It may not seem like war, but we are at war. It’s more like cold war, with the geopolitical tension at its peak.
The confrontation between India and China over the Doklam Plateau at the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China has been resolved, but the danger of sudden, covert acts of violence perpetrated by China is always there, and it feels like it will be there forever, which is not the same as saying we are weak and powerless. It is also not the same as saying there is nothing we can do about it. China was not only stared in the eye, but also forced to blink.
The area is close to strategic corridor of “chicken’s neck”, linking Northeast region of India with the rest of the country. There is no way India will ever allow China to construct roads there as it will jeopardize India’s national security.
These skirmishes along the border are a manifestation of China’s growing frustration with India.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ruthless project, One Belt One Road (OBOR), of linking Asia, Europe and Africa providing newer markets for the Chinese goods has been criticized by India, which has turned down the offer to join OBOR. This has enraged China. China has committed to invest USD 46 billion in building China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), allowing Chinese goods to be transported faster to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It’s actually an act of economic colonization shrouded with pretense. China will show its true colours once it settles down.
The British Empire had embarked on a parallel trail in the 19th Century and the world witnessed its outcome. For Pakistan, a product of 100s of years of struggle against colonialism, it shouldn’t be too difficult to spot the colonial ambitions of a rising power.
For over two months, Chinese media, especially State-controlled Global Times, has indulged in belligerent rhetoric. In its columns, it has warned India of grave repercussions. It reminded India of the defeat it was handed in the 1962 war. It called India weak, lacking strength compared with China. It also quietly instigated Chinese Government to consider the possibility of war. It pledged on behalf of the Government to never leave the Doklam region.
If the purpose of employing roaring language was to frighten India and demoralize its leadership, the developments show these tactics have failed. The Chinese have left and the Global Times has gone quiet. The hyperbole is over.
China tried to act tough in the beginning, figuring India would tremble and back off. That didn’t happen. India stood firm against China’s psychological warfare, leaving it with no option but to retreat despite public grandstanding.
The imminent BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit in September, which was under a shadow stemming from the military faceoff between the two members, is a crucial event for China. The summit, which advocates democratic processes and constant dialogue on critical issues, would have appeared fake with the host behaving like a rogue trampling on the democratic rights of a tiny neighbour. The shrill Global Times rhetoric with tacit support of the Chinese government would have been an embarrassment for China in the eyes of world leaders.
Also, China is in a dicey place with its projected investment of $62 billion overstretching its economic and military resources. With Pakistan merely dovetailing China to revive its economy from the benefits accruing from CPEC, China knows that it cannot antagonise India and hope for a success with the project. Sun Tzu would never propose a military route. It would be a misadventure.
And don’t forget, Doklam was not the most suitable ground for the Chinese to raise hostility. It came wandering into Bhutan with the purpose of bullying the country into submission. But it failed to anticipate India coming to Bhutan’s rescue.
China’s diplomatic and media-channelled tongue-lashing against India reflects its irritation at not being in a position to take India head-on militarily in a localised conflict without suffering heavy casualties. China has threatened to trigger conflict in other border regions. If the Chinese raise the stakes in Kashmir or the Northeast, they must remember their own political susceptibilities in Tibet and Taiwan.