China with two faces

Despite having sat through 15 convivial meetings with Indian Military Commanders, neither is a Chinese attempt at disengagement nor are there any signs of de-escalation.

China with two faces

As China menacingly sits astride Indian borders at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since May 2020, its actions on the border are bizarre. Despite having sat through 15 convivial meetings with Indian Military Commanders, neither is a Chinese attempt at disengagement nor are there any signs of de-escalation. In fact, latest reports indicate that in the Eastern Sector, “Chinese fighter jets (are) repeatedly violating agreements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — forcing the Indian Air Force (IAF) to scramble its own”. According to these mutually agreed confidence building measures, military aircraft are not expected to operate within a 10kms zone. These are hostile actions.

Alongside, the PLA is feverishly building massive military infrastructure along the LAC. A new highway is coming up which will traverse through disputed portions in Aksai Chin and in portions considered flash points. As India watched, China built two bridges over the Pangong Lake.

It is as if the Chinese regime wants to fulfil its ominous warnings of waging a war, issued by its mouthpiece the Global Times in October 2021. 

Much of these dichotomies can be explained under the rubric of Chinese belief. There is a deeply rooted desire to attain a world power status. In its Communist Avatar the regime in Beijing has shed its Confucian moorings and practices realist theories in an expansionist ethos.  American Political Scientist of realist school,  John Mearsheimer’s Theory of Offensive Realism and the Rise of China clarifies this phenomenon. Mearsheimer writes at length about his theory’s implications regarding the rise of China in the Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001). In 2010 he had argued  that that there is no way to accurately predict China’s current or future intentions , that it is difficult to distinguish between China’s defensive and offensive military capabilities and that China’s past peaceful behavior is an unreliable indicator of future behavior . According to him China singularly espouses single minded pursuit of power of one’s own nation over others. Now Xi Jinpingis actively promoting the concept of a ‘Community of Common Destiny’ in its domestic and global diplomacy. A key challenge will be to get past the ambiguity of the expression.

History tells us that this Chinese trait traces itself to the Han regimes in the past , which purposefully expanded their lands and cultures influencing many neighboring countries such as Korea, Mongolia, Viet-Nam and  Japan. Through a series of military campaigns and expeditions it created what is now modern China and northern Vietnam.

I believe this philosophy wasdeeply nurtured within China’s modernization programmes. In December 1978 at the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Central Committee, Deng Xiaoping had announced the official launch of the “Four Modernizations’ ‘, formally marking the beginning of the reform. Which consisted of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology? The military modernization was the last one to take shape.

That brings us back to Chinese attitudes towards India. It is then easy to explain and perhaps to look at the future.

The history of hostile forces joining hands for hemming India was a great game played between Pakistan and China astride the Jammu and Kashmir regions.  It all started in 1959 when President Ayub Khan of Pakistan made overtures to the Peoples’ Republic of China ( PRC) allegedly, for resolving a border dispute with China. He became concerned, it is said, that Chinese maps showed areas of Pakistan in China. The Chinese regime initially remained unresponsive but quietly withdrew these maps in January 1962 when Pakistan supported the entry of PRC to the United Nations. And they followed up with a proposal for border talks in March 1962. These negotiations commenced in 13th October 1962 and the Sino –Pak Agreement was signed on 2ndMarch, 1963. Whilst these discussions were unfolding the PRC was waging a war on India during the interregnum 20 October – 21 November 1962 ; at Ladakh and In Arunachal Pradesh .

With this the transaction Pakistan ceded about 5,300 km2 of territory to China. And in return it received approximately 1900 square kms from China. Pakistan gave China the area around the Shaksgam Valley known as the Trans-Karakoram Tract. And received control over areas north of Jammu and Kashmir now labelled as the Northern Areas by Pakistan.  Most astoundingly, neither of the nations had any right to the ownership of these territories. They were most blatantly exchanging lands which belonged to India. Much to India’s dislike, China promoted a road from Kashgar to Gwadar Bay, linked with the CPEC, which traverses through territory claimed by India. The illegal nature of the deal was pointed out to the Chinese Regime.  And that is the primary reason that India did not participate in China’s One Belt One Road campaign.

There is a very logical conclusion that with India abstaining from OBOR, it is being viewed as an immense negative impact to the Chinese neighborhood policy. It has affected China’s domestic dynamics and hence the Chinese misadventure in Ladakh.

Whilst India continues to be an active participant in the Shanghai Cooperation Council and in the BRICS, it has made it abundantly clear that it wants a rule based world order in which nation states act and interact in the well-established framework nurtured by the United Nations. And it is with this deep ideology India joined the QUAD, an organization consisting of Australia, USA and Japan. At heart of the matter was balancing and confronting, Chinese misadventure In South China Sea, Taiwan and very largely with interference with Sea Lanes of Communication.

By Prashant Dikshit.

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