Top experts in the US have welcomed the disengagement of troops by both India and China at Doklam, but warned that the problem is not out of the woods yet as the status quo of the last three decades has been “disturbed irrevocably”. India and China yesterday agreed to “expeditious disengagement” of border personnel at the face-off site in Doklam following diplomatic communications. “The announcement by the Ministry of External Affairs about the ongoing expeditious disengagement in the Doklam area of Bhutan by both Indian and Chinese troops is to be welcomed. This marks an immediate defusing of the crisis that has complicated India-China relations since June,” said Nirupama Rao, the former foreign secretary who served as India’s top diplomat to the US and China.
Rao, currently a Public Policy Fellow at the prestigious Wilson Center, said that there are still unresolved questions between the two sides which should not be ignored. “The last two months have demonstrated that there are serious fault lines in a relationship that is clearly seismic,” she said. Troops of the two countries had been locked in a standoff in Doklam since June 16 after Indian troops stopped the Chinese Army from building a road in the disputed area.
“We need a well-deliberated, microscopic review of all that transpired during this recent crisis. A new, very complex chapter has opened in the India-China relationship. The region is involved too. This is a winding road. Self-congratulation on either side is best avoided. The status quo of the last three decades has been disturbed irrevocably,” Rao said. Tanvi Madan, from the Brookings Institute, said the most important fact is that the situation has de-escalated and has been resolved diplomatically.
“Despite China saying that Indian withdrawal was a pre- condition for dialogue, Beijing and Delhi have been engaging in discussions to get to this point. The resulting statements from both sides give some details, but are deliberately ambiguous enough that a lot is left to interpretation, and both sides can emphasise different aspects,” Madan said. Michael Kugelman, from the Woodrow Wilson International Center, said this resolution came a bit earlier than expected, but it was completely inevitable.
“Neither side could afford a conflict, no matter how small. China and India have a fairly robust economic partnership that plays out bilaterally as well as multilaterally. Neither side had an interest in having such cooperation squandered,” he said. “All this said, we’re not out of the woods just yet. Tensions are still sharp and the next provocation likely isn’t far off. Pakistan’s ever deepening partnership with China and the growing progress of the Belt and Road initiative are cause for concern for Delhi. Geopolitical dynamics raise the prospects of additional border standoffs,” Kugelman said.
Sourabh Gupta, from the Washington Dc-based Institute for China-America Studies, said the statements issued by both India and China suggests that both sides have decided to concertedly take remedial actions individually. Noting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit from September 3-5 in Xiamen, Gupta said it would have been very damaging if the standoff had continued while Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi were at the same venue.