IN THE DAYS after Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned from his successful visit to the US, a new crisis began to emerge in Sikkim. There, near the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China, the Indian Army finds itself in a tense stand-off with the Chinese army. Much more has happened. Indian pilgrims who travel to Mansarovar every year—under an agreement with China—were turned back from the Nathu La border post.
Ordinarily, these events could be interpreted as idiosyncratic Chinese behaviour that is on display off and on in remote parts of India. From Kongka La in Jammu & Kashmir to Siang in Arunachal Pradesh, China has a habit of creating ‘incidents’ in border areas. Its claim that its actions are on its own territory is no longer believed by the world: these areas have been in the possession of Independent India for 70 years now. The fact is that China is now openly engaging in territorial aggression and wants to wrest expanses of land that it believes are of strategic importance to it.
In the current case, it wants to snatch the Doklam (or Dolam) area, some 269 sq km of a remote plateau in Bhutan that overlooks a tongue-shaped part of Tibet known as Chumbi Valley. The latter area touches Sikkim on the west and Bhutan in the east. Bhutan, one of the smallest nation-states in the world, is standing up to this and has issued a demarche to China asking it to refrain from trying to grab this piece of Bhutanese territory. In this, not only should India help its tiny neighbour, but it has a moral duty to do so.
In recent days, it has been suggested that China is trying to send a ‘signal’ to India by adopting such an overtly belligerent border stance: that India should not ‘cosy up’ to the US if it knows what’s best for its regional interests. This is a sterile argument. Indian territory has repeatedly been violated by China in the last three years. Such ‘incidents’ number in the hundreds. In response, India has been forced to search for security by forging new partnerships and trying to replenish its depleted stock of modern defence equipment. Today, it is Chinese paranoia about being ‘contained’ that requires a rethink, not India’s security concerns.