The recent skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops at the Sino-Indian border may not be as innocuous as some observers would like to make them out. In all likelihood, these are a reflection of the newly-hewn aggressive Chinese economic and military diplomacy which seeks to intimidate other nations into submission. The way China reacts angrily even to a mild hint that the coronavirus pandemic was China-born, which it really was, indicates an aggressive, nay offensive attitude. There are more compelling examples to endorse the view that China is power-drunk and beginning to behave like an international bully, a bad boy of global diplomacy. It seems China has given up all pretence to conduct diplomatic discourse in a civilised and well-mannered way.
The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison probably spoke for the wider world when he called for an inquiry into the origin of coronavirus and its handling by China. After all, the Wuhan-origin virus had laid the entire world low, disrupting global economy and generally tormenting the world population. Immediately, the Chinese Ambassador in Canberra publicly threatened economic reprisals, warning that import of beef, wine and barley would be stopped and that the Chinese students would stop enrolling in Australian universities. Within days, China slapped an extraordinary 80 percent tariffs on the Australian barley. Such blatant economic blackmail was unknown in modern diplomacy. Earlier, the Chinese Ambassador in Germany threatened to stop the import of German cars should the latter consider banning the use of Huawei’s controversial 5-G equipment on security grounds. In recent weeks, Sweden too had to countenance the ugly face of militant Chinese diplomacy. When it expressed concern at the growing abuse of human rights, the Chinese Ambassador retorted wildly that ‘for our enemies, we have shotguns’. However, the disarray in the US foreign policy following Trump’s election as president is not a sufficient explanation for the belligerent Chinese diplomacy. The way it has intimidated smaller nations, from Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and even Japan over the disputed islands in the South China Sea, would suggest that China is out to carve the new world order where it is recognised as the new super power to whom everyone else pays public fealty. Such brazen muscle-flexing was not seen from either of the two super powers even during the height of the Cold War. China believes its superior military and economic power gives it the right to dictate to every country in the region.
Seen from the above perspective, the recent border clashes between India and China stem not from the usual misunderstanding over the poorly drawn boundary, but may indicate something more sinister. Coupled with the almost synchronised noises emanating from Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, who has invented a border dispute with India by publishing a brand new map, it is clear that China is out to keep India distracted from its real objective of growing its economy and to provide a decent welfare to its 1.3 billion people while remaining committed to a vibrant democracy. Oli, who owes his job to the Chinese Ambassador in Kathmandu, is a mere puppet, warning India of trouble if it built a road on its own side of the border. Till very recently, the area now claimed as its own through a new cartographic invention by Nepal was a duly recognised part of the Indian territory.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Acting US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells unruffled feathers in Beijing, calling the Sino-India border skirmishes as ‘disturbing behaviour but part of a pattern’ by China. She was forthright in condemning the ‘aggressive and provocative Chinese behavior, be it in the South China Sea’ or in compromising the independence of the WHO, or in the spread of ‘mass worldwide killing’ resulting from the Chinese-origin coronavirus. A day later, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson dismissed her criticism as ‘utter nonsense’, the response indicative of the same belligerent foreign policy which the US official decried in her remarks. While the Indian and Chinese military and diplomatic channels resolve the latest border standoff, Indians will have to internalise the fact that they are up against an aggressive and expansionist northern neighbour which seeks to prevent its rise as an economic and military power in its own right. Without formally joining any anti-China alliance, India needs to cooperate with all those nations, including the US, Australia and Japan in Quad, which enhance its security and geo-strategic strength. Despite its growing military and economic strength, China is vastly handicapped by its dictatorial system and, lately, its brazenly aggressive effort to compromise the sovereignty and independence of its neighbours and other economically weaker nations. In contrast, India stands out as a peaceful, democratic country with evil designs neither on its smaller neighbours nor anyone else. A recent public opinion poll in a couple of western democracies revealed that China post-coronavirus is perceived with great suspicion and distrust, something unlikely to bother the deeply-entrenched oligarchs of the Chinese Communist Party.