Saturday, October 07, 2017

Doklam ‘Dis-Engagement’ May Have Been Mutual, but It Is India That Has Come out on Top

Short of a military showdown, the only outcome to the Doklam crisis was the restoration of the status quo as of June 16. And that is what appears to have happened. The best outcome of diplomacy – to resolve a crisis that could have led to an armed clash – is one where both sides can declare victory. That is exactly what we are seeing in this case, with spin and selective briefings in both countries targeting domestic audiences.
 The contest at Doklam at 16,000 ft has had several strategic implications. Credit: Reuters

Even so, by all measure, it is India that has come out on top in the current situation. It wanted a halt on the construction of the Chinese road from the Doka La area to the Jampheri ridge, and it has succeeded. For how long is another matter.
Just what has been the impact of its action on China and Bhutan is difficult to assess from public statements. Suffice it to say, there will be longer term consequences, which could either be benign or malign.
Though the contest at Doklam at 16,000 ft over a few square kilometres of land – the Chinese had complained of an encroachment of just about 180 metres – had strategic implications, its outcome may have owed itself to the enormous tactical advantage India had in the region.
The Chinese had a single road coming to the Doklam bowl zig-zagging from their major base in Yatung. It was dominated for a significant part by Indian positions on the watershed between the Amo Chu and the Teesta rivers. The point from where the Chinese wanted to build the road was actually overlooked by the strong Indian positions in Doka La. For them to start a confrontation there did not make sense anyway.
But perhaps the most important reason may have been the fact that for the Indian side, the Jampheri ridge is considered a vital operational requirement for the defence of Sikkim and the Siliguri Corridor, while China has no important stakes there. It would certainly have an advantage in surveilling the Siliguri Corridor by occupying the ridge, but its forces in the Doklam bowl are vulnerable at all times to Indian interdiction. In essence, India’s security concerns outweighed the Chinese concerns over its sovereignty, which, in any case, was legally contested by Bhutan.

What has come about as a result of de-escalation Four things have happened, all signaling that the can has been kicked down the road.
First, there has been no solution to the underlying issue, which remains as tangled as ever. The Chinese have vigorously asserted their claim, and the Bhutanese, by calling for a restoration of the status quo, have obliquely affirmed theirs.
The second is that India and China have probably agreed that the status of Doklam will be akin to that of the disputed parts of the Sino-Indian border, which is marked by a Line of Actual Control and is not delimited in any map. Both sides have their own notion as to where it runs and therefore patrol to the extent of their claims. They are also bound by agreements to not undertake any civil construction – bunkers or roads – in these contentious areas. However, in this case, the weak link is the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA), which does not have the capacity to match the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has, after all, been patrolling the area for some years now.
Third, the issue may have ensured that the Sino-Bhutan border negotiation must now be embedded in the Sino-Indian process.
Fourth, India has subtly side-stepped from accepting the validity of the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890. All it says it accepts is that there is an agreement on the “basis of alignment” of the Sikkim-Tibet border, something that needs more work to be finalised into an accepted international border.
The loss of the Doklam area to China would not be a catastrophic loss for the Indian side, which occupies strongly grounded positions around the area. As it is, contrary to the impression that is often made, the Chinese deployment in Tibet is quite minimal and nowhere near the numbers India has on hand – ten Mountain divisions and a Strike Corps being raised. Many of the forces are located at high altitude and are acclimatised, whereas the bulk of the Chinese forces committed for Tibet are in lower lying regions east of Tibet. China is supposed to have designated some airborne forces for rapid deployment in the Tibet region, but anyone with experience with those altitude knows that most of the forces would come down with mountain sickness if they were not systematically acclimatised.
Even though India has signaled just how important the Jampheri ridge is to its operational posture in the region, a lot hinges on the Sino-Bhutan border negotiations, should Bhutan concede the area to China, there is little that India can do. There is the matter of the tri-junction that needs to be determined, which India, citing the minutes of the 2012 Special Representatives understanding, says must be done with the concurrence of all three parties.
Here too Bhutan’s outlook is crucial. If it concedes the Doklam area, by definition, the tri-junction, as accepted by India and Bhutan till now, will move southwards from its present position near Batang La, possibly conceding the Jampheri ridge to China.

Bhutan itself also presents a vulnerability to Indian defences because, were the Chinese to move through Bhutan, there is little that India could do since the RBA is a token force and is not geared to dealing with military threats of the kind the PLA presents.
For the present, China will not find it easy to wind back the rhetoric that threatened war repeatedly in the last couple of months. It will certainly be smarting at the surprise Indian action that compelled it to compromise. The Doklam stand-off and its resolution could be an inflection point where China decides that it needs to focus on economic restructuring and quickly settle the border issues with India and Bhutan, which are born more out of prestige than any strategic consideration. Or, it could bide its time to follow through in its project of cutting India to size, as a pre-condition for emerging as the undisputed hegemony in the South Asian-Indian Ocean Region (SA-IOR).

