Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Business Recorder editorial July 19, 2017
India-China border tensions China has briefed foreign diplomats in Beijing, particularly the representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, that its troops have been waiting patiently at the Doklam plateau on the border between China and Bhutan in a standoff with Indian troops but will not wait for an indefinite period. This has the diplomatic community in Beijing worried and some have conveyed their concern to their Indian counterparts in Beijing and Bhutanese counterparts in New Delhi. The issue erupted last month when Indian troops blocked Chinese road works in Doklam in an unarmed confrontation involving bumping chests against each other. China says the Doklam plateau is its territory and whatever its dispute in the area with Bhutan, Indian troops have unnecessarily butted in. Indian media reports say Bhutan asked New Delhi for help in the matter. As it is, Bhutan is dependent on its big neighbour India strategically, politically and economically. The Doklam plateau lies in close proximity to the meeting point of the borders of three countries, China, Bhutan and Sikkim, India having annexed the last named in 1975. China says the Indian troops have trespassed into Chinese territory in the area and attempted to change the status quo dating back to an 1890 agreement between China and the then British colonial authorities in India, which delineated the border in this area. India on the other hand has objected that the Chinese road building activity in the area represents a significant change in the status quo with serious security implications for India. China insists the Indian troops must pull back to avoid an escalation and before a meaningful dialogue on the dispute can be initiated. The ruckus has stirred memories of the 1962 Sino-Indian war over the disputed border stretching from Kashmir to NEFA, which India lost. The Chinese side withdrew its troops from Indian territory once the fighting stopped and offered talks on the border dispute. The matter has seen sputtering talks between the two sides ever since, without a definitive solution in sight. Once again the Chinese have shown exemplary restraint in Doklam and this should encourage steps to defuse the situation and open discussions at the negotiating table. China and India are both emerging powers, with the former poised to enter the superpower club, based on the rapid advances in its economy over the last three decades. This economic clout has translated into military might through a modernisation of the huge People’s Liberation Army. India on the other hand is also an aspirant for entry into the big international boys’ club. It harbours fears about China’s outreach in its periphery to the west (Pakistan), south (Sri Lanka and the Seychelles) and southeast (Myanmar, etc), characterising increasing Chinese influence in these countries as Beijing’s strategy of stringing together a ‘necklace of pearls’ to ring India and contain it. Given this rivalry and jockeying for space and influence at a regional and global level, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the smallest incident on the long and sensitive Sino-Indian border can quickly cause bristling on both sides. But it is not in the interests of either side, nor the region nor the world, for such ‘misunderstandings’ and their subsequent frictions to be allowed to come to a pass where military conflict looms. A peaceful competition for global clout is one thing, attempting to do the other side down through military muscle is quite another. Both sides must exercise restraint on the China-Bhutan border ruction, withdraw their troops to positions to restore the status quo ante, and make sincere efforts to sort things out peacefully. Friendly countries could and perhaps should play whatever facilitating role they can to defuse tensions and initiate negotiations.