Doklam Standoff – India China Border

Doklam StandoffDoklam Standoff near Bhutan between India and China is becoming a major concern, near the Chumbi Valley at the corner of India-China-Bhutan tri-junction. This month long border Doklam Standoff has become the longest ever between the two nations. This is also the first time when Indian troops have confronted the People’s Liberation Army of China on the soil of a third country i.e. Bhutan. There are two reasons for this standoff – India has a long standing commitment to Bhutan’s defence and serves as a virtual security guarantor to Bhutan through the 2007 friendship treaty. Secondly, the Doklam sector is critical to India as it brings China even closer to the Indian border in a vulnerable location towards the 27-kilometres long Siliguri Corridor or “Chicken’s neck” that connects the Northeastern states of India with the rest of India. China has repeatedly disputed Bhutan’s claims over Doklam. Beijing considers this plateau as vital to fortify the dagger-shaped Chumbi valley by piercing the tri-junction.

Doklam Standoff | History

Intrusions in Sikkim area may be new but there is a general pattern of such incursions are traced back to 2008 Beijing Olympics. In Ladakh and other places, the Chinese troops have been repeatedly working towards ingression in such areas. In 2009, the Chinese refused to give visas on Indian passports for several months for citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, including the Commander-in-Chief of the then Northern Command.Three factors started emerging in 2008 which are converging now in 2017 – the first being Pakistan’s renewed animosity against India which was earlier demonstrated during the Mumbai attacks, the second was the street rage which was demonstrated within the Kashmir valley, and the last being China’s attempts to stymie India’s growth trajectory while it still can do it in the long term.

Actually, the border dispute in the region dates back to the 19th century when the states in the region were expanding in the areas which were loose in nature – North East Frontier Agency, North West Frontier Agency by the British Empire, and the Qing dynasty under the warlordswas expanding the Empire in Tibet and Sichuan. The 1890 treaty was signed between the British Empire and the Qing dynasty in China, 1914 Shimla Agreement between the British Empire, the Tibetans and the nationalist China are the two agreements being cited by China to stake legal claims over the region. The treaty of 1890 was signed but the delineation and demarcation did not happen subsequently, specifically in the Sikkim sector. In the 1914 Shimla Agreement, China was represented by Ivan Chen, LonchenShatra represented Tibet and McMahon represented the British-India Empire, yet this agreement is labelled as Imperialist in nature by the Chinese authorities. They have ignored the 1885 Treaty between France-controlled Vietnam and the Qing dynasty at the time. Therefore, selectively implementing treaties according to their own convenience is the issue at hand with China.

It is being said that one of the objectives of China is to test India’s resolve to defend its ally Bhutan in the case of a border dispute turning into a war. This current Doklam Standoff around the tri-junction of India-China-Bhutan border is an extension to the policy of encirclement being pursued by the Chinese around India. India has spent too much time on the ‘principles of Panchsheel in dealing with an aggressive state like China, the current standoff between the two neighbours at a strategic territory is a reflection of the change in this decades old approach by India towards China.

The May 2015 ‘White Paper on National Defence’ by China talks about Chinese armed forces protecting China’s interests abroad. In November 2014, President Xi Jinping addressed the fourth Foreign Affairs Work Conference and mentioned that the foreign ministry has to protect the interests of China abroad. Hence, the Foreign Ministry and the military is now showcasing a synchronised effort to secure their strategic interests at the Tibet region. China has adopted a strategy of legal, media and psychological warfare which was initiated in 2005. China is playing a psychological warfare through its state controlled media, cash-controlled global think tanks and tactical strategies by the PLA troops on the ground to aggravate India to enter into a war. It is using legal strategies to point out that India is entering a third-country i.e. Bhutan, forgetting for the moment that the Chinese entered the Korean war in the 1950s.

Doklam Standoff | Present

China can roughly mobilise about 28-30 divisions in all in the case of a conventional war which includes mobilisation of around 5 divisions in the Sikkim-Bhutan sector, 8 in the Arunachal sector, about 3 divisions in Barahoti (middle sector of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) and roughly about 14 divisions in the Western sector. These divisions would be mobilised through the narrow passages because of the high Tibetan plateau region that makes it easier for the Chinese to push through such forts. Currently, China possesses around 62-63 division in the PLA, out of which they would have to muster around half of the strength towards India which is actually difficult for them, considering the volatile situation in China’s other long boundaries with other hostile nations. In the Sikkim-Bhutan sector, the Chinese face geographical issues because India is at the high ground over the hills, so the casualties can roughly be regarded as 33,000 on the other side. Hence, the Chinese would take a backseat in the conventional warfront. At the sub-conventional level, it is quite possible that the 158 monasteries that India has in the trans-Himalayan belt will come under stress due to the current standoff between India and China. Therefore, India needs to worry more about the sub-conventional warfare techniques of China, more than the conventional warfare strategies because it is untenable for China to go for it.

