war is not inevitable
July 30, 2017 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Over the last few months, Chinese engineers have been building a road in the Doklam plateau region of Bhutan, near the Indian border. The disputed border region lies near the tri-junction, where the borders of India, China and Bhutan meet. The Political Geography of the India-China Crisis at Doklam[README]
How India and China Have Come to the Brink Over a Remote Mountain Pass. Why is the India-China border stand-off escalating? A Himalayan spat between China and India evokes memories of war

Doklam, Gipmochi, Gyemochen: It’s Hard Making Cartographic Sense of a Geopolitical Quagmire

Could the Chinese military be attempting the break the Siliguri Corridor, i.e. the Chicken's Neck, conecting the eight states of the North Eastern region to the rest of India. Military historian Shiv Kunal Verma: "there is no way the Chinese can try and cut off the Siliguri Corridor from that axis."
Doklam Standoff: The Real Reasons And How Far Can It Be Taken
As we're Not optimistic about prospects of an early settlement, says ex India envoy to China, Indians Dig In For Long Haul In Standoff With China

Conflicts between China and India have simmered for decades in the Himalayas and the plateau regions. The bloodiest was the Sino-Indian War in 1962. But let's not stretch the analogy.

Buzzfeed: India And China Stand Off
War On the Rocks: High Noon In the Himalayas: Beihind the China-India Standoff
Indian Express:Simply put: Where things stand on the Dolam plateau - "The location of the standoff is Dolam plateau, which is in the Doklam area (as referred to in the statements of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Embassy of Bhutan in New Delhi). The Dolam plateau is different from Doklam plateau (which is a disputed area between Bhutan and China, but has no contiguity with India)."
posted by the man of twists and turns (18 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this very thorough post.
posted by roolya_boolya at 2:05 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

This seems to be of a piece with China's behavior in the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan.Their economic might is growing so they're seeing how much they can flex their military muscle to expand their influence.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:07 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]

Not just their economic might, but America's retreat into isolationism. Beijing will definitely not leave any leftovers on the buffet platter.
posted by oheso at 2:35 PM on July 30 [5 favorites]

Worth noting that this is part of China's ambitious Belt and Road initiative to expand its trading influence, link up with various partners, and generally spread its influence. In other words, expect to see more of this sort of thing as the initiative continues.

Most of the conflicts won't be so worrying and attention getting as the India/China conflict here simply because most of the other nations China is... engaging with... aren't atomic powers with strong economies and huge populations.

And, of course, many of the places the Belt and Road Initiative touches very much welcome increased trade and economic interdependence with China.

With the US effectively leaderless until 2020 I expect China will take the opportunity to be aggressive where it percieves benefit from increased aggression and present whoever is president in 2020 with fait accompli. It isn't as if even the most charismatic, smartest, engaged, and active President will be able to roll back 4 years of Chinese expansionism without a war, and no US president is going to want a war with China.

Naturally the Belt and Road was planned and would have been active regardless of US politics, but the election of Trump gives the PRC much greater freedom to push their agenda aggressively without interference.

The overall TL;DR for the entire situation is that the PRC is expanding into the entire south Asian region, and the eastern African coast, and that's going to be their new sphere of influence going forward. India and Japan are their only real impediments at this point.

I'll add that I strongly suspect the PRC won't spend too many resources on the Middle Eastern portions of the Belt and Road. Oil is fading in importance and I doubt very much the leaders of the PRC think its worth the terrorism hassle, and the US/Europe objection hassle, to really move strongly on either America or the EU's various Middle Eastern client states. The benefit just wouldn't be worth the cost.
posted by sotonohito at 2:55 PM on July 30 [12 favorites]

If China hadn't helped its self to Tibet in the fifties, then maybe people would be less antsy about border roads. But they did, and so people do not trust China.
posted by Oyéah at 4:23 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this very thorough post.

I had a hard time finding good Chinese or Bhutanese sources.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:21 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]

Nice post title quote misses half of it: "War is neither inevitable... nor evitable"
posted by growabrain at 7:26 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

Could the Chinese military be attempting the break the Siliguri Corridor, i.e. the Chicken's Neck, conecting the eight states of the North Eastern region to the rest of India. Military historian Shiv Kunal Verma: "there is no way the Chinese can try and cut off the Siliguri Corridor from that axis."