Impact on Bhutan
Bhutan’s predicament is more palpable. Doklam does not really affect Bhutanese security. But it does have implications to that of a country that is vital for its well being. There have always been voices in Bhutan calling for a quick settlement of the border issue so as not to lose more territory through China’s incremental nibbling strategy. These could be strengthened by the recent events.
So, in the coming period, it means that India needs to adopt a strategy of holding its friend Bhutan close. Certainly South Block needs to learn some lessons from its poor handling of its neighbours. Having witnessed the emergence of significant Chinese equities in Nepal, India cannot afford to allow a repetition of the process in Bhutan. As for the Indian military, it needs to urgently follow through on structural reforms to be able to effectively deter the PLA’s increasingly assertive posture in the SA-IOR. The PLA, which enjoys considerable autonomy in the Chinese system, cannot possibly be pleased with the current outcome and there will be some hard thinking on ways to get back at India.
The Wire August 31, 2017

Honour Above All: A Lesson for the Indian Army in the US Military Response to Trump’s Bigotry

One of the more edifying aspects of the otherwise depressing picture emerging from the Charlottesville incident has been the quick and uniform condemnation of the happenings by the top brass of the US armed forces. This is in sharp contrast to the waffling and subsequently condemnable conduct of their commander-in-chief, Donald J. Trump and significant sections of the civilian elite.
 The army must remember to put put honour above everything regardless of the politicians in power. Credit: Reuters

On August 13 itself, John Richardson, the US chief of naval operations tweeted:
"Events in Charlottesville unacceptable & musnt be tolerated @USNavy forever stands against intolerance & hatred..."
 Two days later, the commandant of the US Marine Corps, Robert B. Neller tweeted: "No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act."
The following day, the army chief Mark Milley declared: “The army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.” He was followed by his air force counterpart David Goldfein and the chief of the National Guard Bureau Joseph Lengyel.

Their strong stand speaks a great deal of the current intellectual make up of the US military leadership, something that has been forged in the fires of the various wars the US has fought, and the many mistakes and transgressions its military has made.
There is, of course, something about the quality of the US military’s higher leadership. Take Richardson, for example, he is not only an experienced submariner, but he is also an MA from MIT and has done an attachment with the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Or the army chief Milley, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who is a BA from Princeton, an MA from Columbia and a graduate of a prestigious MIT National Security programme.

Importance of upholding the military morality 
Wars and the military are not normally supposed to be associated with moral issues or ethical conduct. But any smart general knows that upholding a just cause can be a war-winning factor. This, more than anything else, is the lesson of the Second World War. If his forces are seen to be on the side of a good cause, half the battle is already won.
This is especially true in our contemporary conflicts, which do not have the goal or the option of obliterating the adversary as the Mongols had in the 13th century or the Chinese with the Xiongnu people but instead prevailing over adversary forces who function among a sea of non-combatants.
Military morality and ethics have been written down in the Hague and Geneva Conventions to avoid unnecessary suffering and safeguarding human rights with the view of restoring peace. The Second World War gave us the Nuremberg tribunal whose central message was that merely following orders, even of a duly constituted authority, was not an excuse for committing war crimes and human rights violations. Militaries talk a great deal about honour, and rightly so. For example, no honourable military man would shoot a surrendered enemy. Likewise, modern militaries look down on rape and ill-treatment of civilians. But politicians’ sense of morality is sometimes flexible.
There is no doubt that following Clausewitz, politics must always be in command in war. But there are also important points where the politician must be challenged. There is the well-known incident when General Eisenhower rejected Churchill’s suggestion to use poison gas against the German sites firing V-2 rockets on London. Honour was in upholding the law, and in this case, the international law laid down by the Hague and Geneva Conventions. But honour is also linked to the sense of self-worth of a military, how its leaders view themselves and the forces under their command. This is what has driven the American generals to categorically oppose the stand of their commander-in-chief.
People will argue that most wars have seen flagrant breaches of Hague and Geneva codes, and they are not wrong. Even so, most armies strive to show themselves to be morally and ethically superior, especially in the information technology era where victory is often about dominating the narrative in cyberspace and elsewhere.
Modern war, as our experience with Iraq and Afghanistan reveals, is about winning hearts and minds. No one will argue that the Americans have done a good job in either. The former was a war of choice, built on a patently false premises and many war crimes were committed. The latter was seen as a war of necessity arising out of the al Qaida’s attack in the US. Yet somehow the US has not been able to get the upper hand, perhaps because they are too disconnected to the people they are fighting amidst.
Our experience in Sri Lanka was an object lesson. Though we were on the morally right side, we were unable to capture the narrative because we were fighting among a people who were not ours and our army was simply not trained or oriented for that kind of a war.

