Doklam was in the news for almost three months this year, until the standoff concluded in August. In recent days, it is back again, with reports of Chinese enhancing its activities in the area close to Doklam plateau, including construction of buildings, gun emplacements and enhancing its deployment in the region. Speculations are ripe on possible Chinese intent, including recommencing road construction or resorting to offensive actions. These speculations are based on the analysis of satellite images of the region.
The recent meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Delhi, underlined the fact that Doklam ‘severely tested’ the bilateral relationship between the two countries. They accepted that its peaceful resolution avoided a major confrontation. It also brought home the fact that there is lack of mutual trust between the two nations, which should be amended.
Resolving this complex issue may be the agenda of the next round of talks between Indian NSA Ajit Doval and the Chinese Special Representative. Recent press statements indicate India’s unwillingness to separate Doklam from border talks, which China desires. The distance between the two nations has also increased in recent times as China has become more assertive in its territorial claims with all its neighbours and India has indicated its intent on not backing down from what it considers as being against its national security. Hence enhancing confidence building measures between the two nations becomes all the more important.
China has done little in reducing the earlier tensions of Doklam, while India has taken no action, other than protecting its national security concerns. Doklam is likely to again become a spoilsport between the two nations. Winters are severe in the area and hence little offensive action could be expected during this period. However, this sudden interest by China, enhancing its troop density, building infrastructure and increasing its firepower resources in the region has been raising eyebrows in Indian strategic circles.
The questions being debated include likely Chinese intent in the region of reigniting the Doklam fire or pressurising Bhutan to dump India in its favour. China has presently confined all its activities to the region under its control and has not commenced any offensive action to provoke India. Will it take another step to provoke India or only hold its own area in strength to continue to apply pressure on India? Most importantly, even if Doklam reoccurs, it may again be a localised action, rather than an across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) action, spread along the front.
Doklam was closely monitored by all nations of the region with varying intent. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal were observing Indian support to Bhutan and its determination to withstand a belligerent China. Other nations in Southeast Asia were observing Chinese reactions, as a possible lesson to resolving their own border disputes in the future. Hence, both countries needed to hold onto their stance, for ensuring their international stature and reputation.
The infrastructure that it is creating in the Doklam region would always be to its advantage in future operations, an action which should compel India to re-evaluate its defensive strategy, its existing
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