This exchange is basically the entire storm in a teacup honestly.

The exact paragraph from the second link:
So how do you see this play itself out? What should India do?

Nothing really. Doka La is Bhutanese territory and the standoff costs us nothing in real terms. China has to give an undertaking that they will not build roads, be it for sightseeing or for military purposes. The day they revert to the standstill status which they had earlier agreed upon with Bhutan, the impasse will end.
For China to cut off the Siliguri Corridor would require an incursion that would not be any sort of regular border shenanigans that countries like to play, current situation an example of that. The road under construction ventures barely into disputed territory. The mental gymnastics and logical leap from a road dispute to a hundred mile incursion to take Sikkim and the top tip of West Bengal can only be made by some terrible person wishing so hard for war between India and China.
posted by Talez at 8:58 PM on July 30

to expand their influence
One must understand China as an empire. Imperial aggression (or the mere mise-en-scène appearance thereof) are always the other side of imperial domestic oppression. The Chinese territorial fetishisation over barely inhabitable or defensible land is a well played stick against the domestic populace, a part of the narration about total control (hence domestic intimidation) and historical privilege-victimhood complex drama that drives a justification for both narratives and actions. It is also a cause that serve to split and divide domestic opinions.
posted by runcifex at 9:25 PM on July 30 [7 favorites]

I will take this moment to note that India has been manufacturing Russia's fixed and rotating wing aircraft for about a decade, and their own engineering resources have been improving on Russian designs. Between India and China, one of them has engineered, built, and deployed their own aircraft carrier fleet. India has been buying German subs, while China has been trying to reverse engineer them. Trying. India has a successful and profitable commercial space program.

The southern range of the Himalayas, nevermind the "chicken neck" is completely off limits - No, sorry, existential crisis. You really want to see who the USA backs when the iron is on the move, Pakistan or India?

Come test.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:02 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

I continue to be gobsmacked at the evil brilliance of British imperial cartography. I suppose the "chicken neck" doesn't quite count, as it was caused by the combination of the Partition of India together with China's annexation of Tibet, but the inevitable tensions it inspires makes it look like another British plot to keep its former colonies on their toes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:16 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]

Slap*Happy, I'm sitting right next to the #1 strategic target in case of a war, and I wish I had as much faith in both America and our own supply and logistics chains as you do.

But one thing that is clear is that this time (unlike '62) nobody is under any illusions about China and their "friendship".
posted by vanar sena at 4:25 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]

Haven't the Chinese been sponsoring a Maoist insurrection in Bhutan? This doesn't have to have anything to do with the 'chicken neck'. It might just be another step toward annexing Bhutan or making it into a puppet state.
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:37 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

It's really weird to see China's state media reduced to making literally racist jokes. Who on earth is convinced of anything by tone-deaf PR like this?
posted by vanar sena at 9:06 AM on August 22

> It's really weird to see China's state media reduced to making literally racist jokes. Who on earth is convinced of anything by tone-deaf PR like this?
vanar sena, cf: my earlier comment.

The state media is an implement of domestic control. Also a kind of exhibitionism. "See? I'm not ashamed of this shit, so I must be right (and you can do nothing about it)."

See also: realDonaldTrump.
posted by runcifex at 9:14 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]

That makes sense, especially if you can just shut down anyone who thinks it may be a bit much. Just seems to be the kind of thing that would work better domestically though, and AFAIK twitter is blocked in China, so most Chinese won't see it there. Were they expecting Indians to be mortified, instead of responding with even more vicious mockery without the Indian government having to even get its hands dirty? Of course, people in China won't get to see that either, so they can just say "Indians humiliated into silence!"... Gah, such bizarre, stupid calculus.
posted by vanar sena at 9:36 AM on August 22

> AFAIK twitter is blocked in China, so most Chinese won't see it there
There is a tabloid rag in China, the Global Times (环球时报) run by the state media. It's full of this kind of s--t. The Chinese social media also has its own Twitter-like channels. Basically the state either owns, or can arbitrarily and heavy-handedly regulate all media within the country.

There is also a sizeable minority of Chinese who do access Twitter by technical circumvention. Maintaining the presence of the state media on Twitter is also a force of haunting intimidation, both inward and outward. As I said, they're the different sides of the same thing.
posted by runcifex at 9:50 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]

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