National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s departure from Beijing, after a crucial meeting with China’s state councilor Yang Jiechi, has triggered an energetic debate on finding a formula for defusing the crisis in the remote Doklam plateau, where Indian and Chinese troops are engaged in a lengthy stand-off.
The finer details of Mr. Doval’s exact conversation are being kept under wraps, but The Hindu can now confirm, based on interviews with multiple sources, that resolving the Doklam crisis was the focal area of discussions between the two officials.
The specifics of a mutual pullback formula from the exact location of the standoff were flagged, but final convergence on the precise distances of the withdrawal by either side was yet to be achieved. Mr. Doval’s visit was, therefore, “directional,” focused on finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and avoiding war, a highly placed source said.
In a conversation with The Hindu , Long Xingchun, Director of Centre of India Studies, China West Normal University, advocated that Bhutan could become a key player in ending the face-off in Doklam, as part of a two-step formula of finding a solution. He pointed out that Bhutan could request India for a swap between Indian and Bhutanese troops at the location of the crisis.
“Indian troops could move out of the disputed area and enter Bhutan, and be replaced by Bhutanese troops. That would be the first step towards easing tensions,” he proposed.
Professor Long underscored that once Indian troops were out of the line of sight, it would be much easier for China to exercise “flexibility”. In the absence of Indian forces, China would be seen as dealing “bilaterally” with Bhutan, paving the way for a final disengagement between these two countries, without compromising India’s interests.
Chinese media reports suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States, military hardware purchases from Washington, including drones, and India’s participation with the U.S. and Japan in the recent round of Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, were influencing the dialogue between China and India on ending the Doklam crisis.
“It is becoming clear that India is ready to serve as an ally of the U.S rather than a swing power that honours independent, non-aligned diplomacy, wrote Lin Minwang, an academic in the Shanghai-based Fudan University in an op-ed in China Daily .
Amid the crisis, those with increasing economic stakes in India appear to be pulling their weight behind the scenes in containing military tensions in Doklam, suggesting that a Chinese “business lobby” may be quietly at work. “Chinese businessmen who have invested in India, are very worried about the prospects of a military clash,” says Professor Long.
On Monday, an article in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP), owned by the e-commerce giant Alibaba group, with growing stakes in India, highlighted that the “protracted border row between China and India has not only raised tensions between the two Asian giants but could also threaten Beijing’s ambitious trade and infrastructure outreach plan, the Belt and Road Initiative.
It quoted Macau-based Antony Wong Dong as saying: “India is strategically located at the heart of China’s energy lifeline and the Belt and Road Initiative, and offending India will only push it into the rival camp, which [Beijing believes] is scheming to contain China by blocking the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean.”
Separately an earlier online blog on WeChat, owned by Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, denounced war as an option to resolve the Doklam crisis. The article argued that China must avoid war, but insist on Indian troop withdrawal from Doklam by other means.
Some influential Chinese academics see the Doklam face-off as an opportunity to finally resolve the China-India border row. Lu Yang, a researcher from the international department of China’s Tsinghua University argues that the psychological impact of a war with India triggered by the Doklam crisis, feeding into the memories of the 1962 conflict, will sow lasting bitterness among the two peoples. It “will have an emotional overflow that will seriously affect the overall relationship, with serious implications on the belt and road construction”.
“If we can build mutual trust with India, the key is to resolve the border problem,” she observed.