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Is China being aggressive with India? A case study on Doklam


Ashna Joy

India and China were fist to fist in tri-junction area of India – China –Bhutan over Doklam issue. The skirmish began when China constructed a road along Tibet to Doklam plateau which is a disputed territory between Bhutan and China. Why India has to be concerned about the Doklam which is neither the part of its territory nor a party to the dispute? China mockingly claimed that India barged into Chinese territory with a bulldozer without even knocking at the door. It was a serious cause of concern for India because of its proximity to the strategically important Siliguri corridor connecting the North East region to the Indian mainland and China’s claims in Arunachal Pradesh.

The Chinese claim over Doklam is not an exception because it has claims of a wide number of territories which are in dispute with its neighboring countries extending from Japan to South East Asian and South Asian countries. China fortifies its claim by presenting rather dubious proof from its ancient past. For instance, China has proof to back the Doklam claim as it has proof of ‘grass tax receipt’ in the Tibet archives.  

The resurgence of the Communist Party of China added fuel to the fire of its unfounded claims of territory. It tries to slice the territory by constructing roadways, railways or infiltrating its population in the disputed territory. This pattern was evidenced in its first incursion in Tibet in 1951 which was an autonomous buffer state between India and China. China then claimed Tibet was ruled by a Chinese ruler in ancient times as part of its territory. The One China Policy was further consolidated by the pursuit of infrastructure projects in Tibet and waves of immigration of Han Chinese altering the demography of Tibet.

Following the same established precedents they fortified their claims over Xinjiang, Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh, South China Sea Islands, and Senkakau islands in East China Sea causing friction in bilateral relations. Like all previous slicing of territories, China's recent attempt to slice Doklam in Bhutan is rightfully analogized by Chief of Army staff Bipin Rawat as 'salami slicing strategy'. For instance, China went for war with Vietnam in 1974 to forcefully take control of Paracel Island and illegitimately made the island theirs by constructing an artificial island called Sansha Island.

The irony of Chinese justification for  incursion is they reiterate the fact that they are not interested in expansionism, interested only in defending their 'core interest' which is control over their supposed ancient sphere of influence either militarily or economically. China is ambitiously trying to regain the perceived lost pride by gradually laying claim to the lost territories and establish control over traditional land and sea routes to be powerful empire in the region.

In furtherance of its aim, the Chinese National Military Defence follows a distinctive mode of warfare based on Sun Tzu's book 'The Art of War'. He propagated that a victory over the enemy can be achieved through psychological advantage and suggests avoidance of direct conflict. Sun Tzu's art of psychological warfare is evident in the Doklam incident. The art of deception is the tool used by China to tame India and other countries in gaining control over their so called traditional territory. Chinese incursion into Indian Territory in the past is a sign of assertiveness and cautioning India that these disputed territories will be eventually part of China.  Chinese media and leaders have used deceptive dialogues to intimidate India to get control over the territory. During the impasse over Doklam issue, Chinese media opined that “the countdown to clash between the two forces has begun and the clock is ticking away to what seems to be an inevitable conclusion”. [1] The state owned Global times have reiterated belligerent articles reminding India should ‘learn from 1962 war’. In his book Choices, former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon writes that the PLA’s incursion into Ladakh during Xi Jinping’s 2014 India visit could be seen as an early attempt to establish psychological dominance over the new Modi government.[2] Similarly, at the time of disengagement of Indian troops from the Doklam, Xi Jinping indirectly said China has the “confidence to defeat all invasions”[3] This declaration by the premier is  again to remind India that China is still the dominant country in the region which goes with the Chinese idiom “one mountain cannot accommodate two tigers”.  

Moreover, another state owned media news agency, Xinhua, has released a mocking video that India has committed sins by trespassing the border and violating bilateral and international law. It’s quite funny to hear China speaking about India violating International law when the former has violated various international laws time and again. For instance, last year, when ICJ’s verdict over the islands in South China Sea was in favor of Philippines, China threatened that it will withdraw from UNCLOS treaty and retorted that such verdict will not have any impact on China. Similarly, China has violated Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by selling nuclear technology to Pakistan. It clearly indicates that China doesn’t want to share the dais with India in power sharing.

