Losing the perception war at Dok La

Image result for pics of doklam clash

(Indian and Chinese soldiers milling around on the Doklam plateau)

At around a quarter-to-two in the afternoon today (Aug 28), a joint statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi and the Zhongnanhai in Beijing announced the “expeditious disengagement” by troops eyeballing each other on the disputed Bhutanese border with China on the Doklam plateau that India is treaty-bound to protect. So far so good. Except, the Chinese spokesperson Hua Chunying also said Chinese troops would continue to patrol the Doklam region, thereby giving the impression that while the Indians had withdrawn, the PLA unit hadn’t. She then gave the rhetorical middle finger to India by adding that “China will continue to exercise sovereignty rights to protect territorial sovereignty in accordance with the rules of the historical boundary” and, by way of turning the knife, gratuitously declared that “China hopes India respects the historical boundary and works with China to protect peace along the border on the basis of mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty.” ( http://in.reuters.com/article/india-china-doklam-idINKCN1B80IC )

Did PMO/MEA/South Block not have the faintest expectation that having painted itself into a corner Beijing would like to end up scoring rhetorical points to save face? If not, then it reflects poorly on MEA and Indian diplomats that some 70 years of dealing with  China hasn’t taught them a thing. Whence, the PMO did not not think it necessary to instruct the MEA to make public the agreement, which was in the works for the last several weeks that refers to the SIMULTANEOUS withdrawal from Dok La, so as to leave no wiggle room for Beijing? Far from gaining Modi traction at the BRICS summit in China next month by allowing President Xi Jinping to “save face”,  it will only shore up the resolve of the Chinese to keep pushing the Indian govt.  This is so because Beijing is aware that whatever the reality on the ground and whether or not any of their threats and arm-twisting tactics ever work, they are assured of success — at least in the war of perceptions because Delhi simply lacks the savvy. So now MEA will be on the defensive, and involved in a cycle of claims and counter-claims that it cannot win of who withdrew first, and which side is still “patrolling” the heights.

It was a very big thing for the Indian army to reduce the “mighty” PLA — or that’s the self-pumped up image Beijing likes to project to the world — to school-boyish pushing and shoving and throwing stones, and fulminating in the media, which about is the most the PLA could do in the circumstances it found itself in. MEA/Delhi have lost in the perceptions realm what a resolute army won in Dok La.

After all, the huge emanations of hot air and gas — from Beijing and its Global Times mouthpiece did spook a lot of people in the Indian government. It convinced mostly the innocent, naive and the nervy — the bulk of them in the PMO and MEA, alas, that hostilities were only a matter of the local PLA commander choosing his time to kick the intruding Indians out. This notwithstanding the assurances by the army that it was, in fact, well positioned to weather any PLA action and give back some, which is what the army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, in effect, said to the media yesterday when he talked of the army not letting down its guard because it expects the Dok la-type of incidents to be the new normal on LAC.

So, to get back to the question — why was there such urgency on the part of the Indian government to reach an agreement when, plainly, the forward PLA unit’s situation at the trijunction would very soon, weather permitting, have become unsustainable? Was Modi’s attendance at the BRICS meet all that important? Wouldn’t it have been better for India to show displeasure at China’s aggressiveness by sending a minister of state, or someone of even lower stature instead to Beijing? Xi is keen to forge BRICS solidarity now that things are hotting up with the Trump helmed-US, and Modi’s absenting himself would have sent a powerful message that this dual policy of Beijing’s of turning up the heat on the disputed border and turning it down at will, has its costs. But will the PM’s keenness on logging more frequent flier miles — this time east to Beijing, beget India much of anything? Let’s wait and see but it is highly unlikely Modi will return with anything at all.

When will Modi/Delhi/MEA ever learn that being nice to China when Beijing is hostile and determined on showing India down, hurts the national interest?

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, China, China military, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, South Asia, United States, US.. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to Losing the perception war at Dok La

  1. Venkat says:

    The PMO move is really sad and hinders the morale of Indians. Attending BRICS at this time proves that GOI slapping the Indian people’s face.
    Really disappointed today. Not able to show our pain to China, very sad. This govt and Congress, there’s no difference.

  2. Bhaskar Chakraborty says:

    Dear Sir,
    Our foreign minister had already told in parliament that joint retreat of both army’s soldiers was
    possible. Has anything happened to contradict that? Moreover, is the press statement from both
    parties decided on the agreement? If not, if they claim that they are keen to keep the right to patrolling then why not we on behalf of Bhutanese army or the later themselves? I don’t comprehend what sort of historical boundaries they claim! I wonder whether that was also dealt in the agreement! It’s not clear who went for the agreement, formally 1st, but if China did so could India have rejected the proposal?

