The ten-week standoff between Chinese and Indian troops in Doklam, in territory disputed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Bhutan, was finally concluded on 28 August, with the withdrawal of Indian troops and the cessation of road building by the Chinese.
New Delhi did not back down in the face of Beijing’s orchestrated anger, pulling its troops out only once China agreed to cease the road construction activities that prompted India’s initial intervention.
One of the extraordinary aspects of this episode in the so-called “tri-junction” area, where the borders of Bhutan, China, and India meet, was the war of words waged by Beijing, by both Chinese officials and the state-run media. Throughout the standoff, a steady stream of statements and articles appeared in English language outlets – those primarily designed for foreign consumption – voiced anger at India’s actions, issued dire threats of punishment if India did not unilaterally withdraw, and launched pointed critiques on all aspects of India, including its political system and economic track-record.
Over the two and a half month of the standoff, Chinese officials progressively ratcheted up their rhetoric. In the first ten days, Beijing made no official comment. But then on 26 June, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang acknowledged the standoff was on-going and called on India to withdraw its troops from what he argued was Chinese territory. Geng upped the ante ten days later, declaring India had “violated the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and trampled on international law and the norms governing international relations”. On 3 August, his language was stronger still, as Geng called India’s actions “illegal” and “flagrant”, demonstrating its “irresponsibility and recklessness”, and its disregard for both China’s sovereignty and the UN Charter.
In parallel, in the Chinese media, the hyper-nationalist Global Times predictably led the way. On 27 June – the day after the first MOFA statement – Global Times denounced India’s “unruly provocations” and “arrogance”, and called for it “to be taught the rules”. And as the official line hardened, GTbroadened and deepened its attacks, evoking memories of India’s defeat by the People’s Liberation Army in 1962, mocking India’s military, criticising Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” push, accusing India of manipulating Bhutan and even questioning the health benefits of yoga. At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily also weighed in, warning that an opportunist and adventurist India is “flirt[ing] with disaster” and “playing with fire”. So too did China Daily, pointing to (among other things) the risk of “dangerous miscalculation”. The lowest point was reached, however, when state news agency Xinhua released a video detailing the supposed “Seven Sins” of India, featuring a humourless sketch widely and rightly condemned as racist.
Please click here to read the full “Doklam, the diplomacy of anger, and the Sino-Indian standoff” article in the IAP Dialogue by Griffith Asia Institute Member, Professor Ian Hall.