Doklam and Nepal

Published On: September 10, 2017 01:00 AM NPT By: Hari Bansh Jha

It is not advisable for Nepal to remain neutral when there is a war-like situation in our neighborhood.

Both India and China need to be congratulated for the way their troops on August 28 withdrew, simultaneously, from the 16,000-feet high Doklam area that Bhutan claims as its territory. This not only helped de-escalate the tension in the region but also removed the possibility of a big war between the two countries. With this development, the road construction work by China in Doklam area has stopped and the status quo ante has been restored at the Line of Actual Control, as the troops of the two countries have returned to the pre-June 16 positions.  

The withdrawal of troops from the Doklam areas is, in fact, a win-win for India and China, as leaderships in both the countries were able to play it as a ‘victory’ among their domestic constituencies. Besides, people in Nepal, which, just like Bhutan is sandwiched between India and China, also heaved a sigh of relief. A war in Doklam area could have forced this country to take the side of one of the neighbors.

Nevertheless, the Doklam crisis proved a blessing in disguise for India as it compelled China to return to compromise on the issue. During the 72-day standoff between the Indian and Chinese troops, China had adopted a hawkish stand and repeatedly threatened military action against India. 

India, on the other hand, maintained patience and emphasized diplomatic solutions. This was also why India was able to get much sympathy from the international community, particularly from the West and smaller countries in China’s neighborhood such as Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia and above all Bhutan.

Questionable neutrality 

Nepal, however, maintained neutrality on Doklam affairs, in the same way as it had maintained neutral posture during Sino-Indian War of 1962. In certain corners, Nepal’s neutral stand on these occasions was considered surprising considering that Nepal had signed a ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ with India, which for all practical purposes is a security pact with the southern neighbor.   

In a major development, India’s image in the international community was greatly enhanced for the way it boldly faced China in Doklam. No sooner had the Indian and the Chinese troops withdrawn, China then wanted India to resist from raising the issues of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and terrorism in the BRICS conference that began on September 4. 

Nevertheless, the five BRICS countries, in their Xiamen Declaration, criticized one South Asian country for terror attacks and also for the violence caused by terror outfits in its territory. This unusual development during the BRICS Summit is a big win for India.

Commenting on this development, Hu Shisheng, Director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, believes China-Pakistan relations could face the biggest test since the 1960s. But Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir has said that there was no terrorist organization enjoying a safe haven in the country.

The Doklam standoff also provided a major opportunity for India to revamp its defence establishments in the period the crisis was brewing. India not only purchased most-sophisticated war weapons but also modernized its defense productions, inside the country, to meet any eventuality in case of a war with China.

Massed against China 

Above everything else, the Doklam standoff showed that only some in the Chinese government were against India. On the other hand, in India, it was more the common masses that reacted strongly against China. Consequently, many people in India boycotted Chinese goods and wanted to curb India’s huge imports from China. Presently, India has a huge US $52 billion trade deficit with China.

For quite some time a voice is being raised in Sri Lanka against Chinese investment in Hambantota port constructed under the OBOR initiative. In this regard, Ravi Karunanayake, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, has remarked that the port “does not bring any economic returns”.

Separately, Chinese officials in Beijing seem skeptical about Nepal’s intention to implement the OBOR despite the fact that China’s investment in Nepal has far exceeded Indian investment. Jiang Yuechun, a senior fellow at China Institute of International Studies, a think tank of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, clearly stated that Nepal was not keen on OBOR. China’s interest to extend its railway network from Kerung-Rasuwagadi border point at Nepal-China border to Kathmandu and further to Pokhara and Lumbini closer to Nepal-India border might also be affected due to this development.
It appears that China made a mistake of provoking India in Doklam. But what is important is that there is growing realization between the two countries that their relations should improve, which is, in fact, a forward-looking vision. Nepal needs to appreciate this development, as peace in its surrounding is important for its own growth. 

In the end, it is not advisable for Nepal to remain passive and neutral when there is a war-like situation in our neighborhood, as recently happened during the Doklam standoff. Instead, in the future, Nepal must be pro-active and use its diplomatic skills to ensure that there is no war between its neighbors or anywhere in the region.

The author is a visiting fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

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