Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Doklam stand-off

The Doklam stand-off involving the mobilisation of the Indian and Chinese forces in the Doklam area boundary of Bhutan and China is now a simple chicken game. Who will blink first?

In brief, the Indian forces moved into the area on a request by Bhutan under the Friendship Treaty 2007 following Chinese attempts to construct a road through Doklam, which is claimed by Bhutan and is under its control. Both China and India have been demanding that the other side pull back first.  But that is unlikely to happen. 

It will be perceived as a conclusive victory for China if it forces India to pull back, and vice-versa. Either scenario is politically suicidal for the respective countries. 

A simultaneous pull-back, while apparently fair, may be seen as a victory for India. It would likely signal that India intervened on behalf of a neighbour facing Chinese trespass and forced them out. It would further entrench the Bhutanese dependence on India. Not a signal that China, with ambitions of meddling in India's "near abroad", would want. 

This leaves us with two politically less problematic options for either side. One, the default option is to do nothing at all, and let the issue fade-off from public memory and for both sides to gradually demobilize. With time, even a few weeks, other events would have gripped the attention of media and opinion makers in both countries and demobilisation becomes easier. The risk though is the possibility of escalation, triggered by some small incident or by emergent domestic compulsions. 

The second option is for Bhutan to step in and play a role in separating the two armies. One way, as suggested here, is for Bhutan to swap its army with Indian army in the border area, with the latter retreating into Bhutan, and then for the armies of China and Bhutan demobilising to status quo ante. 

It is most likely that the denouement to this will be one of these two. Both sides will claim victory. But India being the weaker power, would have come out marginally ahead in this game of chicken, especially if it is the first option.

And that matters for India if this stand-off is an indicator of things to come, arising out of China's new assertiveness in its foreign policy. 

1 comment:

KP said...

Dear Gulzar,

Would be interesting to hear from you what the eventual policy gains / losses for each country is from the display of potential hostility ( or performative hostility as I like to call it). Or a pointer to any such analysis.

On a side note - I am not able to locate my previous comments to your posts, I normally use the search phrase "kp said".

In addition can you direct me to mails on your blog (or others) related to pricing of telecom services / or rulings of the competition commission on any pricing related issue

regards, KP.