(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Chinese troops would continue to patrol the Doklam region, thereby giving the impression that while the Indians had withdrawn, the PLA unit hadn’t. She then gave the rhetorical middle finger to India by adding that “China will continue to exercise sovereignty rights to protect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?