Smoke and mirrors
As China becomes more isolated on the world stage in recent times, its aggressive posturing and diplomacy seek to portray a strong if desperate front
There is no letup in the worst form of aggressive posturing by China not only on the Indian borders with regular incursions on the Ladakh frontier but also its belligerent moves are more than visible in Taiwan, Vietnam, The Philippines and in its own backyard Hong Kong.
Unleashing its crackdown in Hong Kong, as recently as on September 6, the authorities in Hong Kong arrested nearly 300 protesters who had congregated on the streets demonstrating against deferment of the elections earlier planned to be held on September 6. The law enforcing agencies were ruthless as they fired pepper balls and resorted to direct physical assault on the peaceful crowd. They were simply drawing the attention of the government not to postpone the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections. In fact, the pro-democracy lobbies were expected to do well in the elections and apprehending an embarrassing defeat, the authorities put off the polls. Most of the arrests were carried out in Yau Ma Tei district under Kowloon district.
The pretext taken by the Chinese authorities was the threat of COVID-19, but the protestors claim that in Hong Kong, there were only 4,800 cases since January this year. Misquoting statistics, China asserted that the law imposed on June 30 declaring any gathering as illegal, didn't allow any unlawful assembly thus the use of force was a must and preceding this, they deferred the elections.
To stifle the voice of dissent, most significantly, the dissenter activist, Leung Kwok Lung aka Long Hair, was arrested, confirming Chinese brutal show of force and ugly posturing even in Hong Kong. Critics say China doesn't want to give up its assertiveness trying to signal the global community that it was still in charge within its own country and doesn't give a damn to its universal detractors whether in its brutal crackdown in the Uighur Muslims, protesters in Hong Kong, champions of cause for Tibet or anything of that kind. Obviously, President Xi Jinping is desperate to be seen that China is still a force to reckon with and it's hegemony runs the writ combined with its expansionist plans. Xi doesn't want to slacken this hold.
Pursuing the same policy, China continues to exercise its hegemonic drills on its western neighbour India. This design is amply demonstrated in its acrimonious action in the Galwan valley on June 15 this year taking 20 lives of Indian army. Since then, on one hand, it's engaging the Indian military for talks to settle the impasse but on the other, it continues to build military infrastructure and flex its muscles on the borders to assert its presence, staking territorial claims.
To prove the point under reference, only at the express initiative of the Chinese side, Indian Raksha Mantri Raj Nath Singh, met his Chinese counterpart, Gen Wei Fenghe at Moscow on September 5. It looks a facade as the Chinese Minister talked about de-escalation on the border and yet several Chinese troops were seen on the borders along the same time armed with spears and some with rifles more specifically on the south banks of Pangong lake between Rechin La - Rezangla - Mukhpari and Magar hill. Military experts feel this is dubious, further exposing China to be clearly following a cloak and dagger policy. It's difficult to fathom how a sovereign country can rely on any word or assurance from China.
Meanwhile, it's equally important to point out that of late, India also seems to be in military preparedness not only for posturing but to convey a strong message that the Chinese theatrics or use of medieval tools to threaten India is a thing of the past. India means business as enough is enough. It would appear that such communications have reached China principally that India, to defend its territorial sovereignty, may if necessary, take a military recourse to reprisal. That's when the Chinese gesticulations came alive trying to engage Indian military, the Defence and External Affairs Ministers for talks.
However, judging by the Chinese treachery in the war of 1962, then again, the misadventure in Sikkim in 1967, Doklam in 2017 and repeated and recent incursions in Ladakh show a pattern that China is only provoking India for an escalation but to show the world that China is not the aggressor, its issuing occasional statements for talks. In reality, its intentions are suspect.
This apart, China is irked by India's growing strategic ties with the US, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. Chinese bullying tactics continue to warn India to distance from these quarters as the quad combine is threatening to China. By provoking border skirmishes in Ladakh, Xi Jinping wants to bare his fangs as a word of caution.
It's pertinent to touch upon the Pakistan factor as well. In a US 2020 report submitted to its Congress, it outlines deep strategic ties between Pakistan and China. This is to meet Chinese operational strategic objectives. It has the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative in Pakistan for long term strategic goals. Also, its interest in developing the Gwadar port. Both these projects are linked with pipelines and port construction to decrease Chinese reliance on transporting energy resources through strategic chokepoints, such as the Straits of Malacca. Chinese Strategic Support Force (SSF) has tracking, telemetry and command structure in Namibia, Pakistan and Argentina. Chinese coordinated arrangement with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan since 2016 as the Quadrilateral Counter Terrorism measure is likely to be used by China as it has outlined three evils viz., terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in the border countries. As a wily opportunistic country, China is banking on 'Wolf-Warrior' diplomacy which is unlikely to succeed in the long run. China watchers also say with confidence that China is trying to extricate itself from the convincing charges that it was solely responsible for the spread of Coronavirus emanating from Wuhan. It's finding it difficult to swallow this affront. And the frustration is manifesting into such aggressive posturing and assertions and display of show of force.
As regards Chinese attempts of aggression at regular intervals are concerned, it surely continues to test the waters of India's reactions and military responses so that China can go for a bigger misadventure factoring India's internal and external conditions. There was recently a very animated debate on an electronic media platform participated by Brahma Chellaney, the expert on geostrategy, Adam Ni, a specialist on Chinese foreign policy and security issues and Sumit Ganguly, distinguished Professor of Political Science, Indiana University. It would appear from their articulations that China is provoking hostile posturing with India thus raising the chances of an escalation for a military conflict between India and China.
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal