The over two-month standoff between India and China over the Chinese bid to reclaim Doklam from Bhutan, which has serious strategic implications for India, has ended much to the relief of both Asian giants. In a win-win, they realised gravity of the situation and set in motion a consummate diplomacy that led to mutual disengagement of troops.
Already vexed with Pak border, India can ill-afford any border escalation with China. None would come to its aid. For China’s part, it took a pragmatic decision in view of enormous benefits that would accrue to it through peace and trade with India. Any conflict would only push India towards the US. Another reason could be the upcoming BRICS summit in Xiamen on September 3-5, which PM Modi is attending. Any ugly spat will queer pitch for the summit agenda of greater engagement.
True, there is a chance of Chinese laying road to Doklam, once the summit is over and ahead of the crucial National Congress of Communist Party of China in October, where Xi Jinping bids for another five-year term. There are reports China has quietly offered Bhutan a tempting package of $10 billion aid.
Bhutan itself is seen to have fallen silent over Doklam issue these days. India had better beware of any unilateral patch-up between them. China is also wooing aggressively Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal to encircle India. Jinping scheduled Nepal tour in October, and PM Modi is visiting Myanmar in September. India must step up its engagement with neighbours. It should subtly point out how nation after nation is slipping into debt trap after falling for Chinese bait of huge financial assistance.
China seems to be viewing India as a pivot for US in Asia, and hence its actions of vetoing UN move to declare Pak-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief a terrorist, scuttling India’s bid to join Nuclear Suppliers Group or become a permanent member in UN Security Council. It is also backing up Pakistan against India. Its intent appears to muzzle India to join its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through the POK.
For its part, having readily seized an opportunity for peace with China, Modi government must take care not to project India as anti-China, even as it forges closer bonds with US or those in maritime disputes with China. India has much to catch up with China on financial and trade fronts. While it is seeking to double its economy to $5 trillion by 2030, China is already a $10 trillion economy. Moreover, India is running a huge deficit of $50 billion in nearly $70 billion bilateral trade.
One way, India can make China soften is to facilitate investments by its companies, which would bolster the ‘Make in India’ pitch. While not joining the BRI, India can still push Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) road project. It has already expressed its willingness. Closer ties with the stronger neighbour are thus an imperative. Even so, India should not let its guard down even for a while. China may have backed off, only for now, going by its army warning India to draw lessons from Doklam episode.