Foreign affairs experts on China who have either dealt directly with the relationship or are prominent academics mostly agree that the Chinese action is aimed at changing the status quo at the Sikkim tri-junction, a point the Indian officials have indicated. But there is also a consensus on the need to handle the situation tactfully, since it involves Bhutan, India’s closest ally.
Nirupama Rao, a former Foreign Secretary, feels that there has not been any serious attempt to defuse the tension. She feels that China has also shown little understanding of the situation. Their handling of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor issue is one example and the other is their stand on the UN listing of Masood Azhar, the Pakistani terrorist. These are issues that affect us in a very real way and good relations can only be maintained on the basis of mutual sensitivity.She feels that the Doklam dispute is not unfamiliar. The road construction by the Chinese is a deliberate attempt to trigger a response from India as well as Bhutan. China, she feels, wants to impose its own definition of what the border is and this, she feels, can have haves serious security ramifications for the country.
Rao said her impression is that the present stand-off has more to do with the Doklam plateau and with Chinese moves to alter the tri-junction point. These sorts of tensions had to be managed and defused carefully or otherwise they tend to spread to other disputed pockets of the border. That certainly will not be beneficial for the overall bilateral relationship.
According to her, the local People’s Liberation Army commanders work according to the template handed down by their superiors in terms of definition of what areas are disputed. In Doklam, it is difficult to believe that they are behaving on their own initiative. She feels that there is a structure and pattern to the Chinese military activity, especially when it comes to these sensitive pockets. The commands are handed down. About the new Chinese assertiveness, she feels, such muscular behaviour on the border issues derives its strength from its newly acquired economic and military super-power status. They have also kept in mind the past humiliations that China had suffered for centuries. This is what is triggering this new muscle flexing.After consolidation its position in Tibet, the Chinese approach to the border has only become more emboldened. Rao said that china would take a more realistic and mature approach once its active phase of nation-building is completed and it settles down.
Dr, Ashok Kanta , Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, believes that China has certain territorial claims to Bhutan. And there has been creeping encroachments since 1988, but there has been no PLA presence or Chinese graziers in Doklam. He says that there are two issues which cause direct concern to India; the Chinese are unilaterally changing the tri-junction point, which is a violation of the understanding we have reached with them in 2012. The construction of the road will involve a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India. He pointed out to the tone and contents of the MEA statement that are ‘very measured and balanced.’ This takes into account Bhutan’s sensitivities as a small country which does not want to take on its giant neighbour. The Government of India is seeking an amicable resolution despite the strong statements emanating from the Chinese Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence and China’s decision to expand differences by suspending the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra through Nathu La.
China is well aware of how the issue of the ancient yatra resonates at the popular level.