TOKYO: By providing support to India’s position during the Doklam standoff that lasted nearly 73 days, major regional players have rebuked China and its revisionist policies. Beijing’s campaign that its “sovereignty” extends right till Doklam, was being watched by the entire world and its desperate attempt to launch a misleading campaign from what actually led to the incident at Doklam stands exposed, globally.
There remains little doubt that China made a full throttle attempt at bullying, muscle flexing and launching a deceptive and acidic media campaign against India during the standoff. However, the official statement released by Bhutan on 29 June left no room for any false interpretation or misrepresentation of the incident and clearly identified China as the aggressor. The Bhutanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “On 16th June 2017, the Chinese Army started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army camp at Zompelri… Bhutan has conveyed to the Chinese side, both on the ground and through the diplomatic channel that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the agreements… Bhutan hopes that the status quo in the Doklam area will be maintained as before 16 June 2017.”
Japan came out as the first prominent regional power to express support for India’s principled stand on Doklam. The Japanese envoy to Delhi backed India’s position during an interview to an Indian daily on 17 August and stated that no country should use force to change the status of Doklam. However, on being questioned whether he saw the Doklam standoff as part of the larger issue of China’s growing assertion about sovereignty issues, Kenji Hiramatsu stated, “It is not easy to make such assumptions and some instances could be seen as they are.” Making a comment nearly two months since the standoff began, the Japanese envoy’s statement appears rather diplomatically laced and ambiguous on the sovereignty question, even though it is all too well known that Japan remains critically entangled with China over sovereignty issues specifically in the East China Sea.
The Japanese and Indian Prime Ministers, Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi, have repeatedly committed to respect principles of international law and urged for resolution of disputes through peaceful means, without resorting to threat or use of force and avoid unilateral actions that raise tensions. With Prime Minister Abe’s visit to India commencing shortly, a clearer and lucid articulation by Hiramatsu on Tokyo’s position on larger sovereignty issues would have been more welcome and served Japan’s position better. For that matter, in comparison, a senior Donald Trump administration official was far more forthright in highlighting concerns about “sovereignty issues and adherence to international law” while speaking to PTI. The statement came just a day prior to the resolution of the standoff on 28 August, with the agreement to pull out troops mutually and defuse the Doklam crisis. The official stated, “We support a return to the status quo… We’re concerned about Bhutanese sovereignty issues… We’re concerned in general terms about sovereignty issues and adherence to international law…” Quite evidently, the American position on sovereignty issues, both in specific reference to Doklam and in general, appears far more coherent and direct, in comparison to the Japanese envoy’s comment.
Perhaps the biggest dent to China’s failed attempts at building a global diplomatic front against India during the peak of the crisis in Doklam came from Russia that distinctly took to the position of neutrality, despite its known proximity to Beijing. Declining to get persuaded by Beijing’s efforts to defame India, and signalling objectivity, Moscow’s envoy in Beijing, Andrey Denisov expressed regret over the situation in the India-China border, further stating that Russia was using its goodwill to both countries.
Forced to withdraw, Beijing, today finds itself embarrassed and defeated in its attempted Doklam encroachment. It has failed to go into the upcoming 2017 Party Congress as a “victorious nation” that managed to alter and create a fresh status quo situation, this time in the Himalayan borderlands, in the name of sovereignty. China’s objective to redraw frontiers and failure to adhere to the existential status quo by re-interpreting and distorting history is becoming only too apparent, and repetitive, thereby underlining its growing revisionism.
With global denunciation of his attempted alteration of the existential status quo in the Himalayas, Xi Jinping will have a lot to reflect upon, post-Doklam. China has to understand that the concept of a broader Asia that is fast transcending geographical boundaries and lines makes adherence to international norms, laws, and agreements even more pronounced. Proving to emerge a revisionist state that seeks to operate outside the boundaries of international rule, Beijing needs to be challenged at every given step, constantly.
Dr Monika Chansoria is a Tokyo-based Senior Visiting Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA).