Why is the dragon roaring fire now?

By Yuvraj Sinha

(12/06/2020 15:30IST)

Few days back, I attended a webinar session by Dr. Binod Singh Ajatshatru (Director of the BRICS Foundation, New Delhi). He was speaking on the topic of Indo-China relations as Dr. Ajatshatru has himself spent 15 years in China. In between his speech, he quoted an interesting point. He said that when you visit the Delhi airport, you will find scriptures related to Buddhism and peace all around yourself ranging from ‘Adhya’ hand gesture of Gautam Buddha to elephant and peacock, whereas when you land on the Beijing airport, on the very first sight, you will come across a scripture depicting four dragons holding an armillary sphere (in simple language: an ancient globe), which they call Ziwei Chenheng. Though Dr. Ajatshatru was quoting this thing on a light note, but the scripture at the Beijing airport is enough for understanding the viewpoint of Beijing about itself in the global arena. And the world has begun to realize the intentions of the buildings around Tiananmen Square.

Coincidently, a few days later the news of the confrontation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) broke out. And the confrontation took place not only in one place, rather on three different points in Ladakh and in the Sikkim sector in the northeast. The People’s Republic is acting assertively (more aggressively) not just with its neighbor on the western front, but also with its other neighbor on the eastern front, Japan, even amid the humanitarian crisis like COVID 19.

The country from where COVID 19 originated and, as alleged by the US president Donald Trump and most of the worst hit countries, due to whose mishandling the novel coronavirus became a threat for the human existence on the planet, what would you expect from such a country? Certainly, to act humbly. But Beijing is acting altogether off the notion. Rather, the dragon has adopted a hardliner, firm and assertive (more aggressive) approach while dealing with the capitals around itself, especially New Delhi, Tokyo and Taipei. The dragon has begun to roar fire now. But let’s first look into the chronology (aap chronology samajhie).

On 5th May, around 200 soldiers of the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) witnessed a skirmish on Finger-5 on the northern side of Pangong Tso (lake). According to some media reports, the Chinese troops intruded 3 KMs into the Indian side of the LAC. Generally, such skirmishes often take place due to varied assumptions of the LAC of both the sides, and are solved as both the sides retreat after a ‘banner drill’. But this time, the Chinese troops intercepted the Indian patrolling party, reportedly, the Indian soldiers were surrounded by the Chinese soldiers who brutally assaulted them with batons.

On 9th May, in the Sikkim sector, another fierce face-off took place near Naku-La pass, in which around 150 soldiers were involved and officially according to the Indian Army, 11 soldiers were injured out of which 7 were Chinese and 4 were Indians. But the skirmish didn’t convert into a severe standoff like in that of Ladakh as the matter was solved by high ranked army officials of both the sides. But only on the day of the Sikkim face-off, China increased its military presence on the Ladakh front, which led the Indian Army to increase its deployment in Galwan Valley, accompanied by fighter jets such as Sukhoi SU-30.

But the two interesting things related to the Sikkim face-off are one, the Chinese media, whether, People’s Daily or Global Times, none of them even reported about the incident in which 7 Chinese soldiers were injured (3 more than that of India). Two, Chinese troops have become habitual of entering into the Indian territory whenever they find the frontiers empty for a few hours (Sino-Indian border is the world’s longest unmarked border which consists the huge gigantic mountain range of the Himalayas). This habit often leads to fierce face-offs between Indian and Chinese troops as we saw during the Doklam standoff in 2017.

The Ladakh incident led to a severe standoff on the LAC in Galwan Valley. The standoff hasn't remained confined to Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso, but expanded to Joshimath-Harshil area with the sharp rise in the military deployments on both the sides with fighter jets and helicopters as well as assault guns like Boforce. Amid the standoff, though the ministry of external affairs of China stated that the situation on the LAC is under control, the Chinese president Xi Jinping while addressing the soldiers of the PLA called for the military preparedness for war. This is not a good sign in international diplomacy, especially after informal summits like that of Wuhan and Mamallapuram.

Whereas on the eastern front, on 8th May, in East China Sea, Chinese ships chased Japanese fishing boats near Senkaku (in Japanese) or Diaoyus (in Chinese) islands. The group of uninhabited small islands is a disputed territory between China and Japan and both the nations claim it as their own.

As well as, Nepal has suddenly began to assert its voice against India, which I have explained in another editorial.

But the question is, why? Why the dragon is roaring fire now?

There are a number of answers for the questions with their own relevance. First, the Communist Party of China is facing popular dissatisfaction within its own territory due to the mishandling of the novel Coronavirus by the Chinese authorities which claimed 4,634 lives (officially, we don’t know about the ground reality as there are 99% chances that the Chinese government is hiding the original data). In order to deviate the attention of its people from the issue and present itself as a war hero, Beijing is using such tactics as they did during the 1962 Sino-Indian War when China was facing famine (1958-1962). And obviously, the Chinese government would not like to see the popular dissatisfaction to be expressed as a widespread protest like that of 1989.