  3. i think it was very evident from the Statement in the parliament itself, that the BABUS will be scared to the bone & even the Brahmos story was brushed under the carpet. BUT, has the PLA stopped Road-Construction, Please Sir, we want to know the truth

  4. Atul says:

    You are compelling MEA to open up more. Another statement just came in, clarifying the mutual withdrawal under verification !! Have a look : https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DIUTsrqVwAAjV0y.jpg

  5. Venkat says:

    But different open statement from China foreign offers minister . Now india had to open up more evidence to its citizens

  6. Venkat says:

    We do not know if it was India that had the urgency to close the issue, was it intervention by Russia or was it that China that wanted the matter to,be closed before BRICS summit.
    We need to thank Bhutan for standing up. Have closer ties with them in terms of hydropower and more aid.
    We also need to keep a hawk eye on Chinese, maybe neither the time nor the place (tri junction) was the right this time.
    For this
    we need to get closer to Nepal .
    Continue strengthening our armed forces.
    Continue to improve infrastructure.
    Bring peace and development in border areas.
    Lower imports from China.
    Manufacture more electronics locally.

  7. Venkat says:

    Now India has to open up otherwise it’s betraying its own citizens.In coming elections. See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41070767

    I’ll never vote for BJP in coming elections.

    • Yes yes, you can only vote for congress party. And the dynasty which abused India, infact Rahul Gandhi secretly met with the Chinese Ambassador also, you want TRAITORS to rule over us ? Just because you have an issue with Modi ? Had he been a coward, he would not had sent 3000 troops in the first place over there.

      • Venkat says:

        Iam not pro congres, I am BJP support person . After this incident I didn’t find much difference between congress and BJP. Our PM should have boycotted BRICS submit .

      • again you are changing tunes, i asked you if Modi had been a coward, had he deployed 3000 troops in the first place ? BRICS is important for India, why ? Because as mr. Karnad also says, WEST & USA will never be a trusted friend of India So whom,can we make an alliance with to cultivate ourselves as a a Super-Power ? It is just one block i.e. BRICS, having said that, i truly believe in what Mr. Karnad has to say,BUT i will never VOTE FOR THE DYNSATY OR EVEN AAPTARDS who got funds from FORD FOUNDATION to disintegrate my Country.

      • Venkat says:

        I agree that west and USA not trustworthy allies. At the same time china is too dangerous backyard Neighbour . We already facing 52Billion trade deficit. BRICS only helps china rather than India.

        Why so urgent to announce today it self about our PM visit. I don’t think he will be well treated as before.

      • Venkat says:

        I agree that west and USA not trustworthy allies. At the same time china is too dangerous backyard Neighbour . We already facing 52Billion trade deficit. BRICS only helps china rather than India.

        Why so urgent to announce today it self about our PM visit. I don’t think he will be well treated as before.

      • Please consider, Beijing also wanted a face-saver & as our Army General Bipin Rawat also said ,these kind of Skrimishes will happen all along the entire LAC in the future. So we need to prepare our 3 Mountain-Strike Cores as well,we need TIME,that is the most important thing for WAR (i mean REAL WAR).

  8. Shaurya says:

    I feel China is just digging its own grave on the issue, if they are lying on the matter. In the Indian government is right that the withdrawal is indeed mutual and China’s plans to build the road have been stopped and it revert to status quo ante – without a formal written agreement on the issue, then the TRUTH will put China in trouble. All this spin is by Chinese media for its citizenry and the world will know, who has lied and who has not. I say good work India and let China stew in its own yuck.

    • andy says:

      Spin is right.Bottom line is… there won’t be any road building by China in Doklam,which was anyways the primary objective of Indian intervention in Bhutanese terrain.

  9. Amit says:

    When this News came out in the morning in DD News it was mentioned that withdrawal will be in stages. like first 25 % of soldiers will be withdrawn by both sides. The two parties check and verify if the first stage is completed and then they will withdraw more troops. So when the second statement from MEA came that withdrawal has come under verification, it confirmed what was mentioned in the DD news in the morning. Has China commented that they are continuing with road construction?

    • No. Beijing confirmed the withdrawal of Indian troops and that its troops continue “patrolling”. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a 2nd statement.

