Much of India’s present problem with Chi began more than a month ago when Chinese soldiers started building a road on the tri-junction of the India-Bhutan-Chi borders. Indian troops promptly stopped Chinese soldiers from carrying on with their work. And quite expectedly, this has led to serious deterioration of bilateral relations between India and Chi. That the Chinese exercise was an attempt to change the status quo on the frontier with Bhutan, should be clear from the fact that over the years Chi has been trying to get closer to where the tri-junction point ends. Over the years, Chi has been doing things like repair of the roads and their re-tarring. However, this time the Chinese arrived with bulldozers and construction equipment with the aim of breaching the point where the tri-junction ends. This was a serious threat to our security. The government of India sees the Chinese action of road building as a reaction to India’s outright rejection of Chi’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. India had good reasons to reject the OBOR considering that Chi was making the Chi-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a part of OBOR. After all, the CPEC passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir that India claims as its territory.
What seems to have happened in early June this year is the outcome of India’s attitude of overlooking Chi’s actions that appear to be innocuous but are geared to the needs of future action. If the re-tarring of road surfaces and other repairs of roads that were not unquestiobly within Chinese territory had been carried out in the past, it was the duty of the government of India to lodge its protest when such a repair work had first got started. The Chinese strategy of prefacing intended action with seemingly innocuous prelimiry steps is fairly well known all over the world. As such, India should have viewed the earlier Chinese action of repairing and maintaining roads (not acknowledged as part Chinese territory) with some expectation of intended future moves not entirely to our liking. This did not happen. The government of India just chose to ignore these prelimiry moves. So we now have a situation where India has justifiably felt obliged to move troops to Doklam to stop Chinese soldiers from building a road on the tri-junction of the India-Bhutan-Chi borders. Not surprisingly, Chinese experts have been threatening a war if New Delhi does not buckle. The present Indian government has no way of withdrawing troops in an attempt to ensure a detente, considering that it cannot afford to give the impression of not being able to take on Chi if a war becomes inevitable. The time for conciliatory moves is over. The NDA government now finds itself in a situation where withdrawal of troops will be viewed as a sort of ignoble capitulation. At the same time, the experience of 1962 should remind us that a war with Chi may not be entirely to our advantage. Our Exterl Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is of the view that most of the foreign countries are with India and that they feel that Chi is being aggressive with a small country like Bhutan. Bhutan has lodged protests including a written one. According to Sushma Swaraj’s statement in the Rajya Sabha, almost all countries feel that India’s stand is right and that the law is with us. However, one cannot be sure that the outcome of a war with Chi (if it is totally uvoidable) we go entirely in favour of India. What is very likely, however, is that Chi will appreciate the utter pointlessness of a war with India over such a trivial issue and decide on a more civilized altertive. The presence of the Indians troops in Doklam must be geared to the ends of informing Chi that (a) India is quite prepared for a war with Chi if it cannot be avoided; and (b) that in all fairness it is the duty of Chi do everything possible to avoid such a pointless war.