Second, the most cited reason, is the construction of an Indian road near the LAC in Ladakh last year, which connects Dubruk in the south and Daulat Beg Oldie in the north. The road has made Beijing go uneasy. But the interesting thing is that China never objected the construction of the road when it was under construction. The fact has pushed New Delhi into a little dilemma over the weightage of the reason in the contention. And for your information, India has made 75% roads near the LAC functional in recent years and is working rapidly on its border infrastructure.

Third, China doesn’t want India to object it over the scrapping of the autonomy of Hong Kong in the global arena, as the QUAD group (Australia, USA, Japan and India) has been criticizing it over the issue. And in the past few years, the closeness between the Raisina Hill and the capitals of the QUAD countries has increased. So, in order to exert pressure on India, China is using its hard power.

Fourth, the growing closeness between the QUAD countries, especially recently signed Indo-Australian logistics pact which calls for reciprocal access to each nation's respective military bases, when it would come into force, it may hinder the activities of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean, including the use of commercial ports of Sri Lanka for military purposes. Thus, such kind of “skirmishes” are the reflection of the anxiety of Beijing.

Fifth, China finds this time (amid the pandemic) as the right time to show-off its power to the world as due to the COVID 19 crisis, all the great economies across the globe (including that of the US) have gone off the track because of which no country would like to afford an armed confrontation with China as wars have become much more expensive than ever in this century. So, Beijing is just exploiting the situation to present itself as a strong candidate for the global seat of the hegemon.

But these are the general reasons, there are some more deeply rooted reasons behind the aggressiveness of the PRC. First, in 2017, when Xi Jinping took over as the president, he presented the agenda of his government, “the great goal”, if I say. The “great goal”, the agenda was to meet the great Chinese dream (becoming the hegemon) by 2030 and re-establishing the territorial integrity as the great Qing dynasty (the statement related to the Qing dynasty was not stated in the agenda but indicated towards it). So, China’s rapid growth, purchase of financial assets across the globe, the Belt and Road initiative and its aggressive behavior towards its neighbors are the parts of the script for meeting that agenda in my opinion.

Second, China’s behavior against Japan is quite natural. I am calling it natural as for example; let’s think as an Indian, we don’t have many good thoughts regarding the British subconsciously, as they ruled on us for 200 years and exploited our homeland. Similarly, in 1937, during the second Sino-Japanese War, the massacre of Nanjing (popularly known as ‘the rape of Nanjing’) took place in which the whole city was plundered, almost the whole of the population was killed brutally by the Japanese Imperial Army and every single female in the city was raped. This incident left a deep scar on the subconscious minds of the Chinese people against Japan and this is the deep rooted reason behind the Chinese aggression against Japan. The reason may sound absurd, but I think so. You can differ from my point.

Third, according to Prof. Happymon Jacob of JNU, by this move China wants to send a message to the US that it can handle pressure from various fronts at once (as China is under great pressure and criticism from the international community over the mishandling of COVID 19and the Hong Kong issue) without being affected by it.

And fourth, and the last, as India has clearly indicated that it would not fall in the line of accepting China as a superior power in the region (or as a conventional superpower) and is itself trying to emerge as one. So in order to make India fall into the line, China uses aggressive tactics against India and other neighbors who reject the idea of accepting China as a “conventional superpower”. And as Prof. Jacob puts in his one of the editorials, “Picking a direct fight with India, which might lead to any undesirable military escalation with India, doesn’t suit Beijing’s interests, but carrying out minor military expeditions with the objective of inflicting small scale military defeats on India is precisely what would suit China’s interests; they are cost effective, less expensive, and the message gets conveyed.”

At the end, the Raisina Hill has to deal with Beijing very firmly but diplomatically as we have to take care of our economic interests with the Tiananmen Square. When I am writing this editorial, the PLA troops have withdrawn 2 KMs back from Galwan Valley and Joshimath-Harshil Area but both the armies are still facing each other jaw to jaw in Pangong Tso. The meeting at Major General Level is yet to take place. But New Delhi should adopt at least on a strategy to counter “the China effect” in the South Asian region that we should refresh and redefine our relations with the small capitals around India from Kathmandu to Dhaka to Thimphu to Colombo, where China has emerged as a major player as an investor and “helper” as well as our ties with the neighboring countries have loosen, despite of many attempts of strengthening the ties through many diplomatic and conventional measures. As well as India should move ahead in investing in the third world countries and should take the lead of the same to counter China in the post COVID 19 world. The Raisina Hill has to look beyond the spectrum if it seriously wants to establish itself as a superpower peacefully (in a multipolar world for which we aspire). And we, as a nation, should counter the “China effects” on the various fronts on various fields.

About Authors.

Yuvraj Sinha

Managing Editor


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