Doklam is in the news again, 40 days after the Chinese pulled back their construction equipment on the border plateau in deference to Indian sensitivities.
With two weeks to go for the crucial National Congress of the Communist Party of China, India’s northern neighbor has again started construction activity near Doklam.
Apart from some verbal expressions of irritation, the move has not led to the dispatch of Indian troops to stop the construction activity.
There are two broad reasons for the same. The first is the location.
While the previous episode took place in ‘disputed’ territory that was claimed by Bhutan and China, this time, the construction is taking place 10 km away from the spot of the last confrontation.
According to army sources quoted by the media — the area where the current construction is happening is not ‘disputed’, but clearly inside Chinese territory.
It would, presumably, be a wholly different matter altogether to send Indian troops to China to prevent them from constructing a road inside their country.
The second reason could have to do with China’s internal politics.
The Chinese Communist Party is all set to kick off its five-yearly National Congress that will elect the next secretary general of the party and the country’s president.
Given that current president Xi Jinping has only served one term as China’s president, it is more or less certain that he will be given a second, and final, five-year term as well.
However, the Congress is also when the party reshuffles its 400-member Central Committee. The constitution of the committee will reflect the clout and power of prominent leaders, including Xi and his predecessor Hu Jintao.
Keenly watched will be whether or not the committee will be filled exclusively with Xi’s loyalists, or whether others would also make it.
There are speculations that Xi may try to keep a tight control over the composition of the committee in the hope that he might be able to try for a third term in 2022.
However, all this also requires him to come across as a ‘strong leader’, not someone who ‘gave up’ construction activities in the face of Indian opposition. Hence the restarting of construction, albeit at a distance.
The Indian reaction has so far been measured, but not entirely accommodating of Xi’s domestic political compulsions.
“As far as northern adversary is concerned,” said Army Chief Bipin Rawat today, “the flexing of muscle has started.
“The salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of threshold is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations emerging which could gradually emerge into conflict,” he added.
However, at least as long as the Chinese remain in what is indisputably their territory, it is very unlikely that India will repeat the dispatch of troops as was done in the case of Doklam part 1.
What remains to be seen is what exactly gets built on the ground and whether or not the activities continue beyond the end of this month, by which time the Congress too would have come to an end.