The Indian context
The Indian experience has been different in Jammu and Kashmir since, unlike the US in Iraq or India in Sri Lanka, there is no option of walking away. Nevertheless, all commanders there know that at the end of the day, winning hearts and minds is the key to prevailing in an insurgency-like conflict. Neutralising individual jihadi leaders like Burhan Wani, Mehmood Ghaznavi or Yasin Itoo does not happen purely through army action, but good intelligence obtained, probably through the auspices of the J&K police which in turn has come from the fact that there are people in the Valley who support the counter-insurgency efforts.
It is in this shadow battle that Indian forces must appear superior, not just in weapons and men, but their cause and conduct. And this is why the recent Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) judgment on Machil is a body blow to the effort. The case was fairly open and shut and as much was determined by a court martial and confirmed by senior officers upto the army commander of the northern command. Yet, from the outset there were efforts to delay and subvert the course of  justice in the case.
The army had convicted five personnel including a colonel and a captain by a court martial in 2015 for the staged killing in 2010 of three Kashmiri civilians and branding them as militants. They had been given a life sentence. The tribunal’s reported judgement makes for shoddy reading citing issues like their attire and proximity to the Line of Control to cast doubt over the prosecution’s case.
In many ways the court martial system is an anachronism, but the services feel it is important for maintaining the discipline and morale of the forces. There is, however, a lesser justification for taking up criminal cases such as those of rape and murder through the system.
However, because of the presence of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA), things are complicated because in many instances of killings of civilians, the AFSPA is invoked, and often rightly. In the Machil case, the ideal would have been to hand it over to the civilian authorities, but the army chose the courts martial route wherein it tries its own personnel. And the personnel were duly convicted.
The AFTs were originally set up to ease the burden on civilian courts of a rash of cases relating to promotion issues. However, they did have the power to look at other disputes, including court materials. The experience of the AFTs has not been an entirely good one. The government is not particularly happy with the proceedings of the AFTs, while their judges are usually sound in their legal background, the military officers there lack any kind of judicial experience or knowledge when they are appointed. As a result, the government has tightened the authority of the defence secretary over the appointments of the tribunals and inquiries against its members.
In other words, they have underscored the fact that the tribunals function under the Ministry of Defence and not the regular courts system. Now the higher courts of the land must lay out clear guidelines of conduct. Justice on issues of murder and other such issues is simply too important to be left to such tribunals.
Meanwhile the Indian army’s higher leadership needs to reflect on its role as the sword arm of the republic. Being involved in counter-insurgency roles makes its tasks difficult. But it needs to have a clear cut vision of itself as the upholder of law, a force that privileges honour above everything regardless of the politicians in power.
The Wire  August 18, 2017

Dateline Xinadu

The Sino-Indian border crisis is framed amidst colonial treaties, old nationalisms, new entitlements. The economic-military edge is with China, yet a conflict would hurt its ‘dream’ as much as ours. India is holding on, but the brink is a dangerous place to hold on to.

Dateline Xinadu
War arrives unexpectedly. Sometimes a simmering crisis erupts, at other times an unscrupulous leader seeks gain by surprise attack, at other times events simply drift out of control. The biggest problem for those who initiate war is to figure out its scope and when and how it will end, simply because there are too many variables at play. As the saying goes, no war plan survives contact with the enemy. If war between two nucl­ear-armed states is itself self-destructive, limited war is a chimera best avoided.
Anyway, if there was war over Doklam, it would probably be the strangest war ever. It would be over the ‘invasion’—of the extent of 180 metres—of a huge, nuclear-armed country, with the biggest army in the world, by a large but significantly weaker adversary.
Yes, that’s the distance the “invading force” of 40-400 Indian soldiers have travelled into territory China claims as its own, according to a detailed document issued by the Chinese foreign office on August 2, but which is contested by India and Bhutan.
This was reconfirmed last week at a briefing to visiting Indian journalists by Senior Colonel Ren Guoqing, the spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Defence. The Indian action, the Senior Colonel declared, had violated the territorial integrity of China, the 1890 Anglo-Chinese Convention setting the Sikkim-Tibet border and the UN Charter, adding that “the prerequisite and basis of resolution is Indian withdrawal”.
Other military voices were even shriller and uniform. Speaking at a seminar organised by the All China Journalists Association on August 10, ostensibly for a discussion, but in reality, to ‘educate’ the Indian journalists, Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo at the Research Centre for China-US Defence Relations at the Academy of Military Science waxed indignant over the Indian “invasion”. Zhao, a familiar figure in international events as an ardent defender of the Chinese case in controversial areas like the South China Sea, spelled out the case that India had violated an international border, settled by the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890.
Another familiar figure at international meetings, Senior Colonel Zhou Bo, reportedly educated in the UK, said that the Indian statement of June 30 was ambiguous. For, it sought to hide the fact that there was no Bhutanese invitation to intervene by claiming that they, the Indians, acted “in coordination with the RGOB (Royal Government of Bhutan)”.

