Sino-Indian Dispute over the Doklam Plateau: The Winner Takes It All

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.

"India and China have complex and ambiguous relations. On the one hand, these countries actively cooperate on various issues - for example, in the area of trade (China is India's main trading partner). Moreover, they cooperate in international organizations (SCO, BRICS), and in principle they have many common interests. But there are also long-standing disputes, especially the border ones, which hinder the development of relations. There is a geopolitical struggle between them, as both countries are developing economies, where nationalistic sentiments are growing," Alexander Lukin, Head of the Department of International Relations of the Higher School of Economics, Director of the Center for East Asian Studies and the SCO of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University), said in an interview with

According to the expert, the essence of the contradictions between India and China is that there are certain traditional spheres of influence of India in the states that used to be part of British India, and now are members of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). "A number of these countries are linked with India by treaties. Some of these countries do not have treaties; nevertheless they belong to the sphere of influence of India. And now China is actively developing economic cooperation with them, investing there, which creates some misunderstanding between India and China and causes fears in India, "Lukin said.

Bhutan is one of such states. It's a small country that relies entirely on India on security issues. Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations with China, but there is a territorial dispute – the Doklam Plateau. The last conflict was caused by the fact that China began to build a road there, violating the status quo agreement in this area.

"This is a classical model of China's behavior, which it uses everywhere: in territorial disputes, China puts the other side in front of a fait accompli," Lukin said. - For example, the Chinese are building a road in the disputed territories between India and Pakistan, which causes great irritation in New Delhi. During the war between India and China this territory was moved to China. In other words, China occupied it and, considering it its own, handed it to Pakistan. And now, when the territory became already controversial between Pakistan and India, China began to build a road there, because it is profitable, and in order to consolidate its "non-Indian" status. China also acts the same way in the South China Sea: on the disputed islands, which it controls, it unilaterally began construction of a naval base."

In case of the Doklam Plateau, China used the same tactics, but "the scythe struck a stone ": Bhutan appealed to India, and India reacted very sharply - it moved the troops, even unarmed, into the disputed territory.

In turn, the actions of India also triggered a stormy reaction in China, which considers this territory its own. An editorial article of the Chinese newspaper Global Times stated that India with its actions in the Sikkim section of the Indian-Chinese border is pushing the situation towards a war with no chances to win.

"India only helps Bhutan. But on the other hand, India claims that China has violated the status quo agreement. That is, if the Chinese did not do anything in this territory, we could negotiate, but since they build the road there, they de facto master this territory, which changes the status quo in their favor," Lukin said. "Subsequently, they can put up checkpoints there and so on, and it will be much more difficult to challenge the plateau belonging, especially to such a weak country as Bhutan."

India and China in Doklam Plateau Conflict: Causes and Possible Consequences Alexei Kupriyanov
China is unlikely to disrupt the status quo any time soon. Indian and Bhutanese forces hold the dominant positions in Doklam and any attempt to dislodge them will inevitably lead to a bloody conflict that both sides are keen to avoid.

The question is why did India interfere in this border dispute? "If India did not do anything, then the traditional allies of its sphere of influence might think that India is a weak country, unable to fulfill its obligations, and the host of the situation is now China. And this would be a big blow to the prestige of India, "Alexander Lukin concluded.

The Doklam Standoff: A Need for Win-Win Diplomacy Nandan Unnikrishnan
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.

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