By Lt Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd)
It appears that the efforts to resolve the Doklam Issue are jinxed. When the rhetoric in the media appears to go down, something or the other happens to keep it in the limelight.
This author wrote on 15 August about the stand-off at Doklam and said that it is time to move on to write about the OBOR series. That was with two things in mind. One, to contribute towards taking the Doklam Issue out of the glare of media and public and second, to indicate that there are other important issues also to be concentrated upon.
However, the idea was short lived.
On 15 August, another area on the Line of Actual Control came to limelight. There was an incident between Indian and Chinese personnel that purportedly resulted in stone throwing and use of iron rods in the Pangong Tso area in which a few personnel from both sides suffered minor injuries.
This incident grabbed a lot of media time in India. When asked about it, China’s spokesperson Hua Chunying feigned ignorance. India’s spokesperson Raveesh Kumar took some time to confirm the incident but did not confirm the stone throwing and use of iron rods. It was very clear from the official reaction that both India and China wanted to play down the incident.
This kind of an incident should not be resorted to or encouraged because not only it is not military like but also because it is not the correct and agreed protocol to resolve such face-offs between both the sides. It is also because such actions have the potential of escalating into untoward incidents.
To make matters worse, a video of the incident was leaked to the media on 18 August. Whosoever leaked the video has not thought through the repercussions of his action. Many analysts linked the Pangong Tso incident with that of the Doklam one. The area of Pangong Tso is an area where a number of face offs take place every year.
Some of the analysts pointed to the fact that there have been already more than 300 border incidents along the Line of Actual Control with China. They need to look at the figures in 2014 when the number of border incidents were more than 500. Even if the border incidents reach a figure of 400 or more, which they well may, it may not come up to the numbers of 2014.
We need to understand a few things regarding the border incidents. Patrols of India and China go up to their respective perceived Line of Actual Control. Since the areas overlap in the disputed areas these patrols come face to face at times. Till the time the Line of Actual control does not become international border, these face-offs are bound to happen.
To avoid these face offs from escalating, a number of protocols have been devised. Depending on the outlook of the author writing about it, the gravity of these incidents varies.
Chinese media has also not been keeping quiet. They were vociferous right from the beginning of the Doklam incident. For about four to five days after Mr Doval’s visit the rhetoric in Chinese media went down only to come up again with the 15 page fact sheet published by her. In the recent past, the high decibel coverage has been going down. When one was trying to let a sigh of relief, a comic video titled “Seven Sins of India” was released.
A caricature of a Sikh person was shown to represent India. It was in bad taste. To counter that another video came up from the Indian side. It was purportedly from California. On 21 August, another short video was released which was more sober and said that Indian troops entered Chinese territory; both India and China should live in harmony and peace; and they should nurture trust amongst themselves. It also said that the Indian troops should leave Chinese territory.
While one should support the argument that India and China should live in peace and harmony and nurture mutual trust, China should come forward at least half way to do so. China should also ensure that it does not alter the status quo in the area of tri junctions. It is fair to say that the second video was mellowed in conveying the message and indicates that diplomatic consultations and solution thereof, may be a possibility.
We also need to follow how India’s Ministry of External Affairs has been responding to provocations by the Chinese media. It was one of measured silence. We need not respond to everything that China does.
Vice Foreign Minister of China, Mr Wang Yang visited Pakistan to attend her Independence Day celebrations. He, thereafter, visited Nepal. In both the countries he did not mention about the Doklam incident. However, it will be prudent to assume that it would have been discussed amongst the leaders. In Pakistan, Wang Yang offered support for the economic development of Pakistan. Nepal wanted China to open the Tatopani port, which is on the border between the countries at Tatopani and Zhangmu, at the earliest possible date. This port was damaged during the April 2015 earthquake.
These were not different from the normal.
When Mr Xi Jinping spoke at the Bayi Day (Bayi means 01 August, the raising day of Chinese PLA) he did not mention about the Doklam incident though the Indian media and the analysts picked up the sentences
“The Chinese people love peace. We will never seek aggression or expansion, but we have the confidence to defeat all invasions. We will never allow any people, organization or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time, in any form …. No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests”.
For his part, Mr Modi did not mention about the Doklam incident in his Independence Day speech. On 21 August 2017, Mr Rajnath Singh, India’s Home Minister, said that the Doklam Issue will get resolved soon. He also said, “In life, one can change friends but one cannot change neighbours”.
These are indications that convey, given the right environment, diplomatic consultations may pave the way for the resolution of the stand-off in Doklam. The moot question is whether such an environment can be created soon.