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Doklam has signalled that after many decades, the world’s largest democracy and its fastest growing economy has begun to calmly and maturely assert its place in Asia and in the world.
Doklam was a standoff that lasted over 70 days – a standoff with a belligerent and noisy China in which India came out calm, confident and sure of its position. The Doklam crisis was one of the biggest tests for this government’s foreign policy and so the breakthrough using the diplomatic channels on restoring the status-quo at the Bhutan - China -India tri-junction point at the Doklam Plateau is undeniably one of the biggest diplomatic successes of recent times. In addition, India has signalled its importance and commitment to bilateral treaties by honouring the Friendship Treaty with Bhutan.
This resolution is a good outcome for India’s mature, restrained but firm response which assertively conveys that, India and China can have a stable relationship but only if mutual respect is on the table.
Prime Minister Modi needs to be congratulated for sticking to this measured and mature position. This, despite the enormous pressure of China’s ratcheted up psychological and verbal propaganda war and rhetoric including the infamous Chinese racist video that boomeranged so badly. The Chinese efforts were, of course, helped inadvertently or deliberately by some of our own – ranging from the Left and Congress leaders who preferred dinner briefings with the Chinese Ambassador and some of the expected ones in media. That the PM and his government remained firm and undeterred under this combination of pressure is a sign that we are entering an era of a confident and assertive New India. It is an India which is no longer a soft state exercising soft power but rather is a state which has emerged as a tough state that is unafraid of exercising hard options. The world’s largest democracy and fastest growing economy has begun to believe that its place in the world and in Asia does not depend on any other country but in its own confidence and beliefs. Countries like Japan, Mongolia, Philippines, and Vietnam which too have been at the other end of Chinese tactics can look at the Doklam incident as a case study on how to protect and preserve a sovereign National interest in the face of pressure and rhetoric. As I said some months back at a conference in Singapore when asked a question on India-China relations – “China must accept that India has long standing legitimate interests in Asia and especially in South Asia and South East Asia. True, India – China friendship and a peaceful Asia can only be a reality if China accepts that Asia will never be unipolar but around with at least two poles of India and China.”
Since 2014, when Narendra Modi took oath, he has pursued a foreign policy that is characterised by this determination to ensure India’s National interest will drive all its relations with friends and those not so friendly. Doklam was one test for this New India and today India stands more confident, measured and sure - based on its role in Asia and the world.
The Modi government since day one has indicated that it is not going to be business as usual when it comes to India’s diplomacy. Right from inviting the leaders of all SAARC countries to the swearing in ceremony to visiting countries that had been long neglected by the previous administrations, India’s assertion of its presence and role in the region was certain. In the past three years with the policies of Neighbourhood first, Indian Ocean outreach, Project Mausam, visit to Israel, Link West policy, the formation of International Solar Alliance and a host of other initiatives indicate that this is ‘India First’ policy which is calculative, devoid of empty sloganeering and an instrument to secure India’s economic and geo-political interests.
He has demonstrated much patience even with the biggest nuisance foreign policy problem for the world – i.e. Pakistan. The fact that PM Modi made a surprise stop to wish Nawaz Sharif at Lahore in December 2015 to extend an olive branch to Pakistan however, when the nuisance persisted with terror attacks, in September 2016 successfully executed surgical strikes in the Pakistani border demonstrating that India would not allow a desire for peace and good neighbourly relations to come in the way of dealing with National interest.
He has heralded rightfully, an age where instead of being led by Big Power interests, we are engaging proactively on our own with countries in the neighbourhood and in the extended neighbourhood.
The global world order is going through major volatile changes. As the US struggles with its global policeman role that it has assumed for several decades and signalling a desire to reset or reduce its policing footprints, it is clear that power vacuums are being created and will be created in Middle-East and Asia. Some countries like China believe they will step into those opportunities unopposed because of their economic power and fast growing military power. The Narendra Modi government has clearly embarked on a path where India too will play a role in the new world order. Make no mistake, there will be many more pinpricks and standoffs – real and manufactured with the Chinese. But we will stand firm. It is for countries like China to understand and appreciate that this new assertion of our National interest spearheaded by the Narendra Modi government, is here to stay and has the support of almost all Indians (except the few that prefer dining with Foreign Ambassadors to defending our Nations interests).
This article appeared in The Diplomat on August 30, 2017