The Doklam Standoff: A Need for Win-Win Diplomacy

The most complicated issue in the current standoff between the Indian and Chinese military in the Doklam region is negotiating a solution in which neither side appears to have lost, Valdai Club expert Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, believes.

India and China are facing off in a disputed territory, which the Indians call Doklam, which is actually a disputed territory between China and Bhutan. However, India and Bhutan have a very close relationship, including a treaty signed in 2007, which brings India into play when China started cheating an earlier agreement not to take any action that would destabilize the situation. In other words, the three countries agreed that the issue of the disputed region would be resolved through talks between the three parties. China is beginning to build a road to a particular point in the disputed territory, and this was an attempt to change the geographical reality on the ground in terms of who is on which territory.

Sino-Indian Dispute over the Doklam Plateau: The Winner Takes It All Alexander Lukin
China accuses India that its border guards illegally crossed and occupied the Sikkim section of the border belonging to China. India, in turn, made a statement that China has violated the Doklam Plateau status quo agreement. It is a disputed territory between the PRC and Bhutan, which is in India's security sphere of influence. What is really happening in relations between the two states, explains the Valdai Club expert Alexander Lukin.

This is only one of the many incidents that have occurred between India and China since the 1962 war, which was also over a border dispute. This is because the legacy behind after India’s independence was an undefined border with China, and since then, India and China have not been able to resolve this issue. China appears very determined at this point of time to pursue its current course of action. However, India is also not in a position to withdraw. Therefore, this situation is in a sense very different from earlier incidents, where diplomatic solutions have been found. Some of them, however, took months and years to resolve.

The problem here is that China is saying that any discussion is possible only after the Indian troops withdraw and India is not currently prepared to do that. There are, of course, backchannel talks going on between India and China, so, hopefully, some solution will be found. Although it will be very difficult to find a solution that would make it appear as if both parties have succeeded or at least make it appear that it is a draw in this particular round between the two countries.

The solution, obviously, has to be through dialogue. It is going to be a difficult diplomatic dialogue, but any other solution is not an outcome that would be good for China or India. Definitely, no one in the world wants this situation to develop into a full-fledged conflict between China and India, because both are nuclear powers. Neither of the two countries requires the distraction of a war, given the development challenges that both of them face and given that both of them together, for the next couple of decades, are essentially going to be the locomotives of economic growth in the world. It would be negative for the rest of the world, also, if India and China engaged in a hot war.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.