Face-off in Doklam

Beijing excels in art of alienating potential friends. New Delhi must tread cautiously — there is much to lose from escalation

By: Editorial | Published:July 1, 2017 1:42 am
Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Doklam plateau, Kailash-Mansarovar,Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrims, China on Kailash-Mansarovar, Nathu La pass  China has shut access to Indian pilgrims seeking to proceed through the Nathu La pass on to Kailash-Mansarovar.

Earlier this month, Indian troops intervened to block the path of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers engaged in building road-works on the Doklam plateau, a strategically vital 269 square kilometre patch of Bhutan’s territory that Beijing laid claim to in the 1980s. Though no shots were fired, this was the first time that India used troops to protect Bhutan’s territorial interests. Furious, Beijing responded by closing access to Indian pilgrims seeking to proceed through the Nathu La pass on to Kailash-Mansarovar. This is unlikely to be the end of the matter.

Ever since Chinese and Indian troops faced off on the Depsang Plains in 2013, New Delhi has steadily hardened its military posture along the Line of Actual Control. In response, China appears to have escalated its pressure on Bhutan, seeking to persuade the kingdom that New Delhi’s long-standing security guarantees are not credible. The aim of the pressure is well known: To persuade Bhutan to cede Doklam, through which China has built a road linking Lhasa to the Nathu-La pass and is in the process of driving a railway line, for two other disputed enclaves.

The stakes, for both countries, are huge: Since 1967, when clashes in the Sikkim sector claimed dozens of lives on both sides, a tenuous peace has held, which has come under growing strain in recent years. India’s military presence in Doklam gives it the ability to snap vital road — and in the near future, rail — links between Lhasa and the Nathu-La region in the event of war. For a China wary of India’s growing military infrastructure on the LAC, this is a substantial concern; Sikkim is the only part of the 3,500 km frontier where India has a tactical advantage.

Equally, New Delhi has reasons to assert a muscular presence, as it seeks to reassure the kingdom that it will not allow Chinese encroachment. This local conflict is fed by wider geostrategic issues. China’s obstruction of India’s nuclear ambitions, and its support of Pakistan, have led New Delhi to retaliate by giving Tibetan secessionism greater visibility. It is also working with Japan, South Korea and the US to contain China’s power in the Indian Ocean, provoking warnings from China’s Foreign Ministry.

These problems are mainly of Beijing’s making: Increasingly driven by hyper-nationalism, its foreign policy has excelled in the art of alienating potential friends. Yet, New Delhi must tread cautiously. There is little to gain from escalation, and much to lose.

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  1. N
    Narendar
    Jul 7, 2017 at 8:16 pm
    the matter has been put in a totally wrong persppective. The water shed runs from Batangla Top then to Sinchi la and then goes Noth east towrds Ha Valley, The Dokalam Pleateau is to the South of Sinchi La. India is holding the ridge from Batngla running South to Doka La nd the Gamochen. Gamochen is the Southern Shoulder of Doka La. From Gamochen the Ridge take a 90 degree turn to west resulting in seven distinct tops. Well The issue is the location of tri Junc. India and Bhutan recognise Batangla Top as tri junction and then boundary runs East to Sinchi la. While the Chinese have claimmed the Pleateau between Sinch La and The Seven mountain Tops. Chines have been sending graziers and patrols every year for last 40 odd years. Bhutan also sends its graziers. There have been protest and minor incidents every year only this year it has aggravated to put pressure on India for OBOR and CPEC.
    Reply
  2. O
    Orthodogs.Brahmin
    Jul 1, 2017 at 4:00 am
    Bhutan is our dearest neighbor and we should protect her at any cost. The way we protected Nepal from Bhumimata's audacious vagaries for which Nepalese are up with their slippers against Bharat Mati.
    Reply