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End of Doklam Standoff with China Satisfies India, but It Will Not Weaken its Shield

For India, the lesson is that even though the standoff has been resolved, future flare-ups cannot be ruled out

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Doklam Standoff
In this Oct. 16, 2016 file photo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the signing ceremony by foreign ministers during the BRICS summit in Goa, India. China and India may have ended a tense border standoff for now, but their longstanding rivalry raises questions about the possibility of meaningful cooperation at the annual summit of the BRICS grouping encompassing Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. VOA
  • China has abandoned plans to construct road on the high mountain junction lying between India, Bhutan, and China calling for the end of Doklam standoff
  • Indian officials maintain that China has withdrawn its bulldozers and road construction equipment
  • India will be even more vigilant in the months and years to come, not just in Doklam but in the several other sectors as well

Aug 31, 2017: As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to China for a summit of emerging nations starting Sunday, there is a sense of quiet satisfaction in New Delhi at the resolution of their most serious border confrontation in decades in a disputed Himalayan plateau.

Strategic road

For now it appears China has abandoned plans to build a contentious road on the high mountain junction lying between India, Bhutan and China that sparked the standoff between the two countries.

Indian officials maintain that China has withdrawn its bulldozers and road construction equipment.

Map shows border disputes between China and India.

Map shows border disputes between China and India

Beijing has sidestepped the issue, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying saying it will take into consideration factors such as weather “to make relevant construction plans in accordance with the situation on the ground.”

Also Read: Japan comes Out in Full Support for India in its 2-month Long Military Standoff with China at Doklam 

It was in mid-June that Indian troops moved into the Doklam Plateau to obstruct China from building a road in the Himalayan junction disputed between Bhutan and Beijing. That led an infuriated China to accuse Indian troops of trespassing into territory to which it had no claim and demand their withdrawal.

India in turn said the status quo should be restored. It says that has happened as soldiers from both sides have pulled back.

China has announced that its troops will patrol the region, but New Delhi says that happened in the past also.

Stronger India

Strategic experts say India scored by standing its ground for 2½ months despite the strident rhetoric from its powerful neighbor about the prospect of a full-blown conflict if Indian troops did not withdraw from Doklam.

“For the first time, I think the Indian government held its nerve in a crisis. Delhi in particular is known to lose its nerve, and that has not happened,” said strategic analyst Bharat Karnad at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Although Doklam is disputed between Bhutan and India, Indian troops moved in swiftly to stop the construction because the area serves as a buffer that keeps China away from a strategic strip of territory that connects India to its northeast.

FILE - Exile Tibetans shout slogans during a protest to show support with India on Doklam standoff in New Delhi, India, Aug. 11, 2017.
FILE – Exile Tibetans shout slogans during a protest to show support with India on Doklam standoff in New Delhi, India, Aug. 11, 2017. VOA

Lingering bad feelings

But although the crisis has been defused, it has further frayed ties and has deepened mistrust between the Asian giants, analysts say.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said Wednesday that New Delhi should learn lessons from Doklam and prevent similar incidents from happening again.

For India, the lesson is that even though the standoff has been resolved, future flare-ups cannot be ruled out.

“The problem is essentially the aggressive stance that China has adopted on all territorial matters with all countries and here the manner in which it has tried to alter the status quo on the ground by building this road, which we have stopped,” said Jayadeva Ranade, a former China specialist at the Indian government’s National Security Advisory Board. He warned that they might repeat Doklam next year or try something else.

Lessons learned

Indeed, India will be even more vigilant in the months and years to come, not just in Doklam but in the several other sectors along their 3,500 kilometer Himalayan boundary that remains disputed despite decades-long negotiations. That was underlined by India’s army chief, Bipin Rawat, just a day before the formal announcement of the agreement.

“My message to my people is that remain prepared, it can happen again, and therefore do not let your guard down,” he said.

However for the time being there is a sense of relief that the crisis is over, especially because the spat had pulled in Bhutan, India’s tiny neighbor, which feared being caught in the middle of the two huge Asian countries and whose ties with India might have been jeopardized had the conflict flared.

Commentators say the resolution of the dispute also sent a message to other countries that China is not unchallengeable.

Countries embroiled in disputes with China in the South China Sea and elsewhere can look at this crisis as a case study on how to avoid escalation with the Asian giant while sticking to their position, according to Michael Kugelman, South Asia’s deputy director at the Wilson Center in Washington.

“The fact that India stood its ground before eventually fashioning a resolution is something that many other countries will take notice of and try to learn lessons from,” he said.

The forthcoming BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in China might have played a role, according to several reports. New Delhi had refused to confirm Modi’s attendance at the meeting until the crisis was resolved. As he leaves this weekend, India feels it has sent a message that it reached an equitable agreement with China, but their recent tensions may well loom over the meeting. (VOA)

Next Story

High-Speed Railways, Thailand to Sign Pact with China

“Beijing claims it is committed to working with other countries to foster environment-friendly and sound development, but the practice so far has raised some serious concerns,” said Yaqui Wang, HRW's China researcher.

