The standoff between China and India at Doklam has ended peacefully, following article circulated in the Chinese social media provides some valuable insights to how this matter being revolved.
In early August, six Chinese authoritative bodies including Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and People Liberation Army Daily gave very hawkish statements demanding withdraw of Indian forces from Doklam unconditionally. In these statements the Chinese used the same language “Do not say that you were not given warning” that had been used just before the brutal conflict in 1962.
The statements show a high level of inclination of the Chinese government to end the matter militarily. However as no ultimatum that specifies the date of withdraw of the Indian forces has been issued, the Chinese side still shows flexibility on if and when to start military actions.
The majority of commentators agree that China will be the winner if the war breaks out as the Chinese economy is five times larger than the Indian economy and China’s defence budget is 4 times of that of India’s.
Nevertheless there are views that China would suffer adversary consequences of the war in terms of its reputation and its “belt and road” initiative. Singaporean “The Straights Times” commented that the war between China and India would end Asia’s prosperity.
To a great extent, India is betting on China would not fight a war with India for fear of the political and economic costs. However this thinking, despite of being true in some degree, is only part of the story.
China has 14 neighbouring countries with borders over 22 thousands kilometres. China has territory disputes with several countries in East China Sea and Southeast China Sea. In the face of the challenge imposed by India, China has to be strong as put off the challenge not only will embolden India but also other countries.
To settle territory disputes through war is common in the rise of major powers. For instance, by wining the Mexican-American War in 1846-1848, the US not only had acquired California, Nevada, Utah and other places but more importantly stabilised its southern borders. The victory in the Spanish-American war allowed the US to control Puerto Rico, Guam and vast area in Caribbean and Pacific. From this point of view, China needs a decisive win to reinforce its international statue.
However the world today differs vastly from the 19 century. The contemporary international law defines all the war illegal except for those of self defence or military actions taken under the UN authorisation. What is advantageous to China is that it is India that entered the Chinese territory which justifies China’s military actions.
The military actions should focus at dealing with the Indian forces that crossed the border. Casualties to the Chinese troops and Indian civilians should be kept low. Otherwise the Chinese government would suffer under the domestic pressure and China would be condemned and sanctioned by the world.
Is it possible for China to win the war in such preconditions?
In accordance with the media, Indian military has more troops over their Chinese counterparts in Doklam. However this should not be interpreted that China’s PLA has no chance of winning.
The weapons and equipment used by Indian military are mainly imported from Russia, the US, Israel and other countries, which indicates that the Indian military still belongs to the era of industrialisation. The Indian military is believed to have a limited capability in digitalised combat management due to the complexity of aggregating, analysing and coordinating all the data and information with weapons supplied by so many countries.
China is different. The Chinese military reform has started since “desert storm” in 1991. Having witnessed the great advantage of the US military, the Chinese leadership has embarked on a journey of building a digitalised military power capable of winning a high-tech regional war.
The 16-year reform has totally changed PLA’s weaponry, combat doctrine, formation and chain of command. Almost all the weapons used by PLA are domestically produced and digitalised.
If the Chinese satellites have provided clear and comprehensive pictures of the deployment of the Indian military forces; if the Chinese BeiDou Navigation Satellite system is capable of providing an accurate positioning services to its military equipments and guided missiles; if the Chinese military is able to disable the communication between Indian forces then it is possible for China to conduct surgical attacks on Indian forces that would shock the world.
The summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will be hold in the Chinese city of Xiamen in early September. Prime Minister Modi of India and President Xi Jinping of China are suppose to meet. This is the last and best chance to solve the crisis.
Even the Chinese expectation on the meeting is not positive; it will not be a wise choice for China to sabotage the summit by starting a military action before it is hold.
The standoff in Doklam is not a big deal by itself; but flame of nationalism at both sides ignited by the media, makes this issue a truly deadlock. Currently the arguments of territory integrity and national interests are not the key to the solution to this crisis but management of the domestic nationalism pressure which prevents meaningful “concession” from both sides being reached.
Prime Minister Modi in his speech in India’s 70th anniversary of independence declared that India is strong enough to defend its borders against any threat. But on the other hand, he and his government repeatedly expressed the will of settle this crisis through negotiation. India is not a single nation country, the divisions among the states has been problematic. Neither India nor the Modi government can withstand the consequences of a badly defeat.
The US might help India. But such help is likely come after the war rather than before. By the time India would have already suffered from a defeat.
Himalaya snow will block the access to the mountainous Doklam region by Oct. Many commentators say that this crisis will end due to weather conditions as troops from both side are unable to withstand the uninhabitable conditions.
But this outcome will be a success to India but a humiliation to Beijing. In the time that nationalism is on the rise in China, President Xi Jinping will be judged too soft as Indian forces could stay in the Chinese territory for three months intact. President Xi is unlikely to accept this outcome as it would cost his legitimacy as a strong leader.