India-China Border Dispute: With Indian National Security Adviser in China, anti-war and moderate sentiments dominate in Chinese social media

Ajit Doval

The country’s vibrant cyberspace adopts a moderate tone in contrast to the hawkish official line.

National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval has commenced his visit to China, outside the glare of media, amid public calls by Chinese authorities seeking unilateral withdrawal of Indian troops engaged in a tense standoff with Chinese forces, from the Doklam plateau.

But simultaneously, anti-war and moderate sentiments, especially in the Chinese social media, seeking to avoid an India-China conflict are also beginning to take root.

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Asked about Mr. Doval’s engagements on Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, in his afternoon briefing, said he had no details, as the meetings of the BRICS national security advisers, in which Mr. Doval is participating, had not commenced.

Mr. Doval is expected to meet China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi — the public face of the conference later on Thursday — as part of the customary one-on-one meetings of each of the representatives of the BRICS nations, with representatives of the host country. However, neither the Chinese authorities nor the Indian embassy in Beijing have confirmed the meeting so far.

Chances of debating Doklam

On Friday morning, Mr. Doval will attend the full session of the BRICS meeting. All the visiting NSAs will then call on Chinese President Xi Jinping in the afternoon. Analysts say that within this schedule, there would be plenty of opportunities to discuss Doklam, especially as Mr. Yang is China’s Special Representative for the boundary talks with Mr. Doval as his counterpart. However, with China adopting a public position that talks on Doklam can only follow the unilateral withdrawal of Indian troops from the plateau, any confirmation of talks on Doklam with Mr. Doval is unlikely.

A separate interaction between the NSA and the resident Indian media in Beijing was also not expected, apparently on account of the sensitivity of the Doklam crisis, Indian officials say.

Despite the uncompromising tone of Chinese officialdom, and a hawkish position, riven with military threats, adopted by a vocal section of the state-media seeking an Indian withdrawal, anti-war sentiments also appear to be simultaneously rising, especially in China’s vibrant cyberspace.

Ahead of Mr. Doval’s visit, an online posting authored by Lu Yang, a researcher from the international department of China’s Tsinghua University saw in the Doklam crisis an opportunity to reappraise and finally resolve the boundary issue between China and India. Titled, “Doklam Standoff — maybe a turning point to reconsider the China-India border issue,” the write-up argued how a military conflict can severely undermine China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Mr. Xi’s pet Eurasian connectivity project.

BRI at risk

Besides, 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. “The Doklam crisis indicates if China and India do not resolve it, it will further impact the implementation of the belt and road strategy,” says Dr. Lu. He adds: “The border conflict related to territory, sovereignty and nationalism, among other sensitive topics, 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.”

The author also signaled that China should also consider the spillover impact of India-Pakistan military tensions on future security of China’s Xinjiang province.

He highlighted that “China will be dragged into quagmire of South Asia security in case tensions between India and Pakistan — two nuclear neighbours — are not resolved.” “In that case, the security in West China also cannot be assured,” he said without referring to the turbulence in the Xinjiang province in western China.

Lasting impact of war

Dr. Lu underscored the lasting impact of the cross-border war on “national memory and psychology” of the two peoples. “This will further shrink the room for the two governments to resolve the border problem.”

Another widely circulated online blog on July 14 on the popular WeChat site had denounced war as an option to resolve the border crisis with India.



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