India needs its own strategy of ‘active defence’ in the Indian ocean to counter the Chinese threat
LATEST NEWS : Recent events on the Doklam plateau near the tri-junction of India, Bhutan, and China have resulted in plenty of discussion among Indian analysts. The better among these have pointed out Doklam’s limited tactical value to China and the latter’s clear contravention of prior agreements to preserve the territorial status quo with Bhutan. Why then have PLA troops and their political masters risked a potential conflict on such weak grounds? As Ajai Shukla notes, “Beijing’s wish to extend the Chumbi Valley southwards is incomprehensible.” Understanding how this episode fits with China’s rise and broader strategy in Asia can shed light on this question, as well as on the most effective Indian response.
Limited data in the public domain show that the number of Chinese troop incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India has been increasing, from 228 in 2010 to 411 in 2013 (and 334 by August 2014). Major episodes in the last four years include incursions in Ladakh at Depsang, Burtse, Chumar, and Pangong Lake. This pattern fits with China’s increased assertiveness in Asia since the late 2000s. The Doklam puzzle is tied to the larger question of why Beijing has abandoned its “peaceful rise” approach and adopted a strategy that is likely to alienate neighbors and invite balancing coalitions such as the growing India-Japan partnership.
It is tempting to attribute Chinese assertiveness to non-intentional factors such as rising nationalism, the ruling party’s internal politics, or rogue elements in the military. A more accurate explanation, however, lies in Beijing’s considered response to an altered external environment. In the late 2000s, with the US economy in crisis, Washington’s emerging pivot to Asia, and maritime disputes surfacing with Vietnam and the Philippines, Chinese elites began to question the continued wisdom of Deng Xiaoping’s injunction of hiding capacities and biding time. The ensuing debate, according to Chinese public intellectual Yan Xuetong, led to a shift in China’s strategy from “keeping a low profile” to “striving for achievement,” famously outlined in a speech by Xi Jinping in October 2013.