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Kanwal Sibal

Kanwal Sibal is former foreign secretary of India and former envoy to the US and Russia

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In Asia, Only India Can Resist China

Xi Jinping’s dream for China requires a major redistribution of global power, and this will be resisted... by the US, Europe and India

Photo Credit : PTI


The Doklam stand-off has ended but China’s strategic challenge to us has not. Whatever gloss the Chinese side puts on the Doklam withdrawals, in reality it has suffered a major reverse.

The stand-off need not have taken the proportions it has if China, with its growing hubris, had not raised the stakes by claiming the Doklam plateau as indisputably its sovereign territory, summoning India to withdraw unconditionally and unleashing a barrage of threats in most unbecoming diplomatic language.

After all, China had staged the Depsang and Chumar incidents that brought the armed units of the two sides face to face, but these were resolved through established border management mechanisms without the drama that China injected into the Doklam affair.

China miscalculated the potency of its own intimidatory tactics and India’s resistance, misled by its experience in the East and South China Seas where others, including the US, failed to counter its moves physically on the ground as India has done.

China’s Doklam retreat dents its image as a great power that can define its interests unilaterally, act arbitrarily and economically punish those who resist. It would be concerned about other countries following India’s lead and checkmating China’s hegemonic ambitions to the degree they can. Actually, contrary to the Chinese Foreign Minister’s latest statement that India should draw the right lessons from Doklam, it is China that should.

It should halt its periodic provocations on the border and cease making egregious claims on Indian territory. This will not happen though, as that would mean casting a loss at the local level into a strategic defeat. Actually, China’s self-seeking ambitions are bound to create a clash with others.

Xi Jinping’s dream for China requires a major redistribution of global power, and this will be resisted not only by the US, Europe and India, but also potentially Russia, as China already has a presence in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America that greatly surpasses that of  Russia, and Chinese ambitions in Eurasia represented by the Belt and Road Initiative will further undermine Russia’s influence in its own immediate neighbourhood.

China is aware that in Asia the only power that can counter its hegemony is India, and therefore, India will remain the target of its power politics in the region. Its long-standing policy of using Pakistan to counter India will continue.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is actually intended in part to prop up a failing Pakistan so that it can pursue its endemic hostility towards India. China will continue to oppose our membership of the NSG and will protect Pakistan on the terrorism issue.

It will step up its support to anti-Indian lobbies in our neighbouring countries, including efforts to stoke sentiments in Bhutan against India on the sensitive issue of its sovereignty. Its unveiled maritime strategy involves a massive naval expansion to protect its sea lanes of communication.

This will mean increased Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean area. This, in turn, requires a major buildup of our own naval strength for maintaining our strategic advantage on sea in the face of Chinese threats across the land frontiers in the north.

In short, China will continue to see India as a rival and will hurt our interests where it can.

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magazine 16 September 2017 Doklam china india xi jinping