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Thai officials gather near a model of a high-speed rail during the ground-breaking ceremony of the Bangkok-Nong Khai railway project, in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, Dec. 21, 2017. RFA

Thailand, China and Laos will sign a memorandum of cooperation on a new bridge for a railway across the Mekong River during Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s Beijing visit this week, a Thai foreign ministry official said Tuesday.

The bridge would link Thailand’s northeastern Nong Khai province with the Laotian capital Vientiane, Thai officials told BenarNews, in what analysts believe will reinforce China’s ambitions to build a high-speed railway network in Southeast Asia, stretching through Malaysia and feeding into Singapore.

Prayuth, who is scheduled to be in the Chinese capital on April 26-27, is expected to sign the trilateral pact on the sidelines of a conference of world leaders on China’s massive One Belt, One Road (OBOR) infrastructure initiative, Busadee Santipitaks, spokeswoman for the ministry of foreign affairs, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

“Thailand, Laos PDR and China will sign a three-nation memorandum of cooperation to build a bridge for a high-speed railway at Thai-Lao border,” Busadee said.

Thai officials did not respond to BenarNews emails requesting more details on the memorandum.

China, which aims to increase its footprint in Southeast Asia through OBOR, has managed to push ahead with its strategy to build a trans-Asian railway network.

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The second phase linking Nakhon Ratchasima to Laos is awaiting approval, officials told BenarNews. Pixabay

Last month, Laotian officials announced that a 414-km (257-mile) high-speed railway linking Vientiane with Kunming city, capital of China’s southwestern province of Yunnan, was almost half-complete and on track to be in service by December 2021. Construction for that project began four years ago.

Under China’s planned 3,000-km (1,875-mile) pan-Asian railway network, Chinese rail lines will extend farther south – all the way to the tip of the Malay Peninsula, linking Beijing to Singapore, one of Washington’s closest allies in the region and a strategic gateway to the Strait of Malacca.

China’s OBOR initiative has drawn criticism, including from Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, who told reporters last month that the Philippines should be wary of Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy” that includes extending excessive credit with the alleged intention of extracting economic or political concessions from the debtor country.

Economists contend that the initiative forces emerging economies to take on unsustainable levels of debt to fund Beijing-backed projects, highlighting such concerns after a Chinese state-owned company took over the majority stake in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port after Colombo struggled to repay its loans from China.

Thailand officially kicked off its high-speed railway project in December 2017 when Prayuth and Chinese officials led a ground-breaking ceremony for a 3.5-km (2-mile) segment of the rail in the northeast province of Nakhon Ratchasima.

The junta-led government under Prayuth has approved a 179-billion baht (U.S. $5.8 billion) budget for the first phase of the 253-km (158-mile) railway linking Nakhon Ratchasima with Bangkok.

The second phase linking Nakhon Ratchasima to Laos is awaiting approval, officials told BenarNews.

OBOR, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature policy, is an estimated U.S. $1 trillion-plus initiative that stretches across 70 countries. It aims to weave a network of railways, ports and bridges, linking China with Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Prayuth’s Beijing visit would include a roundtable meeting with leaders of 38 countries during which he is expected to express the commitment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to support China’s OBOR projects, Thai government spokesman Lt. Gen. Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak told BenarNews.

“First, we stress Thailand’s role as the ASEAN chair in supporting and committing to China’s attempt to link sub-regions and regions,” he said.

Prayuth, as current chairman of the 10-member ASEAN, will meet Xi and other Chinese officials, including Prime Minister Li Kequiang and Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng to discuss ways to bolster bilateral relationship and economic cooperation, Weerachon said.

Prayuth will be accompanied by his deputy, Somkid Jatusripitak, the minister of transport and the minister of foreign affairs, he said.

China has ranked as Thailand’s largest trading partner since 2012, buying about U.S. $30 billion of Thai products last year, according to the Thai Ministry of Commerce.

Respect human rights, HRW tells Beijing

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China, which aims to increase its footprint in Southeast Asia through OBOR, has managed to push ahead with its strategy to build a trans-Asian railway network. Pixabay

Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Sunday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Beijing to ensure that the OBOR initiative would be respectful of the human rights of people living in areas near the infrastructure projects.

Under OBOR, Beijing should set out requirements to enable consultation with groups of people potentially affected by proposed projects, ensuring that affected communities can openly express their views without fear of reprisal, HRW said in a statement.

Also Read: NASA Planning Asteroid Impact Exercise Next Week

“Beijing claims it is committed to working with other countries to foster environment-friendly and sound development, but the practice so far has raised some serious concerns,” said Yaqui Wang, HRW’s China researcher.

“Criticisms of some Belt and Road projects – such as lack of transparency, disregard of community concerns, and threats of environmental degradation – suggest a superficial commitment,” Wang said. (RFA)