In a three-hour meeting, the 73-day Doklam stand-off was resolved. The meeting generated a greater understanding between the two sides to put bilateral ties on a stronger footing. Modi was keen not to let the dispute snowball into a full-scale confrontation.
Late in the evening on August 27, Indian ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale was told the Chinese were keen to know how soon they could meet him.
Gokhale conveyed that he was in Hong Kong and could reach only past midnight even if he booked himself on the first Beijing-bound flight. He was urged to reach the Chinese capital as fast as he could, in a first clear indication that the quiet and dogged attempt to defuse the Doklam imbroglio may have borne fruit.
It was 2 in the morning when he sat down with Chinese foreign ministry officials to discuss details of the Doklam disengagement.
It took the two sides three hours to hammer out a mutually acceptable resolution and, potentially, lay the foundation for a new beginning between the giant neighbours.
For, the announcement by the two governments the next day not only defused the stand-off — the worst in decades — on the Himalayan plateau, but appeared to indicate a greater understanding between the two sides to put bilateral ties on a stronger footing where they avoid conflicts and focus on development.
Senior government sources said the de-escalation was facilitated by a larger agreement between the two principals — PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping — that the two sides approach and pursue their ties as a mutually beneficial opportunity; a vehicle to speed up development.
“Both leaders agreed the two sides have a lot to gain from a partnership which helps them grow faster, and that approaching the bilateral equations as a zero-sum game, where one’s gains are invariably at the cost of the other, will be a folly. This is what helped the two sides to achieve the breakthrough and formed the basis for positive talks on the sidelines of the BRICS summit,” a key government functionary, familiar with the details, said.
On Thursday, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi articulated pretty much the same when he told reporters in Beijing that Xi and Modi, during their “successful” talks on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, had agreed to avoid border confrontation to ensure healthy and stable development.
In his first remarks after the agreement on Doklam, Yi said, “Sino-Indian relations are not derailed. Sino-Indian development represents the future of the world… win-win cooperation is an inevitable choice and the correct direction for Sino-Indian ties.”
The convergence of views indeed appears remarkable considering that matters threatened to spiral out of control during the 73-day eyeball-to-eyeball stand-off and was achieved by the PM’s belief that the two sides had nothing to gain from escalation.
Modi, while firm that he wouldn’t allow borders to be redrawn by force, was keen not to let the dispute snowball into a full-scale confrontation. He went about the objective by enforcing message control and by designating the foreign ministry as the only agency authorised to speak.
The discipline sought to be enforced applied to BJP. The party as well as some Sangh Parivar-affiliated outfits were conspicuous by their silence during the stalemate, something remarkable given their prickly sensitivities and the torrent of provocative statements from China’s official media.
The PM did not waver even amid signs of discomfort in BJP circles and taunts from rivals and commentators for “pusillanimity”.
“Someone who didn’t allow slights like visa denials to seek better diplomatic ties with the US, the UK and the European Union would not have allowed himself to be distracted by jeers,” said a senior officer.
Modi also did not let Doklam affect normal business with China. At least half a dozen ministers visited Beijing during the showdown, and with the clear instruction to focus on the possibilities of cooperation. The tenacity worked, resulting in what top-level sources called “extremely positive response” from Xi when the two leaders met in Xiamen.
BJP has refrained from publicly celebrating the resolution of the crisis, but party members and officials, speaking privately, are all praise for the PM.
“Who would have thought that a man who comes across as aggressive and whose eligibility was questioned because of his chaiwala background would use strategic restraint to achieve results,” a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The member listed a string of diplomatic achievements — from arranging gas at cheaper rates from Qatar and renegotiating double tax avoidance treaties with Mauritius and Singapore to broadening of strategic cooperation with the US and speeding up delivery of arms supplies from Russia.