      • Raj says:

        The issue arose as China was trying to build a road in the disputed Doklam area which the Indian Army stopped them from doing. Historical understanding on the boundary a tripartite agreement is no one should do anything to change the status quo untill the issue is jointly resolved. Now China tried to change the status quo by building a road in disputed trijunction which has now been stopped. Patrolling was being done by each of the armies (India, China and Bhutan) and will be conducted as before. Therefore, there is no loss in ‘perceptions realm’ as you had claimed above. How does it constitute a loss in perceptions that if status quo ante has been restored after a prolonged stand off?

      • Indiran says:

        Dear Sir ,
        With all due respects , China has been patrolling Doklam plateau along with the Bhutanese .That’s why they have had 25 odd rounds of negotiations coz that area is disputed .Trouble arose when they decided to change the status quo i.e – China decided to construct a road thus trashing the tri nation agreement agreed to between China , Bhutan & India on preserving the status quo pending a final agreement .
        That’s why India intervened on Bhutan’s behalf .
        From what can be understood by the press statements issued by our MEA and the Chinese foreign ministry ( and reading between the lines ) , China has for the moment agreed to suspend construction of the said road and stand down .Which is what India demanded along with simultaneously agreeing to withdraw it’s troops from Doklam plateau.
        That the Chinese & the Bhutanese will continue with their patrols on what they perceive to be their side of the border while simultaneously parleying is also a given .

        I personally don’t see the need to be unnecessarily hawkish on this issue when our demands have been conceded , whatever spin Beijing may seek to give to this agreement .
        That we will further see pinpricks in different sectors in the future is also a given but the IA and the Modi Government ought to be commended for not only highlighting our red lines but also displaying the spine to act on it .The ex NSA has also gone on record in a recent interview with Shekhar Gupta of The Print to commend the stand taken by the Modi Govt endorsing it with a “I would have advised on a similar course of action were I the NSA as this government has taken .”

        One doesn’t need to add to it.All one has to do is wait for a few days for the fog to clear and check on the facts at ground zero to see who’s exaggerating and who’s telling the truth .
        Regards ,

  10. Venkat says:

    China will in no way get affected, even its bluffing does no damage to its security. On the other hand, it’s a big security issue for India. More over, people will lose faith in the Government. Had our PM ignores the BRICS summit, it’d have showed how serious we are about our core interests. Now onwards we should avoid buying China made/assembled products and any services like Paytm

  11. Reasoned says:

    One wonders about the future of Indian foreign policy with so many dhoti shivering mandariners running the MEA .

  12. Aban says:

    Why is everyone surprised? Appeasing china is what Modi government have been doing since 2014. First, allowing trade deficit to increase thinking it will pacify China. Then government and PSUs importing power plants, trains for metro projects , led bulbs ,electronics , buses from China . Its like paying extortion to pacify thugs.

  13. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Personally I am satisfied. May be some Indians may get affected by the chinese propaganda and turn on its own govt for that but on the whole people around me seem to be receiving it well too.

    It is understandable that both govts. should not be made to look like or be felt to have lost. That is what diplomacy is about. Merely going back to status quo ante is not a loss or gain of face for any side. Besides the snow was going to create difficulties for both sides. And none could have imposed its will by force. Not for any reasonable length of time. Better to focus elsewhere, wherefrom the next such attempt is going to be directed at us.

    But broadly speaking, if something is wrong then it should be resisted and Modi govt. has shown again and again that in terms of borders management they can make things fall in line.

  14. PRASAD S N says:

    Diplomacy which makes the enemy bow, without losing his face publicly is a success and that seems to be the impression the world has now. Speculation on what the Chinese may do is now irrelevant, because, Indian Army in any case was on Bhutanese soil (disputed by the Chinese) and has come back into Bhutanese (undisputed) soil. Dissecting as to who ‘won’ will be decided right after the BRICS meet.

  15. Venkat says:

    Still our PM want attend BRICS summit even after all rethotic statement from China . It too bad , here we lost ourself respect.

  16. Venkat says:

    Bhutan doesn’t have curtesy to thank india for saving its area from china. Now GOI have to re evaluate our foreign policy and Neighbour relationship .

