With Doklam negotiations under way, military believes it has emerged victor

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Senior military officials in New Delhi believe Beijing badly overplayed its hand by heating up the rhetoric over the presence of Indian soldiers in the disputed Doklam bowl, adjoining Sikkim. They say in the stalemate that has emerged, India will have achieved its aims.

The planners say that Indian forces have held the upper hand ever since they surprised Chinese troops by confronting them on behalf of Bhutan, and sticking to their position despite unprecedented aggression and threats from Beijing.

“However this plays out, China is going to lose face, since it has made its threats publicly. And India is going to come out looking like a credible and reliable partner for Bhutan”, says a general, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Asked about the possibility of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launching military operations against India, as Beijing has hinted, Indian generals are sanguine.

“There is no military mobilisation by China, nor will the Indian military mobilise unless war becomes imminent. If it comes to fighting, we are prepared to shed blood to uphold the India-Bhutan cooperation agreement. That would only raise our credibility in Thimphu’s eyes”, says a senior military planner.

“But that will not happen. The Chinese know they can achieve no military goal. They are smart enough to realise they have miscalculated badly”, he adds.

On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar admitted to a parliamentary panel that diplomatic negotiations are underway, both in Beijing and New Delhi, to resolve the month-old crisis.

On June 16, after Chinese road construction crews entered Doklam – an 89-square kilometre patch claimed by both Bhutan and China – Indian troops also crossed into Doklam and physically blocked Chinese road construction activity. Since then, hundreds of Indian and Chinese soldiers built up there, deployed eyeball-to-eyeball, initially igniting apprehensions of a shooting war.

Over the past week, however, as diplomatic discussions on de-escalation have moved along, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokespersons and government-controlled media have noticeably toned down the aggressive rhetoric they had earlier adopted.

Until last week, China’s foreign ministry insisted that a unilateral Indian withdrawal from Doklam was “the precondition for any meaningful dialogue between the two sides”. On June 6, Beijing threatened: “We once again urge the Indian side to immediately pull all of the troops that have crossed the boundary back to its own side before the situation gets worse with more serious consequences.”

On Tuesday, however, questioned about a briefing that China’s foreign ministry had given to diplomats in Beijing, a government spokesperson answered more benignly: “People will reach the just conclusion. If Indian wants to achieve its political purposes by sending military personnel across demarcated boundary, China urges India better not to do so.”

China’s media too is noticeably softening its stance from early June, when mouthpieces like the Global Times and Xinhua threatened India with a repeat of the 1962 military defeat. Over the weekend, China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast high-altitude, live fire exercises by a PLA brigade, without mentioning that the drills took place before the Doklam incident began.

This week, articles on the Doklam faceoff have been fewer in number. On Tuesday, after Pakistan’s “Dunya News” – a 24-hour, Urdu language television news channel –concocted news that a Chinese rocket attack in Sikkim had killed more than 150 Indian soldiers, Chinese media dismissed the report as “baseless”.

In India, even as the media keeps the spotlight on Doklam, the government is keeping a level tone. On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar reportedly told a parliamentary panel that hypernationalism and the media spotlight had inflated the crisis out of proportion.