Doklam standoff may be dusted, but China will strike India hard

There has been no official assurance from Beijing that it won't resume the construction of the Doklam road.

 |  3-minute read |   30-08-2017
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On August 21, Union home minister Rajnath Singh made a cryptic remark about the Doklam standoff: "There will be a solution soon and I am sure China will make a positive move."

I had dwelt at length on his statement in a previous article.

Lo and behold! Exactly a week later, the Doklam disengagement has been completed. Forget the spin in the Chinese media that had reported the withdrawal was unilateral - and from the Indian side, a top PMO official told me the disengagement was mutual and that the Chinese have removed their road-building equipment as well as troops from Doklam and restored status quo ante.

Interestingly, one Indian official has been at the forefront of the 70-day-long Doklam standoff: national security advisor Ajit Doval, who - ahead of his official visit to China last month - was described by Beijing's media as "the main schemer" behind the Doklam crisis.

china-india-2_083017042430.jpgNot a permanent disengagement. Photo: Reuters

But for the iron-strong stand taken by Doval in opposing China's construction of a tactical road in Doklam at the India-Bhutan-China intersection, India would have yielded a facile strategic victory to the Chinese, which would have troubled India for generations to come.

Doval was given a free hand by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the NSA worked closely with the ministries of external affairs and defence during the entire standoff period.

With the successful denouement of the standoff, Doval's profile has gone up further, his second consecutive major personal achievement after the 2016 surgical strike.

Now that the Doklam dispute is over (for the time being), here is how the next few days are going to unravel for the three parties involved: India, Bhutan and China.

India:

New Delhi may have won the first round but it must be mindful that this implies the Doklam episode is all but over.

The Chinese would inevitably adopt a hard stance against India, most probably by the summer of 2018. Beijing may well create many, not one, Doklam-type situations and may re-trigger the crisis to deliberately rock Modi's boat when he is busy preparing for next general elections, which may well be advanced to the last quarter of 2018.

The famous Shakespearean quote, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" could be rephrased in China's context as "Hell hath no fury like the Dragon scorned".

After all, the Chinese Dragon has been scorned by India like never before. No other nation has been able to put China in its place in the past many many years as India has done.

Therefore, China won't sit back idly for long and would inevitably hit back hard. For now, from the Chinese perspective, India can exult in the Doklam glory and think that its 1962 scars have been removed to some extent but the Chinese would not take it lying down.

If a militarily-much-inferior nation like Pakistan has been brazenly talking of delivering "a thousand cuts" to India, then China - a near-superpower - is obviously capable of wreaking much more mayhem.

When, where and how the Chinese do it are questions which, as of now, are in the womb of time.

Bhutan:

Bhutan is perhaps chuckling over the Doklam denouement because it was ostensibly a party to the dispute alright, but without any stake.

Bhutan would have remained unaffected if the Doklam episode were to end in a different manner. It would be interesting to see how Bhutan plays its cards in the India-China game of thrones in the near future, considering that Thimphu has, of late, been warming up to Beijing in many ways - with the Chinese influence in Bhutan increasing by the day.

China:

China may have played ball with India over the Doklam episode largely because of many factors like the BRICS summit it is going to host next week.

But it can't be expected to keep quiet. Significantly, there has been no official assurance, verbal or written, from China to India that it won't resume the construction of the Doklam road ever again.

Folks, brace up for part two of the Doklam episode next summer. And perhaps many other similiar provocations!

Also read: Modi government framing rules to legitimise internet shutdowns is problematic

Writer

Rajeev Sharma Rajeev Sharma @kishkindha

The writer is an independent journalist and a strategic analyst.

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