Doklam crisis echoes loudly in South and South-East Asia

From Nepal to the Philippines, countries in South and South-East Asia are keenly observing the Doklam crisis, wary of taking sides, but also keeping a close eye on subtle power shifts that the unfolding crisis embroiling China and India may reveal.

As expected, Pakistan has thrown its weight behind China, its “iron brother.” During a carefully choreographed visit to Islamabad by China’s Vice Premier, Wang Yang, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence, the Pakistani side backed all positions adopted by China, ranging from Doklam to the South China Sea (SCS), and anything that fell in-between.

Pak rues ‘Indian intrusions’ into China

The Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported that during talks with the visiting leader, Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain “expressed concern over the reported Indian incursions into the Chinese territory and said that Pakistan fully supports the stance of China on the issue.” He also lauded Beijing’s “adept handling of the issue and reiterated that Pakistan stands by China on the issues of Tibet, Sinkiang (Xinjiang) and South China Sea.”

On the other end of the spectrum, in the Asia-Pacific, Japan has become the first G-7 country to support India’s position on the Doklam issue. In New Delhi, Japan’s Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu acknowledged that the Doklam area “is disputed between China and Bhutan,” countering Beijing’s claim that the stand-off was taking place on Chinese sovereign territory. His remarks drew a sharp rebuke from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, who asserted on Friday that she wanted to “remind him [the Japanese Ambassador to India] not to randomly make comments before clarifying relevant facts.”

Nepal plays it safe

In South Asia, Nepal, sharing common borders with India and China, has expressed neutrality on the Doklam standoff, and called for a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the crisis. But in the Asia-Pacific, the Doklam face-off is being conflated with regional contests between China and several members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the SCS.

“The escalating tensions [in Doklam] may have culprits on both sides of the fence, but for many in East Asia it underscores the fact that China is embroiled in multiple territorial disputes across the Eurasian landmass and rim land, “says Richard J, Heydarian, a Manila-based scholar with the De La Salle University. In an emailed response to The Hindu, he points out that that the Doklam crisis puts to test “the whole thesis of a ‘stable, multipolar’ post-American world, since Asia’s two giants are now at loggerheads with no side seemingly willing to back off.”

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP), quoting foreign policy specialists is reporting that the protracted border dispute between China and India in the Himalayas “has created a ‘spillover effect’ as China’s neighbours become unsettled by its tough handling of the escalating conflict between the two Asian giants.”

ASEAN positive over Indian presence

The daily points out that the ASEAN “ generally regards a robust Indian presence in the region as a useful deterrent against China, which has been increasingly assertive in its approach to handling territorial issues, as has been the case in the Himalayas.”

The newspaper quoted Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an international relations scholar at Bangkok-based Chulalongkorn University, as saying that Thailand “would see the benefit of China being challenged in the South Asia theatre.”

“India’s standing up to China can only be a boon for South-East Asian countries even when they don’t say so openly,” he observed. “Any major power keeping China in check can only yield geopolitical benefits to South-East Asia as the region is wary of China’s growing assertiveness.”

The daily quoting analysts says that the recent developments “have wide strategic implications — pointing to how Asia is increasingly defined by the China-India rivalry and the renewed tensions between the two Asian giants.”

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