Takshashila Discussion Document: The Doklam Imbroglio (July 2020 Update)

Executive Summary

In 2017, the Doklam plateau became a flashpoint for the Asian powers, India and China. China’s tactics in Doklam are clear examples of its general “salami-slicing” strategy, a policy of gradual encroachment onto disputed territory where other claimants are forced to accede to a new status quo tilted in China’s favour.

This Discussion Document outlines the history of the Doklam conflict, places it in contrast with China’s strategy on the McMahon line, and examines India’s response to China’s behaviour in Doklam.

During the June-August 2017 crisis (henceforth referred to as “Doklam 1.0”), India appeared to have adopted a four-pronged approach: physical denial for road building at the face-off site, a restrained public reaction to China’s aggressive and vitriolic statements, intense diplomatic back-channelling, and limited defence readiness.

Yet there are discrepancies between the Indian and Chinese sides on whether this plan was successful, given that China has not respected the status quo in areas contiguous to the face-off site. Indeed, it would appear that India has chosen not to contest Chinese assertiveness that has manifested after the agreement of 28 August 2017, in return for as-yet unclear concessions.

India’s “China reset”, as exemplified by the Xi-Modi unofficial summit at Wuhan, evidently required India’s acquiescence of China’s military occupation of disputed territory with Bhutan and ipso facto conceded to China its claim on the tri-junction.

We recommend that the Indian Government urgently clarify its policy and the situation at Doklam. A long-term policy of diplomatic, economic, and military balancing must be followed in order to maintain India’s ability to defend its national interests and those of its allies. The alternative is a continuous cycle of unilateral Chinese actions and, given India’s silence since Doklam 1.0, a sacrifice of long-term national interests for at best a reprieve in border tensions.

Note: This document was updated in July 2020, in the aftermath of the Galwan Valley incident. A trend of unilateral Chinese actions to modify the status quo, Indian official silence, and simmering border tensions – as we predicted in September 2018 – appears to have become the norm in Sino-Indian relations. This version of the document includes an added Annexure, with satellite imagery from Doklam showing how China has intensified its military fortifications since then.

Takshashila- The Doklam Imbroglio – July 2020 Update

Download the Discussion Document as a PDF.