Indian and Chinese PLA soldiers came face to face in Doklam in 2017, the standoff lasted about two months and was eventually resolved through diplomatic and military discussions.
Analysts believe the aggressive tactics displayed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to alter the status quo were aggressively countered by the Indian Army, much to the shock of Beijing.
However, the current standoff between the two neighbours is much more intense and violent. Syed Ata Hasnain, who commanded the 15 Corps in J&K wrote a year after the Doklam standoff that China will continue its strategy of psychological helming in of India along the Himalayan belt so that Indian security perceptions remain rooted there.
He added that Doklam standoff clearly established that any overstepping through this strategy would be resisted by India. Other experts also noted that India’s counter-strategy in Doklam shocked China as India was not willing to back down and there was nothing that Beijing could do to remove Indian soldiers by force.
China learned a harsh lesson from the Doklam standoff and thus decided to construct additional support infrastructure and airbases near the Line of Actual Control (LAC). According to Stratfor, an American geopolitical intelligence platform –
“The Doklam crisis appears to have shifted China’s strategic objectives, with China more than doubling its total number of airbases, air defence positions, and heliports near the Indian border over the past three years,” said the report authored by Sim Tack.
The report added that China started building three airbases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports as part of a larger strategy. Based on satellite imagery and other inputs, China started building four heliports only after the Ladakh standoff began.
“Indian and Chinese forces clashed in the Doklam region in June 2017. Since then, China has started constructing at least 13 entirely new military positions near its borders with India, including three airbases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports,” the report said.
During the 2017 Doklam standoff, the Chinese troops stealthily moved into the Doklam plateau and started building a road in the region. This was seen as an effort to alter the status quo maintained for years in the disputed plateau.
To counter China, India moved its troops in the region to stop the Chinese from constructing the road. It went on for about 75 days and was the longest military standoff between India and China until now.
There were reports stating that China has been pressurising Bhutan to strike a deal on the Doklam boundary dispute. Under the deal, Beijing wanted the Chinese holding line in the contentious region to become the working boundary between the two.
The Stratfor report pointed out that China’s strategy at the LAC is similar to that in the South China Sea. It is trying to confront India with “an insurmountable challenge in territorial disputes by leaning on broad support capabilities that provide Beijing with a tremendous ability to mobilise forces into disputed border areas.”
China has permanent military bases in the South China Sea that strengthens its position which reduces the potential military opposition due to its maritime strength.
“In applying this same strategy on the Indian border, China aims to discourage Indian resistance or military action during future border disputes by ostentatiously demonstrating its ability and intent to engage in military confrontations.”
“The rapid expansion of permanent Chinese military infrastructure points to intentions that span a wider time-frame than current and recent border stand-offs,” it said.
The author acknowledged that the induction of Rafale fighter jets will benefit India but it is a long way before it develops its indigenous munitions. Meanwhile, New Delhi has continued to upgrade its military capabilities to counter China and defeat its plans of altering the status quo.