trade tensions, particularly among key economies at this juncture may be injurious to all.

While the specter of a full blown trade war is never benign, a close examination of US-China trade data that is publicly available, courtesy US Dept. of Commerce, Census Bureau is indeed revealing. Data for the last eight years (i.e. 2010 through 2018 May) shows US exports to China has been   consistent at just over a US$100 billion. On the other hand, imports from China have steadily grown from US$ 365 billion in 2010 to US$505 billion in 2017. Imports for 2018 will probably be at the same level as 2017.  Please see chart.US China Data1

US imports are almost four times its exports to China thus giving rise to a yawning trade deficit that is undesirable for any county, and most certainly for the US. But President Trump, by imposing high tariffs, may have converted this liability into a powerful weapon. Given its four to one advantage, China is four times more vulnerable, in dollar terms, than the US. The current impact of Chinese tariffs on US farm sector has been stemmed by a $12 billion federal subsidy announced by the department of agriculture.  Hence, any retaliation – both current and proposed – from China will have minimal effect on the US. Trump seems to have the upper hand with China.

One of the key reasons for the imposition of additional tariffs on China – at least the stated objective of Trump – was bringing jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, back to the US. On this count, however, Trump may have miscalculated. America must wake up to the reality that manufacturing jobs that were squirreled away to China over the decades will never come back.

The fact is that the US is a high cost economy and the final landed cost of manufacture is very high. Secondly the strong US dollar does not help either. Bringing back manufacturing jobs will only price its products out in a fiercely competitive export market. Most manufacturers may not take the bait.

The US government fully understands this. Consequently, over the decades, it has successfully encouraged the migration of the economy to a trade and economic culture that is largely dependent and sustained by innovations and cutting edge technologies. This has helped in the creation of new markets and orient them to where the US will continue to enjoy obvious advantages and hence dominate.

China too understands the nuances of this game and has been in an extraordinary hurry to acquire new technologies at any cost. Hence it is no surprise that China has been consistently accused, over the decades, of industrial espionage and theft of intellectual property (IP) by many countries including the US. It is no surprise that under the given circumstances, President Trump was left with limited options in dealing with an aggressive trading partner like China.

China has not played a good citizen of the world. At every opportunity, it has seized its neighbor’s land in its infamous ‘salami slicing’ strategy to fulfil its expansionists ideology. It has shown no respect for international law – be it the annexation of Tibet or in the blatant militarization of the Spratly Islands in South China Sea, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict against it.

If today China has a negative residue of international goodwill, it has only itself to blame. Its emergence as a big economy and world player has not been peaceful.

The fact that China has used the BRICS forum to speak out for “free trade” only underscores its desperation. Further, recent reports have indicated that behind its brave façade of resisting US tariffs, China is deeply worried about the potential for many of its companies to file for bankruptcies.

It is indeed impossible to guess as to what is on President Trump’s mind in dealing with China. Is he playing hard ball to get China to the negotiating table for a better trade deal? Or is the US planning to bring China on its knees without firing a shot, given China’s flagrant violation of international law in the South China Sea? Or is it Trump’s larger game plan to cut unfriendly nations to size, given his recent experience in winning over North Korea without firing a shot.

Whichever way you look at it, China seems to be the obvious loser. It is only a matter of time before China will get to the negotiating table to work out a “reasonable agreement” very much in line with the EU example. Before long, normal trade will resume, albeit under circumstances that are lot more favorable to the US.

 
 

Tags:

India Changes Tack in Dealing with China

India Changes Tack in Dealing with China

Relations between India and China can best be described as tenuous, beset with mutual suspicion and distrust. A quick review of the relations between the two countries over the last six decades or so shows that India had been contending with an ever-increasing trajectory of belligerence and threats to its economic interests and territorial integrity. China has always perceived India as a potential competitor and a threat. Hence it has used every trick in the book to erect roadblocks in India’s path either directly or indirectly through its proxies.

India has long been aware of China’s support to Pakistan – from building nuclear weapons to tacit encouragement of terrorism against it. Its intelligence agencies have also long been aware of Chinese involvement inside India – from funding communists to maintaining a bevy of friendly journalists on its payroll to promote its point of view. But that is par for the course in today’s pernicious international ecosystem and India has no reason to complain but rather realign its own strategic policy responses that safeguard its interests.

Of course, there have definitely been several individual instances of India standing up to China – in military responses to border incidents prior to Dokhlam (2017) or while negotiating border disputes. But overall, it conspicuously lacked the sting to deter China. That would explain the condescending attitude and a second class treatment towards India.

This has largely been attributed to the fact that India for over three decades had coalition governments that were by definition weak. Hence in international affairs, more so with regards to its neighbors, India continued to punch below its weight. But that explanation is not convincing, given that many countries with far more unstable governments have stood up to their aggressive neighbors.

All that seem to have slowly but surely changed under Prime Minister Modi. After an initial but short-lived honeymoon with both Pakistan and China, India has displayed a nuanced ratcheting up of assertiveness. There are ample pieces of evidence that point in this direction. This piece will highlight three recent reports that have attracted immense interest that attest to India’s emerging assertiveness.

Firstly, the political crisis in Maldives brought the navies of India and China to a near confrontation in the Indian Ocean. In what is seen as blatant gunboat diplomacy, China had dispatched a flotilla of several vessels (some reports have said eleven) including missile destroyers to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). But the Indian Navy threatened action and fired warning shots that stopped the flotilla and forced the Chinese Navy (PLAN) to retreat. (Nikkei Asian Review 3/23/2018)

Secondly, India has beefed up its military along the Chinese border in the north from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh in the north east (Times of India 3/31/2018). Not only has the density of troops been increased in these sectors, but also a comprehensive upgrade in defense infrastructure is evident – roads, bridges, advanced landing ground (ALG), military hospitals, etc.

Thirdly, in an apparent reversal of its earlier stand and much to the annoyance of the Chinese, a government minister and a senior BJP functionary attended the 60th anniversary of Dalai Lama’s arrival in India (Economic Times 3/31/2018).

These diplomatic incidents or updates to its statecraft, if you will, should be seen as outcomes of an inner overhaul of the operating guidelines for handling China under the Modi dispensation. Clearly a confident India has come up with its own answers to the management of a pernicious neighborhood. India is now seen as able and willing to match the belligerence from Beijing in equal measure.

It must be noted in this context that China’s rise as a global power has been punctuated by bulldozing   civil societies, grabbing others territories, defying judgements of the International court of Justice (ICJ) among others. In the same breadth it has diabolically quoted historical treaties and international law to justify its land grab frustrating many of its neighbors. Unlike India, its rise has hardly been peaceful.

With several countries bristling against China – Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, India, and Japan and of course the US, the writing on the wall is self-evident. China’s belligerence and open defiance of international law – as demonstrated in the case of the South China Sea dispute – is the raison d’etre for the formation of a loose coalition-of-the-aggrieved against it. If China continues to pursue its current course, this loose coalition could solidify into a formidable alliance that would only bode ill and spell disaster for China even in the span of a decade.

For a dictatorial and authoritarian state, where hundreds of millions of people continue to be denied basic civil liberties, the domestic situation in China is indeed fragile at best. For any nation this is a veritable internal time bomb. Any misstep or social crises like the “Arab Spring Uprising” could be irretrievable and have disastrous consequences for that country.

China’s troubles are not limited to its immediate neighborhood. As China and the US are continue to  engage` in a war of words and slapping sanctions and counter sanctions at each other, it is difficult to read the tea leaves to determine if an early rapprochement is in the horizon. But whatever be the outcome of this incipient trade war, it does provide India a window of opportunity to expand and deepen its relations with likeminded countries that perforce have to counter and stand up to China.

The regular military exercises by India’s armed forces with their counterparts in other friendly countries designed to expand its influence appear to be paying dividend. Inviting the ten heads of states from ASEAN to Delhi for Republic Day celebrations in January 2018 is another initiative designed to contain China. Although it is anybody’s guess as to how ASEAN nations will reciprocate, India has made the right moves.

In hindsight, India’s refusal to back down in heights of Dohklam in 2017 is indeed an inflection point. The rout of 1962 or the sense of inferiority perceived by the Indian political establishment vis-a-vis China are now buried in history. For now, India seems to be energized and arming itself to its teeth and flexing its muscles.

However, there will be more Dokhlam type “salami slicing” situations for India to encounter – be it in the heights of the Himalayas or the depths of the Indian Ocean – but the response will be unprecedented and definitely not to China’s liking.

 

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.

 
Leave a comment

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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 
 
%d bloggers like this: