Originally Published 2020-06-04 10:47:21 Published on Jun 04, 2020
After Doklam, China seems to want to ‘expose’ once again how India’s Quad allies are concerned only about the shared waters of the Indo-Pacific
Understanding China’s message to our country

After facing weeks of global attack as the originator of the Covid-19 pandemic, China is now hitting the headlines with its recent adventurism along the borders. It may be the country’s way of ascertaining India’s military preparedness and check if New Delhi was ready to make good the claims of some ruling party politicians that India would take back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), and also to remind us that it could then be a three-nation, two-sector/theatre war.

There is the common ‘Kashmir sector’, where Chinese and Pakistani territorial interests cojoin in the form of Aksai Chin. It is a part of PoK that Islamabad handed over to Beijing, long ago. The CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) as a part of Beijing’s BRI passes through PoK. The truth of it does not matter, but if India were to take back all of PoK, it would have to take on China, too, over Aksai Chin.

Showing India its ‘place’: For this reason, China seems convinced that India cannot have border negotiations with either of its historic adversaries without providing a chair for the other to join in on a later date. China is even more perturbed about the possibility of India’s position on a future Dalai Lama, whom Beijing wants to appoint and control.

Beijing is not convinced about India’s decades-old voluntary acceptance of Tibet as an integral part of China. It does not even seem to have considered the incumbent’s delineation of temporal and political powers after his time, that too in the context of New Delhi’s contextualised reiterations that India has offered political asylum only to the present, 14th Dalai Lama.

China seems to want a comprehensive negotiated settlement on all disputes with India, including Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh and more so the future Dalai Lama. In doing so, China also wants to keep Pakistan holding its hands—and is seen as doing so. Border disputes are bilateral in the two cases, and not trilateral as China deems. Likewise, India may be an interested party on the Dalai Lama question, but it cannot be a negotiating party.  Either China takes India at its past behaviour or confuses itself on the future possibilities.

‘Exposing’ allies: It is anybody’s guess how Beijing feels about playing facilitator between India and Pakistan, when it has now declined another of US President Donald Trump’s brainwaves, of playing negotiator between India and China. India’s response to Trump is not as vehement as it was when the US president claimed to have offered his services to play negotiator between India and Pakistan. India has made the point when it denied Trump’s claims of speaking to Modi on China now.

Three years after Doklam in 2017, China also seems to want to ‘expose’ once again how India’s Quad allies are concerned only about the shared waters of the Indo-Pacific and not its land borders where alone China stands a chance, if at all. Post-pandemic, neither economies can afford war. But if China thought that the 21st century India and Indians would flinch, Balakot was an appetiser.

Yet, on Doklam, Japan was the only Quad member-nation to side with India, but after a studied silence. Now, on the Sikkim/Ladakh row, the US is the only Western ally to identify with India. But mid-level US State Department official Alice Wells’s criticism of China lacked the Trump-era punch, that too when the US is otherwise engaged in a multi-pronged diplomatic and political war with China. Wells’s reference to China’s other predatory (maritime border) rows took even the limited punch away.

Trump has since followed up on his official’s criticism of China with his offer of mediation. By definition, an intended mediator should present himself as non-partisan. It means that as with Pakistan earlier, the strategic interests of the US viz India are limited to military supplies. For the US, it also means outsourcing American geo-strategic concerns in the Indo-Pacific to the other three Quad members. During the Cold War, the US-NATO alliance protected Western Europe by tying down the Soviet Union to the Continent for most parts.

Barrel of the gun: Straight and simple, China wants to dominate the world scene as the sole non-American, non-West voice. More importantly, it does not want India on the high table. It takes, and will continue to take such border swipes at India, also reminding New Delhi of the one-off Indian disaster in the 1962 war—a war that India joined and yet did not join.

Yet, China seems to want to take the US route of reassured friendship with neighbours before taking the superpower route. But it appears to be following the disastrous ‘Soviet model’ by jack-booting ‘friends’ in Eastern Europe and mishandling Western Europe, until the collapse in 1991.

Xi Jinping’s China still seems to be believing in Mao Zedong’s maxim that ‘political power flows out of the barrel of a gun’. It also follows the Cold War American way of enlisting smaller nations through economic aid—but on preposterous terms. India does not require Chinese aid. It is not frightened by the show of the Chinese gun.

This commentary originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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