End of Doklam stalemate

After nearly two and a half months of tension and fear of a war between two Asian giants, the Doklam stalemate has been resolved, though not in the way India wanted it. On Monday, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in an official statement said China and India had agreed to a mutual withdrawal of troops from Doklam and revert to status quo ante June 15. Also, the Indian side claimed, the Chinese had agreed to stop trying to build a road in a territory which Bhutan has traditionally claimed to be its and which the Chinese were now unilaterally claiming to be theirs. It is the attempt at building this road that had raised India’s hackles and led to the faceoff between troops of the two sides. If the Chinese could build this road they could easily reach the so-called “Chicken’s Neck” or the narrow strip of land that connects India’s north-east with the Indian mainland. The threat was too real and too obvious for India to sit idle.
But the rub lies in the statement of the Chinese foreign ministry. Despite India’s specific confirmation that there has been a ‘disengagement’ of Indian and Chinese troops, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson admitted neither of a mutual troops withdrawal nor of giving up the road project.  Despite persistent questioning, the Chinese spokesperson refused to make any comment on the road building project, giving rise to doubts and uncertainties about the intention of the Chinese. One thing, however, is clear. The imminent danger of an India-China war over Doklam has been avoided.  Hopefully, having retreated from their position without losing face in public, China will now help the process of restoration of normalcy.
A contributory factor in the Doklam denouement may be that had the Chinese not agreed to a troops withdrawal, the presence of the Indian Prime Minister in the BRICS summit to be held early next month at Xiamen city in China, would have become uncertain. If Narendra Modi stayed away from the summit it would be a big diplomatic discomfiture for China. Whatever the reason, the de-escalation of tension will be – in fact has been— welcomed by the peoples of the two countries. China’s willingness not to change the ground reality unilaterally and against the national interest of India will help relations to improve. The ‘hawks’ in the Chinese media had been indulging in war rhetoric in a belligerent manner. They seemed to be bent on making things difficult. They may behave more responsibly now.

Wednesday, 30 August, 2017