29 July 2017

Why India’s response to Dokalam standoff is muted

New Delhi: Compared to the barrage of angry statements emanating from China over the Dokalam military standoff with India, the Indian government seems calm and measured—it has offered few comments on its own and almost none in response to the daily comment from the Chinese side.

New Delhi’s response to the Dokalam stand off—at the trijunction of India, China and Bhutan—so far has included moving some additional troops to the border, a statement by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and some low-key remarks by her ministry.

Analysts say the Chinese government is under pressure because President Xi Jinping would like to appear in command at the upcoming 19th People’s Congress in October/November this year. India, on the other hand, has no such compulsions, with the opposition united behind the government.

Earlier this week, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi urged India to “conscientiously withdraw” -- making him the highest ranking politician to comment on the dispute.

“This is psychological warfare by the Chinese,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

“India’s response has been measured,” he said pointing to India moving some troops to bolster security at Dokalam, foreign minister Swaraj’s statement to parliament where she called on India and China to pull back troops and Indian foreign ministry comments saying that New Delhi was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” to end the impasse.

“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 19th Party Congress—where five of the seven members of the powerful Politbureau Standing Committee (PSC) will be newly appointed—to be held in October/November has complicated matters,” Kondapalli said. “President Xi Jinping would not like to be seen as giving in to India as it will weaken his hand before the Party Congress,” he said. This will mean factions supported by former presidents including Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin getting an edge in getting their nominees appointed to the PSC, he said. “This would be something he would want to avoid,” Kondapalli said.

In the case of India, there were no such domestic compulsions, he said. “There are no state elections due and the opposition seems united behind the Narendra Modi government on this,” Kondapalli said.

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