Both officers claimed they had served on the Sino-Indian border and were familiar with South Asian issues. Indeed, Senior Colonel Zhao said he had served in the Sikkim area. More significant were his concluding words: “If you want a peaceful resolution, please pull back, else it will be resolved by force.”
A similar message came from a field commander, Senior Colonel Li Li of the 3rd Garrison Division responsible for the protection of Beijing. At location in the Huairou area of Beijing, in the midst of a demonstration showcasing the PLA’s tactical prowess, he said in response to a question on Doklam, “I am a soldier and will do my best to protect the territorial integrity with resolve and determination.”

There was a time when war was fought at three levels—the strategic, the operational and the tactical. In the era of inst­ant media, all three get compressed and a tactical move by Indian forces to block a PLA road-building party in disputed land has become a full-blown international crisis.
For once, the normally shrill TV warriors of India are quiet, even while their counterparts in Beijing spew fire and brimstone. The media commentary and the meetings with the PLA scholars and officers indicate that domestic sentiment is an important issue here. The question to ask is why the Chinese have raised the pitch so high, and why the Indians are playing it cool. But there are no easy answers.
Ostensibly, the crisis is about a road which the Chinese sought to construct on the disputed Sino-Bhutanese border. In doing so, the Bhutanese say, the Chinese violated written agreements of 1988 and 1998 not to disturb the status quo, pending a border settlement. India says they are there because “such construction would represent a significant change of status with serious security implications for India”.
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The Chinese dismiss these claims and say there is a ‘consensus’ between Thimphu and Beijing that the area belongs to China, and India is the villain of the piece. A top boundary affairs official of the Chinese foreign ministry, Wang Wenlin, claimed that the Bhutanese had told them that they had not invited the Indians and the area where they intervened “was not Bhutanese territory”.

Modi and Xi Jinping at the BRICS leaders’ meeting in Goa. Their possible interaction in Beijing will be crucial.
Photograph by AP
For years, China has sought to railroad Thimphu into agreeing that the territory is Chinese, but Bhutan has resisted. And it is not just because of the alleged Indian hand. In debate after debate of its National Assembly, there are complaints from the representatives of the Haa province about Tibetan incursions or of forced taxation. There has been opposition to giving over what are valuable pastures to the Chinese.
China claims the area belongs to it on the terms of the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890. But Bhutan was not a signatory to the treaty, nor was it consulted when it was signed. It has its claims, and they cannot be wished away by fudging the record or making unsubstantiated claims that the Bhutanese have surrendered their claims.

What the present crisis has done is to probably torpedo the work done by the Special Representatives in resolving the Sino-Indian border. We do not have the full picture, but it is clear that in the 18-point consensus drawn up by Shivshankar Menon and his Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo, on the eve of the latter’s retirement in 2012, there was agreement that a) trijunctions involving India and China will be decided upon in consultation with the third country; b) both sides agreed on the “basis of alignment” of the Sikkim-Tibet border, presumably the watershed; and c) the two sides would verify and determine the specific alignment of the Sikkim sector and produce a common record, namely, there would be a new boundary pact to replace the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890.
The hawkish stand being taken by China rejects the nuances reflected here for a one-dimensional view that all that matters is the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890, which has been violated. There were expectations that the important consensus arrived at by the two SRs could form the basis for a resolution of the entire Sino-Indian border issue. But now that prospect looks bleak.

Clearly, if there is war, it would not be a war for the trijunction, or over Bhutan’s claim on Doklam. The border issue would only be the occasion for a conflict that has been building up for a while, not its cause. India and China have many unresolved issues between them. First and foremost is their entire border, which China somewhat disingenuously claims is 2,000 km in length and India says is 4,057 km. This led to the first Sino-Indian war of 1962. Of all the parts of the border, perhaps none is more sensitive than the one in Sikkim, because it sits atop the narrow Siliguri Corridor.
India has built strong defences in Sikkim, but the military assessment is that access to the Jampheri ridge that runs east-west, south of the road construction point, would enable China to bypass or ‘turn’ their defences. So, the Indians decided through some sleight of hand that the trijunction was actually near Batang La, not Mount Gipmochi, as the 1890 treaty suggested. It was intriguing to hear Senior Colonel Zhou Bo’s comment that India was over-estimating the military significance of Batang La as the trijunction.
Perhaps the greater reason for the outbreak of a Sino-Ind­ian war, if indeed that occurs, will be their differing perceptions of themselves and their place in the world. In the 1950s, India was pitched as the Great Democratic Hope of the “free world” against “Communist China”. Today, the rise of both countries, with India a decade-and-a-half behind, has given this conflict a new twist.

China, seeking regional pre-eminence, increasingly challenges India in the South Asia and Indian Ocean Region (SA-IOR). This is not something that happened suddenly. It has come with the steady growth of Chinese economic muscle across the world and in the SA-IOR. The Chinese find that their economic clout far exceeds their military one; nevertheless, they believe that at some point it must catch up, but to reach the state of a true global power, they must have a neighbourhood that is benign.
So far in South Asia, they have followed a convenient model of offsetting India’s advantages by backing Pakistan to the hilt. Given their enhanced clout in South Asia, and the fact that their economy is five times that of India and its military considerably stronger, they seek a situation where India quietly accepts Chinese primacy, or is subdued through the Chinese politico-military policy in the SA-IOR.
However, India has a sense of its own self-worth and place in the global scheme of things and accepting Chinese primacy in its own neighbourhood is not part of it. And so it is seeking to offset Chinese power through growing proximity to the US and Japan, who have their own reason to keep China in check. Ever since Modi came to power, India has taken significant steps to get closer to both countries. This is obviously a dangerous game, because it feeds into Beijing’s belief that all three countries are conspiring to stifle its rise and the China Dream.
Notwithstanding a somewhat inflated opinion of its place in the world, India cannot escape the fact that its military modernisation remains stuck and its economy is yet to get on to the promised high growth path. The Modi government has the political support to make reforms that could change things, or if that fails, take the decisive leap to abandon non-alignment and become a formal military ally of the US. So, as John Garver has pointed out recently, “it might make sense for China to teach India a lesson before China’s advantage is eroded”.
What needs to be done stares us in the face. First, carry out deep and systematic reform of the armed forces on the lines suggested by the Group of Ministers in 2002 and the Naresh Chandra Committee in 2012. This will provide the country with the wherewithal to deter China, which has successfully bitten the bullet on military reforms, and whose military capabilities are growing exponentially. Second, India needs a genuine “good neighbour” policy, one that will capitalise on its natural and civilisational advantages in the SA-IOR and minimise its tendency to overly securitise its relationships.
Doklam may or may not trigger a larger conflict. But the trend line is not heartening and seems to suggest that we may end up just kicking the can down the road. A powerful China may best India in a military contest, but both will have to forgo their respective dreams. All talk of there being sufficient room for India and China to grow simultaneously has palled and the old CBMs that maintained stability in their relationship become infructuous. If this is not a wake-up call for both countries to pull back from the brink, nothing is.
Outlook August 28, 2017

'China's decision to disturb status quo at Doklam was done with an end goal'

In past visits to China going back to the early 1990s, India was mostly a peripheral issue, unless, the stay was part of a prime ministerial or presidential visit. 
But this time around, things are different. For four consecutive days last week, China Daily, the country's only English-speaking broadsheet, carried articles on the Doklam issue, with two lead editorials, one of which carried the title 'New Delhi should come to its senses while it has time'.
As for the Global Times, its commentaries are too well known in India.
On Friday, the state-owned tabloid headlined 'Bhutan under India pressure'. The border dispute, the strap said, was 'proof of New Delhi's hegemony in South Asia.' 

The ongoing stand-off between India and China at the Doklam plateau was triggered by a Chinese manoeuvre on the night of June 8 
The ongoing stand-off between India and China at the Doklam plateau was triggered by a Chinese manoeuvre on the night of June 8 

Nervousness showing 
The journalistic tour, organised after the crisis had erupted was expected to have subtle messaging aimed at pushing China's point of view. But there was nothing subtle about the briefings from top foreign ministry and Ministry of Defence officials.
The briefings were harsh, and uncompromising, as the new chief spokesman Senior Colonel Ren Guoqing declared, that China had legal proof of its territory and to resolve the crisis, India needed 'to withdraw immediately and unconditionally'. 
Perhaps there was a message hidden in the visit organised to the 3rd Garrison Force in the Huairou district of Beiing, where the crack division displayed its tactical skills with small arms in a range which was clearly aimed at impressing foreign audience. 

It has been decades since China last fought a war and the country insists it has no hostile intent, and simply needs to defend itself. However it's increasingly assertive stance in the South China Sea has rattled its neighbours 
It has been decades since China last fought a war and the country insists it has no hostile intent, and simply needs to defend itself

The message from a visit to the CNS Yulin, a 054 frigate at the headquarters of the South Sea Fleet at Zhangjiang, 2,500 miles to the south Beijing was vintage Chinese as Capt Liang Tiajun, an officer at the fleet headquarters blandly remarked that India and China could cooperate in Indian Ocean security. 
It is no secret that the PLA (People's Liberation Army) Navy lacks the ability to take on the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region.
More dramatic was a 'seminar' in which two top officers known to represent the PLA's point of view in international gatherings participated. 

India has turned down China's demand that the Indian Army should immediately withdraw soldiers from Doklam near the Sikkim-China-Bhutan trijunction
The meeting was moderated by Senior Colonel Zhou Bo. The British-educated officer is well known to those who attend the Shangrila Dialogue. 
The director of the Centre for Security Cooperation professed to be 'pained' by the developments since he had served in the border regions with India. He set the tone of the meeting by waxing indignant about India's allegedly changing stance, and attacked this writer for changing his positions 'perhaps under pressure'. 
It was difficult to assure the Senior Colonel that positions evolve more and more as privileged information is divulged. For example, it was only on June 30, when the Indian press release came out that it was known that there was, to use a word often used by the Chinese, 'consensus' that the trijunctions be worked out in conjunction with all three countries. 