  17. Reasoned says:

    Modi is good only when dealing with Pakistan, he’s strategically illiterate like most of the PM’s coming from the cow/hindi belt. He’s emotional rather than shrewd, cries time and time again , unbecoming of a PM, makes him vulnerable to manipulation by people who can stroke his ego .
    Either he’s too stupid to believe in this http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-in-school/genetic-science-existed-in-ancient-times-modi/article6545958.ece or too foolish to blurt it out
    in the open. That’s why the impulsive purchase of white elephant (Rafale) wasn’t surprising ,parrikar must have furled his eyebrows but even he could not take the PM out of the
    bubble given modi’s aversion towards people who contradict him.
    The only silver lining one sees is the likes of Doval and Parrikar(who should be immediately reinstated as the DM) who could nudge the PM towards robust Foreign policy and indigenisation of defence.One hopes RSS to join on Swadeshi arms bandwagon but even they seem to be kowtowing to him.
    Giving china a wriggle room at this juncture is going to be fatal , Doklam should have been put in as a bargaining chip for Aksai Chin just to annoy the Chinese,continuous
    border incursions on their side will be required after mountain corps gets established to destabilize and unerve the PLA, raising the cost for them , paying them in the same coin is the only way to contain china.

  18. Reasoned says:

    Modi is good only when dealing with Pakistan, he’s strategically illiterate like most of the PM’s coming from the cow/hindi belt. He’s emotional rather than shrewd, cries time and time again , unbecoming of a PM, makes him vulnerable to manipulation by people who can stroke his ego .Either he’s too stupid to believe in this http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-in-school/genetic-science-existed-in-ancient-times-modi/article6545958.ece or too foolish to blurt it out in the open. That’s why the impulsive purchase of white elephant (Rafale) wasn’t surprising ,parrikar must have furled his eyebrows but even he could not take the PM out of the bubble given modi’s aversion towards people who contradict him.
    The only silver lining one sees is the likes of Doval and Parrikar(who should be immediately reinstated as the DM) who could nudge the PM towards robust Foreign policy and indigenisation of defence.One hopes RSS to join on Swadeshi arms bandwagon but even they seem to be kowtowing to him.
    Giving china a wriggle room at this juncture is going to be fatal , Doklam should have been put in as a bargaining chip for Aksai Chin just to annoy the Chinese,continuous border incursions on their side will be required after mountain corps gets established to destabilize and unnerve the PLA, raising the cost for them , paying them in the same coin is the only way to contain china.

    • S3 says:

      All socioeconomic indicators in the cow belt are as bad as those in Pakistan, and that’s where two-thirds of India’s population growth is happening. The “Go to Pakistan!” screamers are going to bring Pakistan here!

  19. VJ says:

    Aren’t Chinese solders patrolling doklam area before stand-off? I thought standoff occured due to Chinese solders started road construction on site.

  20. Venkat says:

    China Says Building Disputed Road In Doklam Will Depend On Weather. Let’s wait for India response.

  21. andy says:

    As a dear friend in Beijing summed it up rather rudely, “India is a dog. Whatever we do to you, you will first bark and snarl, but then accept and come back wagging your tail. The problem now is what we can do to you is also very limited”

    This in a nutshell is how the Chinese think about India.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      He probably never heard the ‘Indian mythological story’ about the Lion asking the Lioness to ignore the Dog.

      The proud Lioness ignored the advise ultimately, to the pleasure of the Dog. 🙂

  22. Saroj Chadha says:

    BRICS meeting is being held in China but it is not a meeting with China. By sending a lower order representative would have hurt India’s position and stature at BRICS and given China an added clout. If this was a meeting with China or a normal trade of other forum organised by China then possibly a snub was in order by sending a lower rank representative.
    On perception about Doklam Possibly India has maintained its approach that it followed for since the beginning instead of a rhetorical slug match with China. Not a bad ploy in my view.

    • Saroj Chadha@ — by which logic then Modi should have attended BRICS even if the standoff had not been resolved to India’s satisfaction. Incidentally, PMO had decided that Modi, in that case, would not have attended the BRICS summit.

      • Saroj Chadha says:

        I presume if there was an escalation at Dokalam, his attendance would certainly have been doubtful but if it was a stalemate possibly he would have attended. Diplomatic initiatives are dictated by national interests and if BRICS is important for India PM would have taken a suitable decision.

  23. andy says:

    Something worth mulling over,India gets tough with China and US gets tough with Pakistan…too much of a coincidence..seems very much like a quid pro quo.The deal maker PM meets the even more deal maker POTUS..end result is what’s transpired in the past few weeks.Seems like everyone has missed out on this probability..Your thoughts Bharat.

  24. Kya says:

    India is losing her brave soldiers daily in kashmir by the terrorusts who dare attack indian posts daily and indians can not do anything because we indians hace underfunded our army in last 15 years especiakky under traitor mmsingh.
    And you expect indian army to tske on chinese army? Just because anericans have pumped up our ego ?
    The same americans who aajed china to ooen a secobd front against indua in 1971 war and which china refused ?
    Why the indians always live in delusion ?

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