The two-month long military standoff between China and India over the disputed area of Doklam, a piece of no-man’s land of around 100 square kilometers in the southern tip of Tibet, finally ended in peaceful resolution this week.
The foreign ministry of China confirmed on Monday that India had pulled all its troops and equipment back from the Doklam Plateau into its territory. In the meantime, China’s defense ministry also stressed that despite the withdrawal of the Indian troops, the People’s Liberation Army would remain on high alert along the disputed area.
It is widely believed that the reason both Beijing and New Delhi were willing to set aside their border dispute for the time being is that neither side wanted to spoil the friendly atmosphere at the upcoming BRICS summit scheduled for Sept. 3 in Xiamen.
According to media reports in India, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has made a massive and concerted effort in mediating the crisis over the past two months, and his hard work has apparently paid off.
Yet, we believe even without Moscow’s mediation that both sides had every reason to ease the border tensions in Doklam at least for now. As far as Beijing is concerned, the last thing it wanted is probably India’s boycott of the BRICS summit, which is one of the most, if not the most, eagerly awaited international events in China this year.
Likewise, for New Delhi, it is not worth it to ruin the business opportunities presented by the BRICS summit for the sake of tiny Doklam Plateau, despite the fact that the area is of high strategic value.
The crisis stemmed from China’s plan to build a railway across the Doklam area, which is currently controlled by Bhutan. And since the tiny Himalayan kingdom has remained India’s vassal state for decades, its territorial dispute with China automatically led to the intervention of the Indian government.
Even though both China and India have so far remained equivocal over how that railway project is going to end up, it is believed that the two countries could have reached some sort of an agreement under which China would shelve the plan at least until after the BRICS summit.
However, the easing of tensions over Doklam doesn’t necessarily mean relations between China and India are improving.
As the two countries are both aggressively seeking great power status on the global stage, they are likely to come into increasingly frequent and intense geopolitical conflict.
Besides, let’s not forget that apart from Doklam, China and India still have another 120,000 square kilometers of disputed territory waiting to be dealt with.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 30
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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