Doklam standoff: Why China is trying to teach India a lesson

Sanjeev Nayyar
Sanjeev NayyarJul 07, 2017 | 17:55

Doklam standoff: Why China is trying to teach India a lesson

A famous line from the blockbuster Singham had actor Prakash Raj playing Jaykant Shikre say: "Mere saath kuch bhi karneka... mera ego hurt nahi karneka".

By refusing to be part of China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) and not even sending a representative, like Japan and the US did, India hurt China's ego. A stand-off like the one we are seeing in Sikkim was only expected.


There are multiple reasons for and messages coming through the Sikkim standoff.

China was very keen that India be part of OBOR. In response to India's unhappiness over the CPEC (Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor), its ambassador even offered to rename the CPEC, an offer that was later withdrawn.

By consistently reiterating that the CPEC passes through Jammu and Kashmir, which India rightfully considers its own territory, India upset China further. A country that is used to having its own way was taken aback by this show of spine.

Further, till recently India held the tag of being the fastest growing economy in the world. This hurt the Chinese ego too. 

Be it the 1950s or today, China is unhappy seeing a rise in India's international stature. It is unhappy with India's moves to simultaneously build relations with the US, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Israel.

This makes the Chinese uncomfortable and affects the psychological well-being of its only friend Pakistan. Hence, this talk of teaching India a lesson. 

Between themselves, China and Pakistan want to keep India tied down at the border and with internal problems. With the NDA government's response to Pakistan, be it ceasefire violations or stoking mass protests in the Valley, the duo realised that a new front had to be opened. No better place than Chumbi Valley and Sikkim in the east.


Ek teer, char nishane.

One, it puts India under pressure in the east as well and comes closer to the Chicken Neck in Siliguri. Two, because China is upset about Bhutan's refusal to establish diplomatic relations with it and toeing India's line, it gives Bhutan a message that its only hope is China because the Indians would not come to their aid.

Three, it seeks to deflect attention from its forceful occupation of Tibet by saying it could question India's annexation of Sikkim. At the same time is a threat that Chinese support to Sikkim's independence could provoke Sikkimese people and compound India's problems in the North-East.

Four, if India buckles under Chinese pressure, then Nepal gets the message that only China matters in the Himalayas.

India has done well to stand firm but erred when Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said India was ready for a two-and-a-half front war (Pakistan, China and against internal extremists) and part-time defence minister Arun Jaitley remarked that India is not what it was in 1962.

By responding to Chinese provocations, India is playing into their hands. Sometimes silence has your opponents guessing. At best, a junior officer could have responded.


India must also realise that China's economic linkages with Russia, US and Israel are strong, because of which they will not take sides in a India-China conflict.

Since China keeps on referring to 1962, it would help if the government published and publicised a brief paper on the 1967 and 1987 border clashes with China.

According to Nitin Gokhale, a leading expert on strategic affairs: "Indeed, 55 years after the 1962 War, one can confidently say the Indian Army has firmly exorcised the ghost of 1962, thanks to a deeper understanding of the Chinese psyche and decisive victories in two major military face-offs since then - one in 1967 and the other in 1987. In fact, the stand-off at Nathu La, not very far from the current impasse in 1967, gave the Chinese a bloody nose, just five years after 1962. The other eyeball to eyeball confrontation at Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh, exactly 30 years ago too, forced the Chinese to back down from its creeping encroachment."

China sought to buttress its claims over Chumbi Valley by referring to the 1890 Convention (known as Convention of March 17, 1890, between Great Britain and China relating to Sikkim and Tibet).

Tibet expert Claude Arpi recently wrote: "Beijing forgot to mention about the two main stakeholders, Tibet and Sikkim, who were not even consulted by the ‘Great Imperial Powers'. There was, however, no corresponding acknowledgment on the part of the British of China’s authority over Tibet".

How can the Chinese justify their actions under a 1890 Convention when they annexed Tibet in 1950? To put it simply Tibet was not part of China in 1890. 

Incidentally, have the Chinese always respected agreements?

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal wrote in March 2017, "China has repeatedly demonstrated that either it does not respect the agreements it signs or interprets them as it wants. In 1996 it agreed to 'clarifying the alignment of the LAC in those segments where they (the two sides) have different perceptions'. In 2002 (when the writer was foreign secretary) China decided to repudiate this agreement unilaterally." 

Recently, Bhutan conveyed to the Chinese side that construction of a road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the agreements and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between these two countries.

A July 6 oped in Global Times, mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, stated that "Beijing should reconsider its stance over the Sikkim issue although China recognised India's annexation of Sikkim in 2003".

India need not respond to such provocations. Let the Chinese escalate by derecognising Sikkim first. It might be a Buddha given opportunity for India to change its position because Tibet is at the heart of the India-China divide.

The Chinese are adept at psychological warfare. They use the power of their achievements, be it manufacturing prowess, construction of gigantic infrastructure projects, military power, success in sports and cheap loans, to demoralise other countries.

Jingoism might work with Pakistan but with China India needs a different approach. We must be firm, not escalate issues publicly, let actions speak, continue strengthening relations with global and regional powers and escalate fault-lines Pakistan. Lastly, remain focused on becoming an economic and military power.

India must remember, kuch bhi karo kintoo China ka ego hurt nahi karnekaunka loss of face nahin honeka.

Last updated: July 07, 2017 | 17:55
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