Analysts in Beijing link Doklam to Galwan, say India aggressor in both cases
The June 15 violent clash in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley could be linked to the 2017 Doklam standoff, which was resolved through talks despite Indian troops remaining in territory claimed by China for 73 days, experts and local state media In China said.
The experts suggest that China lost face in Doklam and was waiting for an opportunity to get back.
In 2017, Indian troops had crossed over to Doklam (Donglang in Chinese) - a territory disputed between Bhutan and China - to prevent the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from building a road in the area as it could impact India’s strategic interests. New Delhi has historically supported Thimphu’s claim and said it was interceding on the latter’s behalf.
Linking it to the 2017 Doklam standoff, Beijing-controlled state media has said the current tension in eastern Ladakh was triggered after the Indian Army crossed over to Chinese side to illegally build structures.
India insists that the Chinese were the transgressors in Galwan in Eastern Ladakh.
There is no official acknowledgment of it but the possibility of a link between the two standoffs has been making the rounds of state media, military websites and among Chinese analysts.
Not said in as many words but the message from Chinese analysts is this: The PLA would not allow a new serious standoff, like in Doklam, in eastern Ladakh where it has better infrastructure, to end without a fight even if it sustained casualties in the process.
China has admitted but is yet to reveal the PLA’s casualty figures but India lost 20 soldiers in the violent brawl between border troops on the night of June 15.
“After all, China is stronger than India, with advantages in all aspects and a higher GDP than India. Last time (Doklam), we had already put up with one step and lost face. China has blood in its veins and is definitely going to do something,” Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong told HT.
A television programme broadcast on national broadcaster CCTV on July 6, and then published on its English channel CGTN’s YouTube handle directly, links the two recent most crises between India and China.
With undated photographs and satellite imagery, it claimed that Indian border troops crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to the Chinese side.
The host of the programme asks the two Chinese analysts about the “...timing of this incident coincides with the third anniversary of the Donglang incident, on June 18, 2017, when it was also the time when the Indian border troops unilaterally crossed the China-India border to obstruct our personnel who were working within our Line of Control, operating normally. From Donglang to the Galwan Valley, in your analysis, what does India want?”
To be sure, this line of argument is also contrary to international perception, where Beijing is clearly viewed as the aggressor.
One of the guest analysts at the programme, Ruan Zongze from the China Institute of International Studies, had this to say: “First of all, from Donglang to the Galwan Valley to today’s (current) developments, it shows that Indian side’s illegal cross-border violations were not an isolated incident. Three years ago, and precisely in June, border troops on the Indian side also illegally crossed into the Chinese side of the border,” Ruan said.
“The boundary of the Donglang incident was clearly demarcated in 1890 and has since been confirmed by successive Indian governments, without any issue, no controversy, but India still took the provocative action of crossing the border. So this time, I think it’s a repeat of the same old trick,” Ruan said.
This again seems to be an overstatement if not an outright lie - India hasn’t accepted that Doklam is part of China.
However, the prevailing view in Beijing seems to be to paint India as the aggressor.
Beijing-based military expert Song Zhongping said: “This time, like the Donglang crisis, India provoked China on the western border in an attempt to change the status quo and create trouble. This time India’s intentions are too obvious, the means are too extreme.”
Talking to the nationalistic tabloid Global Times, Hu Zhiyong from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences had spoken on similar lines as early as May 18.
“...that the Galwan Valley is not like Doklam because it is in the Aksai Chin region in southern Xinjiang of China, where the Chinese military has an advantage and mature infrastructure. So, if India escalates the friction, the Indian military force could pay a heavy price”.
Ni, the Shanghai-based military expert quoted earlier, said the perception about the 2017 standoff in China is that Beijing backed down.
Ni said: “There is not a lot of coverage in the country on the Doklam incident because we were the ones who backed down, I was thinking if that is the case, we are pretty furious, if we cannot build roads, then why India can build roads over there (Galwan Valley) now?”
“Then when the officers and soldiers on our side saw it, they thought we were building the road (in Doklam) and you would not let us, so how can you build it? It is not equal, it is not fair, so people just go over there and stir up things,” Ni said.
Not everyone, however, agrees to the Doklam link.
Ketian Vivian Zhang, a China expert, who has written on how China uses coercion in face of national security issues, at George Mason University said if the core reason was about teaching India a lesson it would have made more sense for China to do it earlier.
“I personally do not think the recent events date back to Doklam or took place because of Doklam. As I said before, the trend of increased Chinese militarised patrol and presence along the border has started since 2006, way before Doklam,” she said.
An article in the Communist Party-run current affairs website Utopia in June, however, clearly indicated retaliation.
Quoted by Hemant Adlakha, a professor of Chinese at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in the Indian Defence Review, the article “...blamed Indian arrogance for its continuously provocative behaviour along the LAC. Irked and annoyed by India’s unrelenting belligerence in recent years, in particular in what happened in Doklam three years ago, the Chinese or the PLA it seems were waiting for an opportunity to ‘outpunch’ and humiliate India.”
“To permanently resolve Indian belligerent attitude against China and ensure security along China’s western border, the time has now come for China to go for a decisive offensive against India and recover all Chinese territory under the Indian occupation, including southern Tibet,” the article added.