China’s territorial aggression in Ladakh, well beyond the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into the Indian territory of Galwan Valley and its barbaric and reprehensible act of killing 20 Indian soldiers, including a Colonel, has portrayed the Beijing leadership as irresponsible. The motive is driven by both triumphalism and a sense of insecurity. Even since Xi Jinping came into power and consolidated his rule by making himself ‘President for life’, he has abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum ‘hide your strength and bide your time,’ he has whipped up Chinese nationalism to make its citizens believe that the time has come to regain China’s lost glory, its perceived territories, land or sea, and establish its hegemony in the region, if not in the world.
Never before in post-W.W.II period, had any major power behaved so irresponsibly and callously like China-in hiding facts about Covid-19, which has already taken the lives of 453,000 globally and growing. Had Beijing been honest and not hidden facts about the deadly nature of Coronavirus until the end of January this year, lives of thousands could have been saved by taking effective precaution and better management of the movement of people. Any country that wanted to put travel restrictions on the Chinese were threatened with suspension of trade and exports to China that were vital for their economic wellbeing. Chinese diplomats are now publicly fighting foreign governments, politicians and other stakeholders, from companies to the media, simply to put on a nationalist show for audiences at home. From France and Australia to Sweden and Brazil, Chinese diplomats are criticising governments, parliaments and ministers, while threatening companies and other innocent parties with retribution for their governments’ actions, over which they have no control.
If Beijing could threaten far-away advanced countries consumed by its hubris and ‘China Dream’; as a global power Beijing thinks it can challenge the America in the region. Its smaller neighbours are of no consequence in its craving for power and influence. As China was scrambling to contain the coronavirus outbreak that ravaged parts of the country before crossing international boundaries, it was asserting its presence in the South China Sea through a continued campaign of aggression and harassment. Despite the pandemic, Beijing has not reduced its year’s long activities in the crucial waterway, through which a third of the world’s shipping passes annually. China claims nearly every island in the South China Sea and has constructed other islands with military outposts, worrying other claimant nations like Vietnam and the Philippines, among others in the region, and the United States that has economic and strategic stakes in Asia. As the world continues to be preoccupied with containing the coronavirus pandemic, China recently strengthened its grip in the area by creating new administrative districts — the Xisha District and Nansha District — in Sansha City, a prefecture-level unity on Woody Island, according to Chinese state media. China’s aggression on India is also an attempt on the part of Beijing to prove its superior military and economic strength, and to send a signal to the United States, Beijing main rival and a perceived promoter of New Delhi to be part of group that tries to contain it, just as China’s war on India in 1962 was also a signal to the Soviets that it could afford to humiliate one of its friends.
China’s military adventurism in Ladakh is an attempt to mask domestic troubles, like its’ failing grip on Hong Kong. China is facing massive job losses and protests due to coronavirus pandemic. Even while the Chinese citizens are heavily indoctrinated by the Communist Party propaganda, they have now come to realize that their government mismanaged the coronavirus situation, putting lives of millions at risk.
The Chinese people are now angry at the government for trying to muzzle voices that tried to alert them about the dangerous nature of the virus. The US-China trade war had already affected the Chinese economy. To mask it all, Xi Jinping diverted attention from the domestic scene to Beijing sovereignty issue that strikes a responsive chord to the domestic audience. Taiwan may be the next target.
Script: Prof. Baladas Ghoshal, Secretary General, Society For Indian Ocean Studies
Former Chair Of South And Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University