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Doklam, for the home theatre?

Xi was responding to calls for nationalism. With a crucial party congress ahead, Xi needed to show that the army was subservient to the party and the party to him.

Doklam, for the home theatre?

A full month has passed since the sudden end to the 76-day-long standoff between China and India at the Doklam plateau, a junction where three borders, that of India, Bhutan and China, meet. There still is no rational explanation on why China thought it prudent to bring down the heat. 

The fact that the crisis was engineered even as China was preparing for a prestigious summit of the BRICS members only added to the mystery. After all, the summit was to cap the well-attended international conference on China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative held in May. India kept off that high profile OBOR summit, despite hints from Beijing that it dare not boycott.  But the Doklam impasse effectively overshadowed whatever was achieved at the OBOR summit and whatever little was claimed for the BRICS summit. 

The convergence of the five major developing economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa,  conceived to contend with the rival union of the eight advanced economies of the West plus Japan,  never 

promised much and achieved even less. The summit was saved from total collapse by Prime Minister Modi’s decision to attend. For India, this presented an opportunity to come face to face with China. Beijing grabbed the signal.   

 

Between the bang and the whimper...

The Doklam crisis erupted on 18 June when Indian soldiers moved into stop China from building a road deep inside the Bhutanese land, close to the Indian border at Doka La. The heat kept simmering as China spewed out undesired statements even as the world watched. On 28 August, the two sides disengaged their troops: India announced “an expeditious disengagement of border personnel on both sides” while Beijing claimed, “the Indian side withdrew all its border personnel and equipment that were illegally placed on Chinese territory.” China also withdrew its construction equipment and material.  ‘A pullout just in time.’ a headline read. A last-minute act? Or, the last act of a choreographed display of military might? Hysterical reactions by the Chinese media during the intervening days seem to point out to the latter. You would have been excused if you thought that for a brief while, the Chinese media had liberated itself out of state control and was breathing free. For more than 70 days, the Chinese government via the press  issued threats on a daily basis, demanding that India end its ‘trespass’ while recalling the ‘unlearnt’ lessons of the 1962 war.  The visual media in India reacted in like fashion.  The BJP’s unofficial arms, led by the RSS, raised the war cry and ran a campaign to boycott Chinese goods and trade. The government, on the other hand, reacted with calculated reassurance while announcing the deployment of more personnel along the border. Apparently, diplomatic initiatives behind the scenes were on and were moving in the right direction. The outside world viewed the confrontation between the Asian giants with increasing concern. Finally, the announcement about the ‘expeditious disengagement’ arrived which paved the way for the Xiamen summit of BRICS members in a few days. A continuing impasse over Doklam would have cast a long shadow on the proceedings. Besides, China had a lot at stake that depended heavily on the success of the annual event.   

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