Making Sense of the China-India Impasse at Doklam

Barkha Dutta, noted Indian journalist, opined on the ongoing China-India border standoff at Doklam, trijunction area between Bhutan, China and India in the Washington Post today. In it, Dutt quotes former Indian Foreign Secretary who argues that the standoff effectively comes down to 

 ‘strategic competition for geopolitical space and influence between India and China’ 

 that as Dutt sees a battle for ‘Who will lead Asia?’


Its clear China wants to send a signal to India through the border but why is not necessarily well considered or explained by the media or commentators like Rao who are overseeing or neglecting the nitty-gritties of this conflict – Why now? Why this border? Who is responsible for these orders from Beijing? Have the Chinese been unwarrantedly hostile or does the roadbuilding follow a pattern? How is this particular provocation, as Indians see it, connected to other recent geopolitical developments? These questions need to be adequately answered. It may be too early to tell. It also perhaps could amount to something much bigger than just the border. But the standoff and the resultant commentary point to a larger problem – the inability of Indian (and some western) analysts/media representatives to seriously unpack the Chinese point of view. As a result, we are left with banal, seemingly trite, explanations that emphasise India’s continuing embrace of the United States and Chinese umbrage, India’s refusal to countenance China’s OBOR initiative, asymmetric rise of China within the region and the subterranean involvement of Pakistan and burgeoning China-Pak ties. 

Time to focus more and scrutinize the context, history and relevant factors to explain China’s recent actions at Doklam.