The 10-week-long standoff between Chinese and Indian forces in the Doklam region of the Himalayas was peacefully resolved on 28 August. This is a victory for diplomacy on both sides. The temptation to score points and declare winners and losers is, however, hard to resist. Analysts from both China and India, as well as other countries, have tried to impose zero-sum verdicts on the resolution of the standoff. But zero-sum perspectives give a simplistic and superficial reading of the Sino-Indian border struggle—and, if they’re internalised by policymakers, they can also produce counterproductive and dangerous conditions for future strategic interaction between the two countries.
The Sino-Indian standoff in the Doklam (Donglang in Chinese) region of the Himalayas where the borders of China, India and Bhutan converge is now nearly two months old. The dispute arose in mid-June when China attempted to build a road in an area it believed to be under its sovereign control, provoking Indian authorities to block the construction by crossing the Sino-Indian border with troops and bulldozers.
America’s strategic deficit in the Asia–Pacific region was in plain sight during the recent Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Although North Korea was a key concern for all participants, many—especially those from Southeast Asia and Australia—found China’s strategic intention a more serious long-term challenge than North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles program. But this year, with the new Trump administration in Washington, they couldn’t count on the US to alleviate their anxiety.