No clear border 
Another Senior Colonel, Zhao Xiaozhuo, also a well-known face of the PLA, said he had served in the area and had no doubt that India had 'invaded' Chinese territory. 
Zhao, who is at the Research Centre for China-US Defence Relations said the border was set by the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 and claimed there was no dispute between China and Bhutan over Doklam. 
There was little answer from the Chinese side that there had been no map attached to the 1890 Convention and hence the border was not even properly delimited, let alone demarcated. 
The Chinese official position is that the border has been delimited, whereas India has maintained that as of now, there is only agreement on the 'basis of alignment' of the border, viz the watershed, and that further work is needed to translate it into a full fledged border. 

Impressing the media 
It was clear, however, that the discussion was aimed at the Chinese media, which was also present. Indeed, it is difficult to escape the feeling that the high-pitched campaign and the torrent of words are aimed at the Chinese audience primarily. 
So, there is no hesitation in blandly asserting palpably false things, as China's top border official Wang Wenli did, that India was twice notified about the road construction, or that Bhutan had agreed that the Doklam region belongs to China. 
Or, for that matter, the insistent claim that India had 'invaded' Chinese territory. 
There are too many variables in play to predict how the Doklam issue will turn out. Clearly, it not about some piece of land 7x5 sq km. For years the Chinese have patrolled the area, after parking their trucks in plain sight of the Indian positions in Doka La. 
The decision to disturb the status quo, in violation of their solemn commitments to Bhutan, was done with particular end in view which has probably come unstuck by the Indian action. 
Mail Today August 15, 2017

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Doklam Stand-Off Means the Current Process of Settling the China Border Has Run Its Course

Just how the Doklam crisis plays out is still a matter of speculation. Nearly two months into the stand-off, the Chinese verbal bombardment has not abated. The Bhutanese and Indian responses have remained low key after their respective press releases of June 29 and 30.
One important consequence of the stand-off is already evident – the parallel processes of negotiating China’s border with India and Bhutan seems to have reached a logical dead-end. The three countries now urgently need to come up with a new format if they wish to continue their conversation. Such talks are not merely technical discussions on the border, but since they are handled at a senior level, they are also a means of managing the relationship in depth and over a wide range of areas.
Since the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement of 1993, India’s relations with China had been stable and even predictable. The two countries managed their border issues well and have created layers of confidence building measures that aided the process.
Yet, in fact, they did not manage to actually settle their border dispute.

There have been two distinct cycles here, the first between 1993 and 2002 when the official level joint working groups sought to stabilise and work out a mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC) – as per the agreement of 1993 – as a prelude to resolving the dispute itself. This process came to a grinding halt when the Chinese refused to exchange maps of the western sector. They came to believe that finalising a mutually agreed LAC could solidify it as a border and, as we have seen since the mid-1980s, they have been insistently making major claims in the eastern sector, which they now call southern Tibet.
Special representatives to deal with border issues
The two sides thus decided in 2003 that a political dimension needed to be added to the border settlement process and nominated a special representative each to deal with the issue.
The process was at a ministerial level, the current Chinese special representative, Yang Jichei, is a state councillor and senior even to the foreign minister Wang Yi. The special representatives have had 19 rounds of talks till April 2016 and, in 2005, they had signed what was hoped to be a far reaching agreement on the political parameters and guiding principles of a border settlement.
This agreement baldly stated that “the two sides are seeking a political settlement of the boundary question ….” In 2014, the Indian special representative, Shivshankar Menon, acknowledged that all the technical work relating to the border settlement had been done, now all that was needed was a political go-ahead from the leaders of the two countries.
But more than a decade later, they are no nearer towards clinching a deal. In 2012, Dai Bingguo, the Chinese special representative, and his Indian counterpart Menon, drew up a 18-point consensus document on the eve of the former’s retirement, summing up the work they had done. The disclosure of some portions of this document and some earlier understanding, in the current war of words over Doklam, could well be the clearest signal that the special representative process has run out of steam. This is not surprising, the moment the Chinese stepped back from the political parameters agreement, sometime around 2007, this had probably happened.

China, Bhutan peace agreement 
Parallel to this, China and Bhutan have had 24 rounds of border talks. According to reports, the two sides came close to a settlement in 1996-2001, based on China agreeing to concede two parcels of land in northern Bhutan for three lots, including Doklam in the western part of the country. But thereafter Bhutan revised its claims and the process has not moved much. Yet, like the process of the special representatives, the Chinese and the Bhutanese continue to hold talks.
However, in the case of the Bhutanese, the peace and tranquillity agreement they signed with the Chinese in 1998 barely worked. This agreement committing both sides to maintain status quo as of 1959 has most obviously been violated in the Doklam area. The reason for this is that while India has steadily enhanced its border management capacities along the LAC, the Bhutanese simply lack the population or resources to police their 470 km border with the Chinese. The present crisis has shown that as of now, any resolution of Bhutan’s boundary issue is likely to be embedded in a Sino-Indian border settlement, unless Bhutan takes the drastic decision of making a deal without taking India into confidence.
Source: Google Maps

With the Sino-Indian and the China-Bhutan processes at a dead end, the time has come for the countries to explore new institutional mechanisms of resolving their border dispute and maintaining “peace and tranquillity” on their border.

