The ongoing tussle between India and China at the Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction has all the potential to turn for the worse, something even the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has acknowledged. On Friday, June 30, India told China that the latter's building a road in the disputed Doklam area would have serious security implications for it.
What makes it worse is that the crucial Chicken's Neck zone which joins India with its north-east is not far very far from the place where Indian and Chinese troops have come face to face and the top of it, the raging fire in Darjeeling over the Gorkhaland agitation has made things even more critical. If all the fires join one another, disaster will not be far.
The Chinese have said that Doklam or Dongland is a part of Chine and the latter's construction there is legitimate. It warned India saying if the latter wanted to raise it, its position should be that Doklam belongs to neither India nor Bhutan. They accused the Indian troops of crossing the boundary in Sikkim into the Chinese side, saying indirectly that India should respect Bhutan's sovereignty. The face-off also had an effect on the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage through the Nathu La Pass also got cancelled in the wake of the row.
India-China friction will intensify in current times
Friction between India and China is expected to increase more nowadays owing to a number of factors. For one, New Delhi has come closer to Washington, much to the dismay of Beijing. Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's latest visit to the US, China's Global Times came up with an article saying the US was pursuing an unrealistic goal of turning India into a "pawn".
Secondly, India refused to join China's One Belt One Road Initiative summit held in May for it feels the Chinese plan poses a threat to India's sovereignty. The OBOR is a major foreign policy concern for New Delhi for it can put it in a serious strategic disadvantage.
Thirdly, China has continued to back Pakistan to ruin India's dream to make it big on the international stage. Be it blocking India's bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group or to thwart its effort to internationally designate Masood Azhar as a terrorist, Beijing has done all it can to prevent India's progress at various levels.
Amid these frictions, one should not really feel surprised by China's current move to escalate the border problem. Beijing has warned India and US against adventuring in the South China Sea besides criticising the Indian Army chief's assertion that India is ready for war on two-and-half fronts.
Bhutan, a reliable ally of India, is also part to the current problem
But China should remember that this current problem at the Sikkim border also has Bhutan as a party to it. Thimpu has issued a demarche to the Chinese envoy, asking Beijing to restore the status quo in Doklam area after some Chinese soldiers tried to unilaterally construct a road towards their camp in Zomplri area of Doklam, Bhutanese Ambassador to India Vetsop Namgyel said. Bhutan gave the demarche to the Chinese through their embassy in New Delhi since the country does not have diplomatic relations with them.
The alignment of India's diplomatic interests with Bhutan will only make New Delhi's position stronger vis-a-vis China at a time when it needs more friends in the international community to tackle Beijing's threat. The time-tested friendship between India and Bhutan should also remind the Chinese that even they do not forget to align their interests with North Korea when the latter finds a threat from the US and its allies in Far East.
China's relation with North Korea is certainly not as friendly as that between India and Bhutan but yet from the strategic perspective, there are similarities between the ways the two join the fray when their smaller allies face a challenge.
Both India and Bhutan need to bring attention of the international community to the ongoing problem at the borders to put a check a Beijing. Also, as every crisis is an opportunity, PM Modi needs to use up this opening to reach out to the Chinese leadership and thrive for a mechanism which would work towards mitigating the border tussles between the two neighbours.