People see China India relations largely through the lens of the 1962 war and the current border issues. However, people should understand that both these countries are not enemies but strong business partners. This article will try to analyze the Bhutan-Sikkim border incidents from a larger perspective.
The June intrusion
In June 2017, some units of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army intruded into the Bhutanese territory and tried constructing a road. This territory is near the Doklam Plateau. This plateau is located near the tri junction of the China-India-Bhutan border.
Doklam Plateau is an important piece of land from the point of view of Indian defense also.
India objected to this intrusion and forced China to stop its road construction. This objection did not go down well with China and in return, it demolished some Indian bunkers.
But why did India object when the territory was Bhutanese?
India- Bhutan relations
There are two reasons behind India’s objection to the Chinese intrusion.
India and Bhutan have a special relationship with each other. According to an agreement signed by both the two countries, India is obliged to defend Bhutan against any foreign aggression.
India is also supposed to guide the foreign policy of Bhutan. Per this agreement, India also takes care of the commerce of this small country. You can say that Bhutan is dependent on India for its foreign policy, commerce and defense.
Bhutan was the first country that recognized India’s independence in 1947.
The other reason why India opposed the Chinese intrusion is that of India’s own defense.
The region where the Chinese were building their road is very close to the Chicken’s Neck. The Neck is vital to the defense of India. This geographical belt of land is Indian territory and at some places is just 25 kilometers wide. This belt or Chicken’s Neck connects North-East India to the rest of the country.
Had China succeeded in making that road, it would have come within a striking distance of the Chicken’s Neck.
Now, you can understand why India opposed the building of this road. Once completed, China could have sent its 35-tonne tanks near the China-India-Bhutan tri junction and threatened our territorial integrity.
Imagine this scenario; China India relations are strained and China decides to attack India. To put our country on the defensive, China starts bombing the Chicken’s Neck with its tanks.
What happens if there is a war?
Our defense formations come under heavy stress and if we are not careful then all our North Eastern States come up under Chinese control!
The Chinese response
China quickly responded to India’s actions in the Doklam Plateau area. First, it demolished some Indian bunkers. This was to be expected from the Chinese side.
China defended its Doklam intrusion by saying that this area was used by its shepherds for very many years.
The state-run Global Times said that China was constructing a road on its side of the Sino-Indian border.
Later on, the Chinese side stopped Indian pilgrims at the Sikkim-China border from going towards the Kailash Mansarovar area. Many Hindus consider Kailash-Mansarovar to be the abode of Lord Shiva.
Clearly, China wanted to blackmail India into vacating the Doklam Plateau area. It thinks that India’s millions of Hindus may force the government to abandon its hardline stance over the Doklam Plateau.
But so far, India has not budged from its position. The Government of India has also clearly told the Chinese that both the parties must stick to a bilateral agreement between them.
India says that China cannot speak directly with Bhutan over territorial issues. Sometime back, the Chinese envoy to India had gone to Bhutan with his Indologist wife.
Also Read- China intrusion violates Agreement
Special Representative Mechanism
This agreement also called as the Special Representative Mechanism was signed in 2012. As per this Mechanism, all issues related to the Bhutan-India-China trijunction must be discussed between India and China only.
India of 2017 is not of 1962
Meanwhile, the Chief of Indian Army, Bipin Rawat has visited the forward positions in Sikkim and reviewed our preparations.
In an interview, he said that the Indian Army can easily fight against China and Pakistan simultaneously. Clearly, he was warning the PLA against any misadventure.
China reacted sharply to Rawat’s statement and reminded India of the 1962 war. In that war, India had lost not just a part of Kashmir but also several thousands of soldiers. The 1962 war with China was a debacle, according to several military experts.
India did not take the Chinese statement lying down. Arun Jaitley, Minister of Defence, Government of India told the media that India of 2017 is not the India of 1962. Today, the country is better prepared against China.
What is India doing?
So far China India relations have survived this kind of intrusions without firing a single shot.
There have been several intrusions from the Chinese side into the Indian borders. A few years back, the Chinese had entered the Indian part of Ladakh but were pushed back by our troops. In the eastern sector too, the Chinese have been trying to intrude into our territories without any success.
These activities have been like pin-pricks and such issues have been solved by speaking to each other. However, the Chumbi Valley and Doklam Plateau issue is a bit complicated and should be resolved in a different manner.
National Security Advisor, Ajit Dobhal rushed back to India from the UK after learning about the Doklam Plateau incident. He is keeping a close eye on this issue and will consult the Prime Minister on what needs to be done.
Similarly, S Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary to the Government of India is also closely in touch with the Chinese officials.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet the Chinese President Xi next week on the sidelines of the BRICS summit and perhaps, try to resolve this issue.
The Inscrutable Chinese
Why is China resorting to these minor intrusions frequently? We don’t know and can only guess their intentions.
Unlike Pakistan, the Chinese don’t share their thoughts and feelings that easily. The Chinese government rarely expresses its feelings directly and uses its state-controlled newspaper, Global Times for this purpose.
We can only guess the reasons behind the Chinese incursions and intrusions.
What can they be?
China India relations- several perspectives
Many China observers say that this country has global ambitions. It wants to replace Russia as the next superpower.
China is already competing with the United States in many fields like software technology.
The One Border One Road model, or the ORBOR, is a clear example of the Chinese determination to dominate Asia, if not the world. This transnational agreement seeks to open new markets for Chinese steel and other markets through dedicated trade corridors.
Also Read- What is OBOR?
One such corridor passes through the Pakistan occupied Kashmir and links China with Pakistan. India does not accept ORBOR as a good trade instrument and has stayed away from this treaty. For India, ORBOR is a tool for Chinese domination.
On the other hand, China and India are partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS. The SCO again is China led and is aimed at fighting terror networks.
BRICS, a trade and finance organization, is also heavily influenced by China as the BRICS Bank is located in that country.
Clearly, there is some kind of tension between India and China in many global forums. However, this tension is not serious from a military point of view.
What is in China’s mind?
There can be several reasons behind China’s ‘aggressive behavior’ on the whole.
In my opinion, China wants to force Bhutan to open a diplomatic channel. Until now, there are now diplomatic ties between the two countries.
In fact, on many previous occasions, Bhutan has tried to cozy up to China but was stopped by India from doing so. The first foreign visit that Modi made after becoming the Prime Minister was to Bhutan.
Is China blackmailing Bhutan to give up this plateau? A few years back, China had seized more than 789 square kilometers of North Bhutan. Could this recent intrusion be a ploy of the Chinese to force the Bhutanese to give up the Doklam Plateau in exchange of those seized territories?
But it seems unlikely that China would do the Doklam adventure to blackmail Bhutan alone. Then, would this be a case of threatening India, indirectly?
Remember, a few days back, India and the US had joined together for a strategic partnership in Asia. This had angered China so much that it had warned India against coming too close to America.
Or is at about OBOR?
Many observers speculate that China is doing all this to force India to join OBOR. We do not know for sure whether this is the real intention behind China’s intrusion in the Doklam area.
But does China have the real power to strangle the Chicken’s Neck? In recent years, India has developed its ICBMs and IRBMs which can reach most countries in the world. These missiles are effective shields against any attacks on our territories. China can, at best threaten our Neck by such intrusions and do nothing more.
I think the situation will be clear after Modi and Xi meet next week in the BRICS summit.