Rising frictions between the two Asian giants 
There is also a larger view of the friction between a rising China and a rising India.
From the 1970s, India has seen the manner in which Beijing has sought to limit India to South Asia by using Pakistan. Now, a much richer and militarily more powerful China is pushing into not only South Asia but also the Indian Ocean Region in an unprecedented fashion. It is not that Bhutan will become a new platform for Chinese forays into South Asia like Pakistan, but that it will neutralise an important South Asian friend of India and add to Beijing self-worth as a regional power without compare. As it is, in Nepal and Sri Lanka, India must now compete directly with China for influence.

In response, New Delhi is intensifying cooperation with the US and Japan. India’s actions are still constrained by its self image as an independent player in the international system. It, therefore, does not have a military alliance with the US and will therefore not be privileged to receive US assistance in the event of a conflict with China. In a recent article, historian John Garver suggested that Beijing may be seeing India as “the weakest link in the chain of ‘anti-China containment’ being built” in Asia.

India’s military modernisation is delayed by a decade and a half, and there is nothing to suggest that it is doing anything about it.
That China has become more assertive since 2008-2009 is well known, but Modi’s India also sets a value by adopting an assertive stance in the South Asian and Indian Ocean region. And, unlike the smaller countries of the region, India does have the capacity to deal with China on its own terms. And almost everyone is agreed that in the coming  decade, this capacity will only increase. As the more powerful party, China is the one that needs to figure out how it must deal with India because whether India becomes more powerful, or, for that matter flounders, it can still cause a lot of trouble for Beijing.
Conflict between the two Asian giants will act as a drag on their rise. It was famously said that there is enough room for both of them to grow at the same time. As of now, unfortunately, their simultaneous growth is causing dangerous friction and their unsettled border can always provide the spark for conflict.
With their dispute resolution processes not working, the two giant neighbours urgently need to devise a newer mechanism. And this must be done in a larger framework of engagement to promote what Xi Jinping says is a “win win” relationship. It does not take much imagination to predict what will happen otherwise.
The Wire August 7, 2017

Doklam standoff: Can India pin down border negotiations while China keeps shifting goalposts?

The 15-page document issued by China on August 2 on the Doklam standoff (“The Facts and China’s Position Concerning the Indian Border Troops’ Crossing of the China-India Boundary in the Sikkim Sector into the Chinese Territory”) marks another interesting turn to the ongoing crisis. Just what it means, however, is open to analysis and interpretation.
Whether it is a prelude to some new move, or merely a cover for restoring status quo ante, too, is difficult to predict. In its own way, it is as enigmatic as the Chinese move on June 16 to begin making a road from the “turning point” below Doka La towards the Royal Bhutan Army post on the Zompelri or Jampheri ridge.

As the document itself recounts, on June 18, some 270 Indian troops driving two bulldozers crossed the boundary, advanced 100 metres and blocked the Chinese activity which is in territory disputed between Bhutan and China.

What the Chinese August 2 document calls is
What the Chinese August 2 document calls is "Sketch Map of the Site of the Indian Troops’ Trespass"
The answer to the August 2 document and the Chinese move of June 16 is probably linked to Bhutan, and the India-Bhutan relations.
In the past decade, China has concluded that its border negotiations with Bhutan are not going anywhere. They have violated their solemn commitment of 1998 to maintain status quo on the border, freely encroached on Bhutanese territory and, in the Doklam area, built a road as far back as 2005. It has not mattered to China that Bhutan voluntarily excluded a big chunk of the disputed area in 2007 when it published a revised map of the kingdom. This included the 7,538m Kula Kangri peak. But, the Chinese are only interested in the western claims which include Doklam for strategic reasons.
The question at hand is not so much Bhutan itself, but a growing belief that along with economic dominance, the time has come for China to establish its regional primacy in Asia. So, on one side, it is seeking to consolidate itself along a belt extending from Korea to Malaysia, and on the other, it is reaching out in Central, South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. India, of course, is a “problem” but so is Bhutan with its “special relationship” with India. Bhutan, of course, has its own value in Chinese calculations in the context of its sensitivities relating to Tibet.
The Chinese are aware that there have always been voices in Bhutan calling for a quick settlement of the border issue to prevent further encroachment by Tibetan herders and People’s Liberation Army personnel. The Bhutanese know they lack the capacity to police their borders, especially against a country which has made border nibbling a fine art. The Chinese have made it clear that a border settlement must precede the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Bhutan and China. In addition, many Bhutanese, including those in the government want stable and predictable relations with their giant neighbor who is looming larger and larger by the day. As for India, its withdrawal of subsidies in 2013 signaled that India’s relations with Bhutan are not as trouble-free as is often assumed.

