Top India, China National Security Advisors Meet But Fail To Resolve Mountain Military Standoff

BEIJING: National security advisor Ajit Doval’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping did not yield any breakthrough that could end the current standoff in Doklam. Analysts, however, said the cool off in the recent weeks may give leaders enough time to find a solution.

Doval met Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials on Friday at the summit of Brics national security advisers (NSAs) in the Chinese capital.

There has only been a slight improvement of the situation that prevailed after Chinese leaders insisted for weeks that there could be no meaningful dialogue until Indian troops withdraw+ from their positions at the disputed site in Doklam .

Image result for Ajit Doval, in china, photos
Ajit Doval hold talks with his Chinese counterpart amid Doklam standoff

There is little possibility of Xi going back on the demand that Indian troops must withdraw ahead of the celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army on August 1, a Chinese analyst said.

“At best, the high level of belligerence can be allowed to taper off, giving leaders enough time to find a solution. But even this is not easy because there are hawkish voices on both sides,” a Chinese analyst said, requesting anonymity.

The Chinese leadership got away by imposing an air flight control zone over islands disputed with Japan and creating artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea despite US resistance. This is why it is very is difficult for the government to explain India’s refusal to budge an inch in Doklam, he explained.

Doklam row becoming internal crisis for China

The Doklam issue is fast becoming a domestic political problem for China’s leaders who need to deal with a section of hawkish Communist Party members demanding action to “push back” Indian troops, sources said. This is happening ahead of a crucial party congress that will elect leaders to top positions later this year.

China also faces a risky situation on its border with North Korea and has hugely increased its military presence fearing some dangerous moves from Pyongyang.

Image result for Ajit Doval, in china, photos
Sikkim standoff: Brazilian Institutional Security Minister Sergio Etchegoyen, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, South African Minister of State Security David Mahlobo and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials a the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China July 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool)
In appearances before the media, both Doval and the Chinese leaders stuck to the agenda of the security dialogue of Brics countries that brought together top security officials from the member countries.

Doval also joined other security officials in calling on Xi, who said that Brics should play a bigger role in international affairs.

It was clear that both India and China want to keep the discussion on the Doklam stand-off restricted to the bilateral area instead of making it an issue requiring the attention of Brics. In his speech, Doval said the Brics countries should show “leadership in countering terrorism”.

The grouping should also play a key role on “strategic issues of regional and global importance” while focusing on “areas where we have consensus”, he said.

The Chinese president said the five countries in Brics were faced with a “complex international political and economic security situation”. They should communicate more on financial cooperation, cultural exchanges and security issues.

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Doklam deadlock: India and China will constantly challenge each other, get used to it
Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
India and China mountain standoff. (AP Photo – Anupam Nath)
By Jabin Jacob
Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

The ongoing standoff between India and China in the Doklam area in Bhutan is the result of a disagreement over the terms of the 1890 convention relating to Sikkim and Tibet (pdf), signed by the colonial British government in India and the Qing empire in China.

Contrary to the Chinese stress today on “Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier” (Article I) as the beginning of the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim, India has pointed out that the specific trijunction point should be that point which adheres to the watershed as indicated in the same Article I of the Convention. Under the 2005 Agreement between India and China, the two countries agreed that “the delineation of the boundary will be carried out utilising means such as modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys” (Article VIII) and that “(p)ending an ultimate settlement … the two sides should … work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas” (Article IX).

This clarifies several dimensions of this issue. Mt Gipmochi cannot be taken as the final trijunction point since the Indians and Bhutanese believe that the trijunction point, according to the watershed, lies further north at Batang La, and, therefore, this dispute will have to be settled through modern cartographic methods. This dispute will have to be settled through modern cartographic methods. 

Secondly, the Chinese must be aware that their road-building through disputed territory threatened Indian security and thereby also violated the 2005 and earlier bilateral agreements to maintain peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas. Disputed territory between China and Bhutan surely has implications for the border areas of India and China. Also, the Chinese action violates a similar injunction in their agreements of 1988 and 1998 with the Bhutanese themselves, as per the June 29 official statement by Bhutan’s ministry of foreign affairs.

Next, if the Sikkim-Tibet boundary was as settled as the Chinese claim it to be, then there should have been no reason for several clashes between the Indian and Chinese armies over the decades along the Sikkim-Tibet border, including the major confrontation in 1967. While there is agreement on the broad principle of the watershed as the basis of alignment of the boundary between between India and China, there are clearly differences on the alignment itself.

Further, the Chinese action, and subsequent claims about Mt Gimpochi as the settled trijunction, run contrary to the 2012 understanding reached between then special representatives Shivshankar Menon on the Indian side and Dai Bingguo on the Chinese side “that tri-junctions will be finalised in consultation with the third country concerned.” This understanding was part of a kind of progress report on the negotiations thus far between the two sides on the eve of Dai’s retirement from his post of Special Representative, as revealed by Menon.

So what impact will the present situation in Doklam have on India-China relations? One border incident does not constitute the full picture of the bilateral relationship. And this is a relationship that is today increasingly multidimensional, going beyond the boundary dispute to ever-increasing economic exchanges, including between the states in India and provinces in China as well as regional and global cooperation on issues of mutual interest such as anti-piracy or climate change.

Indian observers should also look at the whole gamut of China’s external preoccupations in the weeks of June and July. The Bhutan standoff is just one of the many security and foreign policy issues that preoccupied China: Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia, his participation in the G-20 summit, and Chinese concerns over the US’s THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system in South Korea all took up attention. The point here is that for Indian observers to maintain a granular focus on what China says about India without paying attention to the overall context does not help reveal the true picture about China’s actions or intentions.

Meanwhile, for those alarmed by the travel advisory that China put out for its citizens to be cautious while in India, this is part of standard Chinese practice and not nearly as strong as it could have been, or is with respect to the several Chinese travel advisories on Pakistan. Contrary to their own advisories, there have been continuing visits of Chinese political leaders to India. For instance, leaders from both Guizhou and Guangxi provinces were in India in late June and earlier in July, respectively, an important sign of the health of any bilateral relationship.

While the official Chinese rhetoric is cooling down, the cold vibes remaining will not evaporate easily. This is in the nature of international relations—India and China will constantly challenge each other as a way to validate their importance in their neighbourhood and in the global order.

In the meantime, it is important that both sides resist the temptation to take their cues from the current heated rhetoric in the media. The Indian side, especially, must desist from jeremiads based on the columns in English in China’s Global Times.

Doklam deadlock: India and China will constantly challenge each other, get used to it


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One Response to “Top India, China National Security Advisors Meet But Fail To Resolve Mountain Military Standoff”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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