India is successfully holding to all the semantics played by China and the Government is responding to such semantics with appropriate responses at the most opportune times. As rightly pointed out by the India’s Defence Minister ArunJaitley,

“India is not the same as that of 1962.”

PM Modi US Visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump struck a common note on terrorism as they met for the first time at the White House last week during PM Modi US Visit. The two leaders vowed to fight against terrorism confirming that it was their topmost priority. Both countries also pledged to deepen their security and defence cooperation. US cleared the sale of Predator-Guardian drones to India which builds on the US’s recognition of India as the major defence partner.

Analysis | PM Modi US Visit

  • The delegation-level talks between India and the US carried Secretary of State, Defence Secretary, Commerce Secretary, Treasury Secretary and the National Security Advisor of the US, from the US side, despite the fact that such a huge representation was missing from India’s side. This high powered representation from the US showed that it is serious about India and wishes to expand their cooperation in every field apart from security and trade.
  • United States reaffirmed its commitment to support India’s candidature for a permanent seat at the reformed United Nations Security Council.

PM Modi US Visit | Security cooperation

  • In a surprise move, the Department of State of the US tagged HizbulMujahideen chief ‘Syed Salahudeen’ as a terrorist for inciting violence in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. This action went off as unexpected assault for the Pakistani authorities protecting the acclaimed terrorist residing in Pakistan.
  • United States vocally supported India’s position vis-à-vis CPEC and its violation of India’s sovereignty in terms of it passing through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
  • India’s requests for increasing and not receding the role of the US in Afghanistan was positively acknowledged with Defence Secretary James Mattis confirming that the US will increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. This decision is in sharp contrast to the previous Obama Administration which vowed to reduce the role of the US in Afghanistan. India’s concerns were addressed positively and the joint statement confirmed the same. The US confirmed in the joint statement that actions against safe havens of terrorists is acceptable, which signalled a support for India’s surgical strikes in Pakistan’s terrorist camps in PoK. It also confirmed that drone strikes at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border will resume and will be intensified.

PM Modi US Visit | Trade cooperation

  • India has a favourable balance of trade (about $24 billion) with the US. President Trump wishes to expand trade cooperation but wants to renegotiate the trade arrangements with the world in US’s favour. As the trade surplus is not high enough or tilted in favour of India, so the President is not willing to renegotiate the trade related arrangements with India.
  • A deal for the purchase of huge numbers of civilian aircrafts from the US was announced which was joyfully welcomed by the US President as it would create jobs in the US, which is the primary agenda of President Trump.

Climate Change

US confirmed that it would not come in India’s way of getting climate finance from the World Bank or even green technology transfer from the United States itself. This was a positive assurance from the US in return for India’s strategic non-interference in President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Deal.

PM Modi US Visit | Concerns

  • US announcement for the sale of Predator-Guardian drones were constrained by the fact that the armed drones’ sale was withheld with only surveillance capability drones (maritime surveillance) being given clearance for the sale. Nonetheless, India’s capability of armed attack is not constrained by this sale but the surveillance capabilities would be increased which is the prime target for India against a belligerent China.
  • India is also negotiating to purchase ‘shale gas’ from the US in the near future but the sale of it was tied up in the regulatory mess in the US.
  • India’s issues with the H1-B visas and the Paris Climate Deal was untouched due to the fact that this visit was aimed to focus on the positive deliverables.
  • High tariffs, IPR issue and regulatory cholesterol were the major issues highlighted by the US side on trade front with India to which India reaffirmed its commitment to streamline the process and positively projected the steps taken in this regard.

