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What Were China's Objectives in the Doklam Dispute?

Takeaways for Washington

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, September 2014.  Ahmad Masood / REUTERS

At 14,000 feet above sea level and with a perpetually harsh climate, the Doklam Plateau is an enormously difficult place to defend. Meanwhile, those launching an attack face exponentially greater challenges—and that’s before the Himalayan winter sets in. This helps explain why China and India last week ended a military standoff there that had been festering since June. Beyond the sheer misery of preparing to fight on such a forbidding battlefield, however, both nations had every reason to deescalate one of the most serious showdowns since their sole war in 1962. The status quo ante has been essentially restored, but the dispute raised important questions about the balance of power in Asia, China’s grand strategy, and what Washington can learn from the episode.

China and India share a border over 2,500 miles long, with almost all of it based on colonial-era agreements and surveys, and much of it still disputed.

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