Even if the truce at the Doklam tri-junction is tentative and temporary, the end in the 75-day stand off between Indian and Chinese troops is welcome. Without firing a single bullet, restoration of status quo ante goes a long way in normalising relations between the two nuclear powered neighbours. In such contretemps, there are no losers or winners. Instead the mature handling of a rather sensitive issue means that both nations have learnt to live together.
Conventional military conflicts between two of the largest standing armies in the world was never an option. The Chinese also realise that 1962 may have been a decisive win, but Nathu La in 1969 when Indian forces repulsed the Chinese side killing over 400 of their men, is also a distasteful memory. That India could stare down a hyper nationalist Chinese media and a foreign office, which ratcheted up the volume on Doklam, is a significant win. In the end, hawks and warmongers were silenced with firmness. All stakeholders in the region were meanwhile relieved, given the sagacity shown by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The role of NSA Ajit Doval, foreign secretary S Jaishankar and the Indian ambassador in Beijing was vital for bringing down the tension. In the process, the ‘Three Warfares Strategy’ of Chinese Military Commission that was devised in 2003 and refined in 2010 did not prove right with India refusing to succumb to intense pressure. The tri-dimensional war through media, psychological and foreign affairs spheres unleashed by the Chinese leadership in the last 75-days did not weaken the resolve of Indian side nor did it let down its long-term ally, Bhutan. That India had the strategic depth to hold the plateau, while the Chinese were below in the bowl irked them more.
The truce to Doklam escalation also seems to have been dictated by two major immediate developments. First, it was the BRICS summit to be held in China next week, where both President Xi and Prime Minister Modi are expected to meet for a bilateral summit level conclave. Secondly, the re-election of President Xi as supreme commander of the Peoples’ Liberation Army and Chinese Communist Party for five more years at the 19th party congress later this year seems to have pushed both sides to end the needless row. None from either side should forget that war — brief or long drawn, conventional or nuclear — would be devastating for not only the Asian region, but also the entire world. Stakes for all concerned are too high, especially given that China seeks to establish its uni-polar superpower status internationally. Xi Jinping’s leadership has displayed maturity by making ‘adjustments on the ground’, loosely interpreted as putting off the construction of the road via Doklam tri-junction. Though President Xi will have to swallow some false pride, its right that he did just that given that the ‘One Belt-One Road’ project could just be redesigned to avoid such conflicts in future. There’s no doubt that the Hamburg meeting of Xi and Modi laid the foundation for a ‘constructive engagement’ on the standoff. Though future flashpoints on an undefined border cannot be ruled out, there’s every need for the two sides to put in place a framework, mechanism and designated officials to negotiate all border disputes. The way forward would be for China to resist the temptation of furthering its expansionist doctrine by posturing itself as a bully.