How India responds to China’s motives? 

India and China cannot be compared together as they are two poles apart. India and China, being two large countries with huge populations and military, will have it in their interests to project their prowess in the region. Ever since China released its dragon from early 2000, it set its footprint in the countries, encircling India in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. In order to fulfil blue water superiority, it tries to acquire the territories either by force or through coercive diplomacy, by setting up deep water ports, airstrips, railway tracks, and refuelling port in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Sudan, and most recently in Djibouti where they had their own military base right under the nose of the U.S. military base.

Apprehended by the speed of dragon, India released its elephant from deep hibernation to enlarge its footprint beyond its subcontinent. India decided to enhance its soft power through cultural and economic diplomacy to enhance their bilateral relationship. Wherever the dragon has put its foot, the elephant enhanced the pro-India stance. In 2016, the Modi government organized the World Buddhist Conference which was attended by Buddhist religious heads from East, South East, and South Asia. Apart from cultural diplomacy, India has tackled the dragon by negotiating defence agreement with Vietnam, the Chabahar port in Iran, and a strategic partnership with Afghanistan, South East Asian countries, and other Pacific Island countries. Similarly, when China initiated Belt Road Initiative, India refused to participate and initiated its own counter programme known as Asia Africa Growth corridor.

What is the difference between India and China’s strategy to spread its influence? China’s strategic ambition is more assertive and favorable to the Chinese interest whereas India strategic ambition is definitely to favor India’s pro stance in the region but ensure there is equal benefit between India and recipient countries. For instance, in Africa, Chinese more interested in their resources, which benefit its increasing population.  China invests in industrial and manufacturing plant, employees Chinese men, establish their own railway track connected to harbour where the Chinese ships will take the resources to their home country. On the other hand, India does invest in African countries in IT sector, telecommunication, or social sector where it is beneficial for African people. The behavior of Chinese assertiveness, dominance, deception, and diplomacy is an inherent part of Chinese characteristics. Since ancient times, China was very clear about how they want to be seen in the world. They put themselves in the center of the world, which means there cannot be two Suns in the sky, neither India nor the USA. On the other hand, Indian characteristics are more of peaceful coexistence, cooperative, non –aggressive, mutual respect for territorial integrity and independence upholding international law.

Can China go for a war with India?

It’s quite a risk for China to replicate the 1962 war because of its strategic position around India. For instance, China has decided to make use of shorter route via Gwadar port in Pakistan as alternative instead of Strait of Malacca for importing fuel from West Asian countries. India and the U.S. are also importing fuel from West Asian countries in the same route as China via Strait of Hormuz. Any hostile action by China can face retaliation from Indian military. The Operation Malabar maritime exercise, defense and trade relations among India, Japan and the U.S. has made China to think about possible reaction from India’s friends in case of war. The close bonhomie has worried China to an extent that it has openly stated that ‘India is encircling China with the help of the USA and Japan’. All these are assumptions which can deter China but it is not necessary it will counter or contain Chinese influence in the region.

China will not give up its demand on the territories which they assume it is their core interest. It is not completely wise to negate the fact that China will not go for war with India over the disputed territory. Army Chief Bipin Rawat said that Beijing is attempting to “change the status quo” on its border with India and predicted that incidents like the current impasse in Doklam are likely to increase in the future.[4] All the territories which China claim might have some connection in the past and are determined to regain it back at all cost. If that was the case then India also have the right to claim back all the pre independent territories. To answer to the title of the article, China can be deceptively aggressive with India in near future.

Ashna Joy is currently working as a faculty for internal security in Shankar IAS Academy, Chennai. She previous worked as Assistant Professor for post graduation in Stella Maris college, Chennai.



[1] 50 days of Doklam standoff: As China increases troop presence, Indian Army gets battle ready, <>

[2] Is China punishing India for its Belt and Road stance while testing Modi and Trump?Sushil Aaron ,Hindustan Times

[3]From Doklam standoff to disengagement: How India and China resolved the crisis, The Indian Express


[4] From Doklam standoff to disengagement: How India and China resolved the crisis, The Indian Express






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