ture abhors a vacuum, which is why Beijing is sensing a huge opportunity as Dold Trump-led US begins withdrawing into Fortress America. But despite its single-minded drive to be numero uno by leveraging its economic and military might, Chi continues to display its characteristic thin skin. The shrill rhetoric, or rather sabre rattling, that frequently emates from Beijing, keeps much of south and south-east Asia on edge. And as worried neighbours seek to coordite their response and look elsewhere for support, Chi ensures that each neighbour is kept in line bilaterally by the full force of its clout applied through various means. Even as New Delhi was busy striking a new equation with Washington as President Trump and Prime Minister rendra Modi met in their first summit, Beijing kept up the pressure by opening another front at the disputed tri-junction between Chi, Bhutan and India near Sikkim. This seems to be the latest in a series of Chinese actions to keep the frontier busy and the Indian leadership off balance — following Beijing’s assertion as an interested party in Pak-occupied Kashmir where it is pushing through the Chi-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) as the centrepiece of its One Belt One Road initiative. At the other extremity in Aruchal, Beijing loudly aired displeasure over the Dalai Lama’s visit and subsequent opening of Dholla-Sadiya bridge that provides a strategic link right up to the border with Chi. However, the border at Sikkim has long been settled between the two neighbours, so it is noteworthy that the current ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ confrontation is occurring there. The flare-up is centred over the Doko-La plateau situated in the trijunction, to which the Chinese are building a road. This is suspected to be part of Bejing’s drive to strengthen its control over Tibet, as Doko-La (called Donglong by the Chinese) gives it a vantage point. But Doko-La will also give the Chinese direct access to the Chicken Neck corridor that connects India to its Northeast. This is not a possibility New Delhi can entertain.
And for a change, New Delhi has now spoken firmly and unequivocally that the Chinese road building attempt at Doklam in Sikkim sector will represent “a significant change of status quo with security implications for India”. Referring to an agreement over the Sikkim sector between Chi and India in 2012 that the tri-junction boundary points between the two neighbours and third countries ‘would be filized in consultation with the concerned countries’, New Delhi has stated that any attempt “to unilaterally determine tri-junction points” will violate that understanding. While Beijing has warned of escalating the confrontation “if India does not pull its troops back” from the area it now claims as its own historically, Bhutan has solidly backed India by asking Beijing to stop the road construction and restore status quo in Doklam so as to honour agreements made in 1988 and 1998. Arun Jaitley, holding additiol charge of Defence, has now referred to Bhutan’s clarification that it is Bhutan’s land close to the Indian border at Sikkim where Chi is trying to alter the status-quo, and that Bhutan and India have an arrangement to provide security. With thousands of Chinese and Indian troops presently massed near Doklam, the Peoples Liberation Army did not help matters by warning that “India should learn from historical lessons and stop clamouring for war”, to which Jaitley has given an appropriate rejoinder that the situation in India today is different from what it was in 1962. War is not something any responsible tion should speak lightly about, and Prime Minister rendra Modi recently struck a right note with his comment that despite Chi and India having a border dispute, “not a single bullet has been fired in 40 years” because of that dispute. The Indian leadership, by and large, has been remarkably restrained when it comes to commenting on Beijing’s power projection over large parts of the Asia-Pacific region. But Chi has made no bones about its commitment to “iron brother” Pakistan that keeps threatening India with asymmetric warfare and nuclear blackmail. Contrast this to the storm that greeted George Ferndes at home in 1998, when he was the Defence minister, that India’s main threat is Chi and not Pakistan — or Army chief Bipin Rawat recently, that India is capable of “fighting on two-and-half fronts simultaneously”. Now that the Chinese army has warned India not to forget the lessons of 1962, it is time that people here should remember the casualties Chi suffered in 1967 during its misadventure at the Sikkim sector. When it comes to Chi’s hard and soft tactics to encircle India, the entire Indian leadership needs to put up a better show in pushing right back at Beijing. Chi already enjoys a $60 billion trade surplus with India, so it is high time New Delhi plays hardball and not back down.