As the American historian and writer Will Durant once said, “To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy.”
The recent border escalation between India and China is a tough situation for the two super houses of Asia. The two countries have shared a love-hate relationship for years. With India vying for China’s membership in the security council and the path-breaking dialogue between Nehru and Zhou en Lai which led to a subsequent war in 1962, which India invariably lost (and was rumoured to have hurried Nehru’s death), there is arguably no love lost between the two countries.
China’s recent standoff with the members of the armed forces of India at Doklam (or Donglang to the Chinese) comes after the nervous standoff in Daulat Beg Oldie sector in Ladhak in 2013. With neither of the two willing to blink first and growing pressure from the Chinese, the situation is precarious and affects the strategic interest of both sides. India contends that the region is a part of the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan. Moreover, the convention of 1890 between the British and the Chinese has already delineated Sikkim and Tibet. China claims that Indian forces have not respected the convention and that there has been an ‘illegal trespass’ deep in the Mount Gipmochi valley.
India’s approach to these claims has been calculated. Defence minister Arun Jaitley reminded China that the India of today isn’t that of 1962. China meanwhile has ruled out any bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 meet in Germany and cancelled the annual Kailash Mansarovar yatra from Nathu La pass in Sikkim. China’s aggressive stance is a product of the meeting of Prime Minister Modi and US president Donald Trump, the labelling of Syed Salahuddin a global terrorist by the United States, and India’s endorsement of the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea that has affected Chinese diplomatic patience.
However being two of the world’s most ancient civilisations with superpower status it is imperative that both countries resolve the matter amicably and within the highest political reach rather than a jingoistic stand. There needs to be regular dialogue between the national security adviser and China’s special representative. According to General VP Malik of the Indian Army, a more appropriate picture is that both troops regularly scuffle.
However, confrontation should not be the tool of choice and must only be used when all methods to show wisdom have been eroded. In the face of diplomacy, besides being the two advanced economies in Asia, the acts and bearings of these two will have ramifications for all its neighbours. It is important that both sides resolve the matter with wisdom and without compromising character and sovereignty.