Conclusion | PM Modi US Visit

President Trump has signalled his administration that he is fond of India and that he wishes to continue the policies of strong Indo-US relationship set by his predecessors. This visit of Prime Minister Modi provided a much-needed impetus to the Indo-US relationship after the ascension of President Trump to the White House. The visit was focused on positive deliverables and both sides restrained from discussing the contentious issues of trade and immigration. The security and defence cooperation was further strengthened with opening another door of cooperation in tackling cross-border terrorism.

French Presidential Election

The second round of French Presidential Election poll is on May 7th. In the first round, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and central-left candidate Emmanuel Macron have come out on top. The top two spots have gone to protest candidates as they are both critical of traditional elites, even though from different perspectives. They are being called outsiders despite Emmanuel being France’s former economy minister and Le Pen being a current member of European Parliament. This is the first time that the two mainstream parties, the Socialist Party and the Republican Party are out of the Presidential race. The road ahead for the next President of France would be tough, given that the French electorate’s scepticism about its political leadership, worries about unemployment, the effect of globalisation on country’s economy and identity and their attitude to Europe, have taken a front seat. The French Presidential election is on May 7th, it is not a referendum on the European Union, however, its outcome will have a serious implication on the future of EU. Le Pen’s position is anti-European Union, while Macron is an ardent pro-European. As of now, the opinion polls show that Macron is ahead of Le Pen for the final round.

French Presidential Election | Fragmented mandate

The electorate of France forwarded a fragmented mandate where the four leading candidates garnered between 19 to 24 percent votes. A simple breakdown of vote shares reveals that both the proponents and opponents of globalisation are equally divided in the elections. Curiously enough, the French far-right and the far-left are in agreement with respects of dealing with the European Union. The choice may not be as easy as it seems for the French electorate. The lead between the two, which was initially projected as 60:40 (Macron: Pen), is now narrowing down due to Pen’s consolidation of support from various quarters.

Emmanuel Macron does not have any mainstream party behind him and he is totally inexperienced, so he might find it very difficult to forge a centre-left coalition in his favour. On the other hand, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s positions could lead to ‘Frexit’ and she could turn the relationship of France with Germany upside down and revive pre-war positions, to think in worst terms. Therefore, either way, it is not a good augur for the future of both France and Europe.

French Presidential Election | Road ahead for Macron

Macron does not have an established political party, so he has to pitch his appeal at a different level where he shows himself as centrist but his foreign and economic policies are liberal. Moreover, Emmanuel Macron was the Economy minister in Francois Hollande Government for less than two years. Hollande has become extremely unpopular, hence, the anti-incumbency that Hollande currently holds is somewhat shared by him with Macron because of his earlier involvement in the Government.
Most of the traditional politicians, including Francois Hollande have endorsed Macron for the position of President of France. In terms of winning the elections, naturally he will gain public support, but in terms of his image in long term, he will face a major hurdle because a fragmented Parliament would present a roadblock for Macron to realise his reformative ambitions for the French economy and its relationship with the EU.

It is to be seen if En Marche (Macron’s political party) is a political movement or a political party. In case it is merely a political movement, then it is inevitable that the 577-member Parliament will continue to be dominated by the Socialists and Republicans, the two mainstream parties.

French Presidential Election | Marine Le Pen v/s the moderates

In 2002, when Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round, all the traditional parties came together to roundly trounce him. But this time, his daughter Marine Le Pen has transformed the National Front party and she is trying to poach some of Francois Fillon’s support base, besides mobilising her own support base, so that it turns out to be a large number.
Marine Le Pen has been successful in rebranding her party in the sense of moving it away from pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic image. She has succeeded in mainstreaming the National Front to a fair extent. In the three major issues that dominated the French elections, i.e. terrorism, migration and unemployment, Marine Le Pen has been successful in presenting a kind of nationalist or conservative perspective back to the French politics, which has actually helped her in her rebranding exercise.

French Presidential Election | Future of the European Project

Besides the result of the French elections, the upcoming elections in Germany (in September) would hold a key to the European project. If the elections in both France and Germany goes on a development oriented plank i.e. in strong support of ‘Europeanism‘, then the issues like Brexit and relationship with US and Russia would be effectively dealt by the European Union.

French Presidential Election | Conclusion

The reality test conveys us that it is immaterial who wins the Presidential elections in France because both Macron and Le Pen faces the same issue of inability to secure a majority in Parliament. The traditional political parties are not losing their grip over the legislature anytime soon. Hence, the face-off will continue and ultimately the people of France would lose the opportunity of ‘good governance’ that they seem to be voting for this week.