In this post, we will further explore the strategic implications of the ongoing standoff and look at the broader perspective. We covered initial ground in the part 1 of this post which you can read via the link.
It’s all about CPEC (OBOR)
Analysts have been speculating about the reason and timing of the Doklam standoff for more than two months now. Several scenario outlines pointed out in my last post have become reality, for example the statement from Chinese military that they don’t foresee a military engagement specially the short border war that the Chinese media had been hyping up. Is that the acceptance of defeat we have been looking for? Not quite. Doklam for both China and India is not as important as the CPEC and both countries are at poles end on the subject. China understands how critical it is for them to bypass the Indian Ocean in Indian control to keep their economic growth in the right trajectory. At the same time, for India it is violation of the disputed territory of Kashmir which India claims in entirety. China has been “Salami Slicing” it’s way into Kashmir and anyone with enough interest can check border regions with China on Google maps in Satellite view and clearly see how China is encroaching upon Indian territory year by year. Go zoom in on Demchok and you will see their roads being built well inside undisputed Indian territory. Why are the Chinese doing this? It’s all about CPEC. China understands that to continue its dominant economic rise it needs to export more and export faster and of course, cheaper is always better. CPEC forms a large part of that equation. It reduces it’s bottleneck on South China Sea and Indian Ocean’s straits of Malacca. Looking at the other way round, oil imports of China go predominantly through the straits of Malacca, a spot the Indian Navy dominates due to its strategic positioning in the Andamans.
Why does CPEC terrify India?
Not in 5 years, not in 10 years however in 20 years CPEC can eventually become the lasso on India’s neck. Anytime India does something against Chinese whims and fancies, the lasso can be tightened and India can be brought to it’s knees. China’s biggest pain point in its North Western theatre is supply lines and local support. CPEC changes that by making the region economically active and more and more establishments sprouting up to support the supply lines. The local population which is largely anti-China then starts tilting more towards Beijing due to the economics of scale. If ever China decides to help and support Pakistan, India would stand lesser chances to last than it does today.
What can India do today?
India has already done something today to at least begin addressing the issue. Firstly, it has called China’s frenemy bluff. China has spewed venom all over India via its state controlled media exposing the dragons true intent all along. China has always considered India a rival and always considered Pakistan a puny pawn in the game. Its philosophy has throughout been that of keeping India at bay letting it tackle Pakistan while it itself gets to silently upgrade infrastructure and boost trade. If India has to rise, it has to take the dragon head on, and the Doklam standoff is towards that eventual goal.
How will things turn out from here on?
China will remember Doklam. It will certainly loose the Doklam battle but it won’t forget it that easy. Depending on Xi’s fate, China will either respond militarily in another sector where it has the military advantage or it will make mends to show the world, and slowly light up the “insurgency fire” in the north eastern states. It would get its little pawn in the game called Pakistan to play terrorism in the Kashmir valley.
What if there is a Short-war?
Both sides will be affected even if it’s a short war. China’s economy maybe the second largest but it is in tatters. The GDP to Debt ratio is unrealistically piling up on them and the gamble can totally backfire. If China had to do a short war, it would have done it by now. It knows the risk. Very less is known about the real state of Chinese economy but it is by no means doing good. Figures known to the public tell a grim story. Is it a balloon set to explode? Possibly. But so is India’s. India isn’t doing all that well itself, but clearly in a far superior position than that of China. Militarily China will loose and there is a simple explanation to this. India is positioned strategically, and has supply lines closer to mainland. China on the other hand will have to fetch supplies from exorbitant distances, rendering it easier for India to break its supply lines. In fact Doklam standoff is just to ensure India’s supply lines are never lost control of.
Even more, India may want to use a Chinese first shot aggression as an excuse to render CPEC unstable and useless. How? Siachen. We do control the highest battle grounds in the region and could use that to our advantage giving the Chinese a tough time with CPEC. If India can stay afoot on it’s recent statement about re-acquiring PoK, and put the plans in action, it would be a disaster for China. It would loose straits of Malacca as well as CPEC leading to an eventual crash of the Chinese economy. It would be far more dangerous for China to attack India than merely using it as rhetoric.
While India may rest assured of victorious outcome in a short war, it does need to worry about China’s increasing military supplies to insurgents and the Maoists. A proxy war is what India is really bad at fighting. We will have to invent and invest into our own bag of proxy wars against China specially with Tibet and Xinjuang. We will then have to brace for the long haul and patiently wait for India to fight it out. Highly unlikely if the Modi government succumbs to defeat in the 2019 elections, though.