Doklam: We will be at war with China very soon – Meghnad Desai

Doklam Plateau Bhutan

Baron Meghnad Desai“India will not openly become militaristic, but have we got the preparedness for [a war]? We may have things in place. I just wish and hope that we are prepared for a very tough war which may last for a long time.” – Baron Meghnad Desai

With India, the US and China forming a “very combustible mixture right now”, the fate of the ongoing Doklam standoff would largely depend upon events in the South China Sea, noted commentator on international affairs, Meghnad Desai said.

If a war is to break out in the two theatres, which he predicted will begin very soon, it will see the US and India on one side and China on the other.

Desai, a Labour Peer in the British House of Lords, did not consider the Doklam standoff a mere India-China issue but rather equated it to the geo-political tensions across the globe, primarily in the South China Sea.

“Even today, nobody is contemplating that the whole Doklam thing could break anytime. We could be in a full-scale war with China within a month. At that stage it will not be controllable. It may come as a surprise, but that is when the defence co-operation of India (with various countries) will bear fruit,” Desai told IANS in an interview.

But is a war really likely to break out?

“I am not a jyotisi (astrologer). I cannot say what day or date but I think at this time it is very likely that we will be in a state of full-scale war with China very soon. And mind you, on several fronts, not just Doklam. It is just one frontier, they will start from all places, across the northern Himalayas,” Desai, a recipient of the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honour, claimed.

He said that India and the US have an “implicit defence relationship” and that the two countries can safely rely on each other. When asked specifically on the expected reaction of the United States in case there is a war between India and China and whether Washington would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with India, Desai responded: “Absolutely”.

“Ultimately, you have to understand that India cannot stand up to China without American help and support. America cannot stand up to China without Indian help. That is the symmetry in this relationship,” he elaborated.

Desai maintained that “China is the central problem” in the way the American vision is constructed. When asked about the possibility of any back-channel discussions with the US on the Doklam standoff, Desai said that there were not just back-channel negotiations in play but it was being dealt with at the highest level by President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who talk directly to each other.

“All things that follow now will have a lot to do with what happens in the South China Sea. The US has sent out enough signals. If there is war, it will be a US-China war, with India on the US side, in the South China Sea and in the Himalayas. This trio is a very combustible mixture right now,” he contended.

He said that it is important to understand the Chinese thought process because they are “much more nationalistic, militaristic and aggressive” this time.

“I am sure we are not told everything that is going on. But my worry is even though India will not openly become militaristic but have we got the preparedness for it? We may have things in place. I just wish and hope that we are prepared for a very tough war which may last for a long time,” he predicted.

Desai also suggested that India should not make the mistake of equating the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the Pakistani Army.

“I think, from past experience, we always assume that we are well prepared but you will be fighting one of the finest armies in the world. It is a very powerful army and I think they also have (much) training in mountain warfare. So, according to me, it will be a very tough fight for India. Don’t be mistaken that this will be easy. It is not Pakistan. The Pakistani Army is the same set of people. They come from the same army traditions and they have the same thinking but the Chinese are very different,” he reiterated.

Desai also expressed his disappointment over “the lack of talent on the top” of the ruling NDA government. “Arun Jaitley is a very good friend of mine but you can’t have a person handling both the finance and the defence ministries,” he said and suggested that it is perhaps high time that the defence ministry was again made an exclusive portfolio, so that the concerned minister could focus entirely on it.

The Doklam stand-off began in mid-June near the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan when Indian troops moved in to prevent China from constructing a road on Bhutanese territory on the Doklam plateau. China claims the Doklam plateau is a part of South Tibet. – Hindustan Times, 4 August 2017

» Baron Meghnad Desai is a Labour Peer in the House of Lords, London, and a commentator on international affairs.

Chinese Aggression

3 Responses

  1. India’s excellent diplomacy wins.
    Please read my take on this issue here


  2. Bhutanese government rejects China claim on Doklam – The Asian Age – New Delhi – Aug 11, 2017

    New Delhi: The Bhutanese government has once again referred to its foreign ministry statement issued about six weeks ago that Doklam is Bhutanese territory, thereby rejecting a recent Chinese claim that Bhutan had agreed the area belongs to China.

    “Official sources in the Bhutanese government” were quoted as telling an Indian news agency over the phone, “Our position on the border issue of Doklam is very clear. Please refer to our statement which has been published on the web site of Bhutan’s foreign ministry on June 29, 2017.”

    In that initial statement issued on June 29, Bhutan had said it had conveyed to the Chinese side on the ground and through diplomatic channels that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory (Doklam) is a direct violation of the agreements (between Bhutan and China) and affects the process of demarcation of the boundary.

    Also, Bhutan had called for status quo in the Doklam area to be maintained as before June 2017.

