Amid deteriorating China-India ties, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is all set to visit China even as Beijing continues to ratchet up its rhetoric against New Delhi on the Doka La standoff.
Doval, who will be travelling to Beijing to attend a BRICS meeting on 27 and 28 July, will be the fourth Indian emissary to be engaging with the Chinese since the tri-junction dispute broke out at the India-China-Bhutan border, spurred by the dispute over a road being built by China. Human resources development minister Prakash Javadekar, minister of state for tourism Mahesh Sharma and health minister JP Nadda have visited China for BRICS-related meetings earlier this month, according to Livemint. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, came face to face with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the BRICS leaders meeting.
However, none of the interactions were as closely watched as Doval's strategic visit, which analysts noted could cool off the increased hostilities.
Ma Jiali, a Chinese analyst who specialises in India-China studies, said: "China would lodge solemn representation with the Indian side during Doval's visit, hoping it could take measures to ease the tension. India may make some requests as a bargaining chip for its pulling out troops," according to Business Standard. Indian side too will keenly watch Doval's visit, as the border standoff escalates in the Northeastern state of Sikkim and the domestic politics warms up around the issue.
However, there's much more underlying importance attached to the NSA's visit than meets the eye, given the stakes involved.
China's unprecedented behaviour
This is not the first time that China and India have come eyeball to eyeball on border disputes. However, the current dispute marks a decisive departure in Chinese behaviour from earlier conflicts (except in 1962, when a full-fledged war broke out). As this Firstpost article argues, China has preferred to settle previous skirmishes through dialogue. This time, however, it has made troop withdrawal a precondition, snubbing Indian efforts to proceed towards a resolution through diplomatic back channels.
China has been insisting that the situation this time "is different" because India has apparently violated its sovereignty by trespassing into 'Chinese territory' across a boundary line that is delimited and settled, unlike the undefined boundary line that loosely represents the LAC.
"This is totally different from the undefined boundary in the east, the middle and the western part. According to the 1890 convention, the Sikkim section has been defined and both China and India have recognised this," Beijing had said.
Besides, the fast escalating rhetoric, thanks to the media on both sides baying for blood, has altered public perception on both sides in a way that political leadership will have domestic repercussions on mind, in case either decides to blink first.
High stakes involved
As Doval has pointed out himself in the past that China's military is much more stronger than India; de-escalation of situation is paramount to India's interest. Besides, the already complicated long-standing boundary dispute between the two nations will slide back to square one, in case the relations sour to such an extent. And, as this Firstpost article argues, that there will be huge military and economical repercussions in case of a war for both nations, no matter whichever side wins.
The Chinese side has not only been talking empty rhetoric, but reports suggest that Beijing has also been mobilising troops in Tibet.
In such a scenario, it becomes tantamount that Doval's visit at least lays the groundwork for a dialogue channel as the two nations negotiate their concerns and differences. Besides, Doval, who is also the Special Representative for the India-China border talks, is in the right place to soothe frayed ties.
"Doval’s visit is a major opportunity for the two sides to scale down the temperature on the border. He is best placed to achieve the outcome that would satisfy both sides," the Livemint article quoted Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at the London-based King’s College, as saying.
Doval's hardliner stand on China raises concern
The NSA's views on China come across with some clarity in what has popularly come to be known as the Doval doctrine, (a compilation of his rare public interactions)
The NSA has, on previous occasions, shown a preference for military solutions over ceding ground in compromises. When India's traditional policy in handling border disputes with its neighbours has propagated a defensive approach, it was Doval who pitched the concept of defensive-offensive and offensive foreign policy.
"I would like to develop our relations to such an extent till the time our territorial and integral sovereignty ... we would not able to compromise on it," Doval said.
While Doval's visit to China is being welcomed in China, the NSA's hardline stance on China may come to haunt him during the talks.
The NSA has been especially vary of the 'bottomless territorial hunger.' His views and his reservations about China both gain importance in these times, as the NSA's visit to Beijing could be a make-or-break situation on the ongoing border stalemate.
It will be interesting to see whether Doval sticks to his hardliner approach towards Beijing at a time when China too shows no inclination to compromise. However, if the NSA fails to make significant progress, the consequences may have massive implications for India's geo-political security and the fragile relations with China. As Ma, the Chinese expert also pointed out that if the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the issue, the China-India ties would be severely damaged.
Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 16:34 PM