What the Chinese August 2 document calls
What the Chinese August 2 document calls "On-the-Scene Photo I Showing the Indian Troops’ Trespass"

Forcing the play

The June 16 move could have been a means of forcing the play. The Chinese would have enough knowledge of the Indian defence thinking to know that New Delhi cannot accept a Chinese presence on the Jampheri ridge, and sure enough Indian forces did intervene and the Indian statement of June 30 acknowledged that security was a factor in the decision.
Significantly, the Bhutan press note of June 29 did not say that it had requested Indian intervention. The Bhutanese are sensitive on the nature of their relationship with India which is today guided by a treaty of 2007, which does not in any way imply any alliance or automaticity on matters of security.
Nevertheless, military planners have their own logic and the Indians have not been blind to the possibility that in the event of conflict, the Chinese could walk through Bhutan and bypass the strong defences India has in Sikkim and the Siliguri Corridor. The clash of Sino-Indian strategic interests have, therefore, posed a painful dilemma for Bhutan.
The August 2 document again recounts its case that the Indian side had accepted the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 and cites letters from Nehru to Zhou in March 1959, September 1959 and an Indian note to Chinese in February 1960. In addition, it adds some new information by way of revealing that in the Special Representatives meeting in May 2006, an Indian non-paper (diplomatese for notes which are not binding) to say that “Both sides agree on the boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector”.

 his last item is in response to a revelation in India’s press release of June 30 that in 2012
 “the two Governments had…reached agreement that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalized in consultation with the concerned countries.”
Further, as the Indian press release had added:
“Where the boundary in the Sikkim sector is concerned, India and China had reached an understanding also in 2012 reconfirming their mutual agreement on the “basis of the alignment”. “
In other words, in the Sikkim area, the actual alignment was yet to be determined. In the language of border marking, the boundary had not even been delimited on mutually agreed maps, leave alone demarcated on the ground through boundary pillars. Both these decisions appear to have been taken place in the meeting of the two Special Representatives, though it is not specifically stated so.
The Chinese obliquely appear to acknowledge this when in their August 2 note they constantly refer to the fact that the boundary in the Sikkim sector had been “delimited”. Further, the notes says,
“China and India ought to sign a new boundary convention in their own names to replace the 1890 Convention.”
Dumping the Anglo-Chinese convention, as the Indians appear to have done, could be a useful move.
The Chinese have landed up in a position where they support the 1890 Convention and oppose the Anglo-Tibetan Convention of 1914 which created the McMahon Line, and second, they are left upholding the watershed principle, something that India has been arguing for in the border talks with China.
New Delhi has figured that though the move appears to reopen the issue of the Sikkim boundary, it also provides leverage in its wider negotiation with China on the border.

What the Chinese August 2 document calls
What the Chinese August 2 document calls "On-the-Scene Photo II Showing the Indian Troops’ Trespass"
The August 2 statement expresses great concern over how India’s action is also an affront to Bhutanese sovereignty. But it doesn’t say much about the fact that Bhutan was not party to the 1890 Convention and that the Chinese actions on the Bhutanese border, including the recent road construction, are a gross violation of a solemn commitment that the Chinese gave the Bhutanese in 1998 not to alter the status quo as of 1959.

Shifting goalposts

Having dealt with China on the question of deciding the border since the 1950s, the Indian side is now quite well acquainted with their tactics. Foremost among these is the shifting of goalposts at will. They have seen many white papers and documents on the border issue. What they know is that the only way to deal with China on the question of border is through facts on the ground.
The Chinese can be quite relentless here. For example the August 2 document has suddenly told us that the Mount Gipmochi, the starting point of the 1890 border line, is “currently known as Mount Ji Mu Ma Zhen”. This is perhaps a Chinese rendering of Gyemochen, or it is simply the standard Chinese tactic of assigning their own place names and then claiming historic association with them.
There were no maps attached to the 1890 Treaty. Subsequently, Gyemochen, Gipmochi figure in maps as the start point of the Sikkim border, but many do not mark the Tibet-Bhutan boundary or a trijunction.

Survey of India, 1923. Image: Manoj Joshi
Survey of India, 1923. Image: Manoj Joshi
Survey of India, 1933. Image: Manoj Joshi.
Survey of India, 1933. Image: Manoj Joshi.
Some, like a US Army map of 1955 show it at the same point as where India and Bhutan mark it, near Batang La.

US Army map of 1955. Image: Manoj Joshi
US Army map of 1955. Image: Manoj Joshi
An authoritative US data base maintained by the US Geospatial Intelligence Agency is even more intriguing. Till two weeks ago, they were showing Gyemochen/Gipmochi some 5 kms east of where past maps had shown it. Now, they have marked both points, 5 km apart as Gipmochi/Gyemochen.

Screenshot of satellite image of the disputed area. Image: Manoj Joshi
Screenshot of satellite image of the disputed area. Image: Manoj Joshi August 3, 2017