    Bhutan had accused China of violating the boundary agreements and asked it to refrain from taking unilateral action or use of force to change the status quo of the Bhutan-China boundary between the two countries, saying that on June 16, 2017, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army camp at Zompelri.

    Bhutan had pointed out that it had been decided in written agreements in 1988 and 1998 between Bhutan and China that the two sides would agree to maintain peace and tranquillity in border areas pending resolution of their boundary dispute.

    According to recent news agency reports from Beijing, China’s top diplomat on the boundary issue, Wang Wenli, had told a visiting Indian media delegation that the Bhutanese government has conveyed to Beijing through the diplomatic channels that the area of the stand-off (Doklam region) is not part of its territory.


  3. Chinese Imperialism: Why Doklam must unite world leaders against Beijing – Prabhash K. Dutta – India Today – New Delhi – August 4, 2017

    Commenting on the Doklam standoff between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Chinese foreign affairs spokesperson yesterday said, “Right now, I can tell you that there are 48 Indian military guards in our territory of Donglang (Doklam).”

    “It has already been more than a month since the incident and India is still not only illegally remaining on Chinese territory, it is also repairing roads in the rear, stocking up supplies, massing a large number of armed personnel,” Liu Jinsong said in New Delhi.

    This narrative of China is part of a well thought strategy of Beijing to endorse its policy of territorial expansion, which is being met with resistance both in the Himalayan region and the South China Sea. Doklam standoff serves as a warning to world leaders at the neo-colonial ambitions of China.


    Since the birth of Communist China, it is the only country whose boundaries are expanding at the cost of its neighbours. China has been pursuing the expansion policy aggressively along its southern and eastern borders—both territorial and maritime.

    Chinese expansion policy has a particular streak. China first stakes claim on its neighbours frontiers forcefully. Beijing repeats its claim at all platforms and on all possible occasions to such an extent that its carefully crafted narrative makes the frontier regions of its neighbours into a dispute or a disputed territory.

    International affairs observers have named this Chinese approach of territorial and maritime expansion the ‘salami slicing’ policy. Doklam is the latest flash-point of the salami slicing policy of China. While India is resisting Chinese attempt to alter boundaries of its neighbour Bhutan by usurping her land, the world leaders have rather been watching the development with conspicuous silence.


    When the Communist Party of China (CPC) unseated the Kuomintang rule in the Han dominated territory of China and drove the former rulers to Taiwan, Tibet was an independent country. It was ruled by Buddhist monks who had no army and were seen as a buffer state by the British Indian rulers.

    China set its eyes on Tibet and occupied it militarily claiming that it was part of the country during ancient times. On that logic, India is entitle to lay its claim on Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and—as some may argue—even Nepal. The Russia can lay claim on even bigger territory.

    Along with Tibet, China also occupied Xinjiang east of Ladakh on the western end of Tibet plateau. The two slices doubled Chinese territorial expanse within years of its establishment.

    The next slice was to come from an Indian territory of the size of modern Switzerland—in the form of Aksai Chin. It was the part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Following its salami slicing policy, China first sent its pastoral communities from Han ethnic group to Aksai Chin with the instruction to drive out local Indian sheep herders.

    By 1962, China had announced its claim over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. It went to war with India, whose contemporary policy was guided by the Panchsheel and not military prowess. Aksai Chin was cut off.

    The Chinese expansion, after meeting resistance from India, has continued in Pakistan. A recent India Today report established how Pakistan has virtually become a colony of China.


    Emboldened by its success in the Himalayas, China replicated the salami slicing policy in the east. It went on to seize Paracel Islands in 1974 from Vietnam. China established Sansha City on the island forcible acquired from Vietnam.

    It was followed by the Johnson Reef which China seized in 1988 from Vietnam. The Mischief Reef in 1995 and the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 were captured in the South China Sea from Philippines.

    China has been in a campaign against Japan over the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing calls Diaoyu. It is located in the East China Sea, over which Beijing lays territorial claim. China considers Senkaku as the first chain of islands along with Taiwan and islands in the region controlled by Philippines and Vietnam.

    China first laid claim on Senkaku, controlled and administered by Japan. Despite Japan refuting the claims, and the US backing its stand on Senkaku, China kept reiterating its narrative. Now, there is an emerging view that Senkaku Islands are a dispute between China and Japan.

    China maintains that it has exclusive territorial (almost 80 per cent of the area) claim over the South China Sea, which is very rich in minerals and natural gas. The US, Japan and the countries having shores in the South China Sea—Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam—dispute Chinese claim.

    The Chinese claim is in violation of the provisions—including that of 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones—defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982. In the face of aggressive salami slicing policy of China, India’s stand on Doklam came as flagging example for the world leaders to follow.


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