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India-China tension at shared border with Bhutan steps up

This file photo shows Indian Army personnel keep vigilance at Bumla pass at the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh.
This file photo shows Indian Army personnel keep vigilance at Bumla pass at the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh. Biju Boro/AFP

A military standoff in a remote part of the Himalayas called the Doklam Plateau which lies at the junction between China, India, and Bhutan has built up this week after 50 days of status quo. The row is also having an impact at a non-military level, and the media is playing a part. 


Doklam is claimed by Bhutan and China. They have held more than 20 rounds of negotiations on where the frontier lies over the decades, but have failed to resolve the dispute bilaterally. Two months ago, China began extending a road on Doklam Plateau. India, to protect the tiny kingdom and its own interests in Sikkim, sent the military to prevent the roadwork continuing.

Srikanth Kondopalli, chair and professor in Chinese studies at the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawa-harlal Nehru University, JNU, in Delhi says,the tension has racheted up in the past few days. "It was reported that the Chinese have been mobilising J-11 aircraft and also opposite to Arunchal Pradesh, Hong Qi-9 surface-to-air missile system. 33 corps of the Indian Army are reported to have mobilised to the Sikkim sector closer to the border where the stand-off is now reported."

The media is of course dragged into this, if not actually on the frontline in military terms, at least strategically and diplomatically.

A meeting with Indian media called at the start of the week by China’s Defense Ministry has surfaced in the Chinese media now. It was reportedly a dialogue, organized by the All China Journalist Association, a quasi-governmental organization led by the Communist Party of China.

According to reports in the Indian media, China’s Defense Ministry suggested that hawkish rhetoric carried in official Chinese mouthpieces, does not represent China’s official position. On Wednesday the Global Times in Beijing suggested that war is 'inevitable'.

Jean-Joseph Boillot is a Paris-based researcher on China and India. He said that this gesture could be part of Chinese strategy. "I think it is partly what we can call the 'soft power' on the Chinese side. They are trying to influence the Indian press which is a little bit divided because part of the Indian press do not support the Narendra Modi [Indian prime minister] position on the Doklam issue. So I think it is the art of war from Sun Tzu [5th century BCE military strategist]; you try to divide the enemy camp."

The knock-on effects are being felt in a everyday relations between China and India. A seminar, co-hosted by China's consulate-general aimed at improving Indo-Chinese cooperation and connectivity was cancelled in Kolkota, in the east of India on Thursday. The consulate-general unilaterally postponed stating technical reasons.

Also Chinese schoolchildren were due to visit Kolkota's School of Chinese Language now, but they too cancelled.

Making the dispute felt by ordinary people beyond the news headlines, both with their simmering border disputes, like this one, and memories of a serious war in 1962 between China and India, the Doklam dispute could rachet up nationalist sentiment in both these Asian giants.

Even so, Kondapalli says China and India may rattle their swords, but he thinks the huge human, physical and economic consequences of a war will act as a brake.

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