Capital Grapevine
Capital Matters

Capital Grapevine

Virendra Kapoor

Spurt in Sino-Indian border skirmishes meant to keep India unsettled

The Coronavirus pandemic has not deterred China from foraying into Indian territory in the Ladakh sector. Indeed, the pandemic may be the reason why China decided to step up aggressive patrolling in the region in order to detract from its own culpability in spreading the deadly virus far and near. Had China acted in time, and prevented the outward-bound flights last December itself, the deadly virus might not have spread like wild fire, laying low mighty nations and failing some of the best public health systems in the world.

But why is China out to unsettle India at this time, because this is the time when India has decided to turn a new leaf in its economic and political history. Under the new policy measures unveiled recently, India is keen to attract foreign capital and manufacturing which might move away from the always politically stifling but hitherto financially productive China. With the Trump administration pressuring American companies to leave China, India hopes it may emerge as the next big hub for the global supply chains.

However, the skirmishes at the Sino-Indian border create uncertainty in the minds of prospective investors. Keeping India unsettled, forcing it to divert energies and precious resources to bolster border defences, may be part of a considered Chinese strategy. Of late the Chinese have begun to pursue a brazenly aggressive diplomacy, using superior economic and military power to try and force everyone into meek submission.

The recent border skirmishes are a reflection of the aggressive Chinese economic and military diplomacy. The way Beijing reacts angrily even to a mild suggestion that the coronavirus pandemic was China-born indicates an offensive attitude. There are more compelling examples to prove China’s power-drunk behavior. It is acting like an international bully, a bad boy of global diplomacy. China seems to have given up all pretence to conduct diplomacy in a civilized and well-ordered manner.

The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke for the wider world when he called for an inquiry into the origin of Coronavirus and its handling by China. After all, the virus had laid the entire world low, disrupted global economy and tormented 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 imports of 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. Which the US had already banned and is pressuring other nations to do likewise. In recent weeks, Sweden too countenanced the ugly face of militant Chinese diplomacy. When it expressed concern at the growing abuse of human rights, particularly of Muslim -Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Chinese Ambassador retorted wildly that ` for our enemies, we have shotguns.’

However, the disarray in the US foreign policy thanks to Trump is not a sufficient explanation for the belligerent Chinese diplomacy. The way China has intimidated smaller nations, from Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, and even Japan over the disputed islands in the South China Sea, establishes that it is out to carve the new world order in which it is recognized as the new super power to whom everyone pays public fealty. This is the 21st century version of gunboat diplomacy.

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 indicate something more sinister. Coupled with the almost synchronized 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 wants 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 recognized 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 behavior 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 further confirming the same belligerent Chinese attitude 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 internalize the fact that they are up against an aggressive and expansionist northern neighbor 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 depth.

Despite its growing military and economic strength, China is handicapped by its one-party dictatorial system. 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 by a great majority of people with suspicion and distrust.

However, in their current mood, when they believe thanks to their military and economic power they are the new global superpower, adverse world opinion is unlikely to bother the oligarchs of the Chinese Communist Party. Witness how the commitment to keep Hong Kong autonomous till at least 2047 under the one-country, two systems agreement is being shredded to clamp a stifling new security law meant to snuff out all democratic freedoms. China does not care. The world will have to join hands to ensure it does not become a menace to global peace and security.

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Virus: Singapore worse than India

The tiny city-State of Singapore with less than half the population of Delhi believed it had overcome the threat from the coronavirus and opened up. It clamped back strict restrictions when the second wave overwhelmed the well-governed country with a highly disciplined citizenry and very high standards of sanitation and hygiene. With over 30,000 cases in a population of 5.6 million, Singapore compares poorly with India when it comes to handling the pandemic. At that rate, India by now would have had over 70 lakh cases as against 1.18 lakhs on May 22. The point: rushing headlong into reopening without taking necessary precautions can be counter-productive.

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Social media works both ways

Party politics is increasingly conducted on social media. But the internet is a double-edged tool. it needs to be used intelligently. Otherwise, it can expose you as a fool. The other day, Rahul Gandhi met a group of migrants headed home. The TV cameras were alerted. A few hours later, someone put out a video of how one of the more articulate `migrant’ women with whom he was shown talking had actually travelled to the spot in a car only a few minutes ahead of his arrival. Earlier, a number of photographs put up on social media sites by several Congress leaders to highlight the plight of migrants were found to be decades old, depicting Bangladeshis and Rohingyas in their own countries.