It seems the Doklam issue will be known as a watershed moment in the relation of India and China, and for the future of South-East Asia in general. Doklam issue last for more than 2 months and then just before BRICS summit, both the Nations decided to solve it amicably.
However, things are not as such what has been portrayed at the first place. China was trying to show itself as a Victor, however the reality seems far away from that, and that can be seen in the outcomes of Doklam issue.
As everyone knows it was Chinese Army (PLA) which was responsible for the Doklam issue, and it seems Chinese government is miffed with the way this issue was stretched out of the proportion by their Generals. There are reports of growing differences between Chinese Government and Chinese Army (PLA) for last few days.
In a major development, Chinese President Xi Jinping replaced the chief of the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) joint staff department. This position which is equivalent to USA Chief of Staff was created last year.
As per the sources, the removed chief, General Fang Fenghui, was an obstacle to clinching a deal with India and probably was responsible for precipitating the standoff in the first place.
This was not the first time that PLA’s unprofessional behavior imposed diplomatic costs on China. In 2014, when Chinese President arrived in India on a State visit, even at that time Chinese Army had encroached deep inside the Ladakh. That encroachment was worst in many years in terms of the number of intruding troops. That Incident had overshadowed Xi’s entire visit and it was nothing less than an embarrassment for him.
Even in 2013 when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited New Delhi, it was again a major embarrassment for him as PLA encroached 19-km into another part of Ladakh that lasted for almost three weeks.
We can’t reject these provocations as an unintentional acts of PLA, if we see the pattern these incursions seem well planned and orchestrated. It is also believed that this is a modus operandi of Chinese government, they are very well aware of this tactic of their Army, even they use it as a Soft and Hard tactics to test the patience of India.
However there is a possibility of a growing rift and disconnect between the military and the civilian leadership in China.
In recent times Chinese Government has taken certain steps which shows its deliberate efforts to bring Chinese Military under its complete control. President Xi has purged few generals and admirals and has taken few other reform-related actions to consolidate his authority over the PLA and ensure that it does not blindside the government.
The similar approach was seen during his 2014 India visit, where Xi appeared embarrassed by the accompanying PLA encroachment and assured PM Modi that he would sort it out upon his return.
After he returned, he took a closed-door meeting with PLA commanders that where he made a clear distinction that “all PLA forces should follow his instructions” and that the military must display “absolute loyalty and firm faith in the party.” He has conveyed that same message repeatedly since then, including recently on the 90th anniversary of the PLA’s creation.
In last couple of decades PLA has gradually became stronger and this military’s growing power has troubled President too much.
One of the most important action Xi took reaffirm party control over the military was when he trapped and dismissed few Defence Officers in the name of Anti-Corruption drive. He has also decreased the size of the ground force and established a new command-and-control structure.
However PLA seems to be reluctant to fall in line and obey Government’s order. With ever growing Defence budget and its expanding role in South-East Asia, the PLA sees itself as the ultimate conciliator of Chinese nationalism.
The PLA’s increasing influence has led China to stick out a more muscular role, including resurrecting territorial and maritime disputes, proclaiming new dominion claims, and using construction activity to change the status quo. It won’t be too long before the PLA may revitalize Himalayan tensions with a new encroachment in near future.