Is India Winning the Doklam Conflict Even Without a Military Confrontation?

The Indian media has been exclusively obsessed with statements from the Chinese state media that has embarked itself on a relentless endeavour to force India to submit to its psychological warfare. The unreasonable hype in our media shows that it will lap up anything the Chinese say without exercising any sense. However, what matters is how the political and military leadership react to this defeat-your-enemy-without-firing tactic of China. And both leaderships have stood tall amidst unceasing Chinese threats.

We won’t discuss whether or not a war will be initiated by China, although the chances of the same happening in Doklam are almost negligible. The troop build-up in the region has been overhyped. There is obviously an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, but it is nowhere close to sparking a full-blown war. If at all China does indulge in any military moves, it will be on some other front where it knows it isn’t disadvantaged strategically and tactically as it is in Sikkim.

Coming to the main issue – Is India winning this conflict? It sure seems so. First of all, there is this prevailing notion in India that the situation at Doklam is deteriorating. The two questions that most people ask regarding the standoff are – ‘Is China going to attack?’, and, ‘What chance do we stand if China does attack?’

It’s surprising why the mood is so overtly cautious and even to a great extent fearful. Maybe the way our media has reiterated the vacuous threats of the Chinese media has instilled this sense of doom within us. But the reality seems to be the opposite. New Delhi has handled the situation superbly. The crisis management displayed by the government has been exemplary as it hasn’t been belligerent in its talks yet it has stood its ground firm (for the first time probably in decades) and conveyed a strong message to China and the world that we are right in our actions, something which the Chinese never expected.

China expected a diplomatic counter by Bhutan when it decided to build a road, but not India’s military intervention (maybe China still confuses Modi for Manmohan). This military intervention turned the tables on China as it now realises it can neither use force nor retreat.

Using force is not a sensible option for China as doing so will destroy the aura that it’s trying to create of being a responsible power. It denies playing expansionist games in the South China Sea to the detriment of smaller nations, again because it wants to maintain the image of a peaceful power. Initiating a military conflict with India after attempting to crush the democratic rights of a virtually powerless Bhutan won’t fare well for its over-ambitious goals, like the OBOR.

India is no pushover militarily. The fact remains that our armed forces lack the offensive capability to make heavy inroads into China, but we are more than capable of defending every inch of our land. Hence, China runs the risk of embarrassment if India were to give it a bloody nose in a military conflict like it did in 1967. This will seriously dent China’s self-propelled status of being a superpower.

The other option that China has is to retreat, but Xi Jinping portrays himself as a muscular nationalist leader, just like Prime Minister Narendra Modi does. Neither can afford to back-off, especially not Xi as the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will be held later this year. It decides the top leadership of the party. Even though Xi is expected to continue for another term as the General Secretary of the party, in case China makes a total retreat from its current position on the Doklam standoff, it could hurt Xi’s nationalist image.

The pain that India can inflict on China economically is far greater than any military ramifications. In case of a war, India will impose economic reprisals on China that will hurt the massive trade surplus it enjoys with us of around $47 billion. It will hurt employment in China which is already suffering from significant economic slowdown. Although we must also accept the reality that India can’t replace China as a manufacturing hub overnight.

China’s latest and by far the most zealous of projects to impose its economic might on the world by pushing more nations into debt is the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. A part of OBOR is CPEC that runs through PoK and the extremely volatile Balochistan region. By angering India, China will in no way aid the future of OBOR.

India has already begun to increase both economic and military cooperation with nations like Vietnam and Japan who have a set of their own concerns with China. Talks of exporting Akash missiles and BrahMos supersonic missiles to Vietnam and training its pilots on Sukhoi jets are some moves that India has made to counter China. India may also sign a maritime security pact with Japan when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit India in September this year.

In a nutshell, China has boxed itself into a corner. Neither attacking India nor retreating are viable options for China. The only plausible solution that is visible is a mutual retreat from Doklam in the next few months which is beneficial for both nations. However, this has to be seen as an emphatic victory for India. This is the best possible scenario that India could have found itself in. India’s firm stance against China’s bullying is arguably the first significant instance of a nation pushing back China’s expansionist tactics…something which even the United States couldn’t do.

Vinayak Jain