China is becoming increasingly emboldened in its expressions of anger towards any country which violates its sovereignty.
On the 2nd of July, shortly before this year’s G20 conference in Hamburg, China scrambled vessels and fighter jets when the USS Stethem breached maritime waters claimed by Bejing in the South China Sea. This came shortly after the US sold high-grade weapons to Chinese Taipei, also known as Taiwan, whose regime China considers an illegal entity operating on Chinese soil.
All of this comes as China and India are engaged in what is now their most protracted border dispute since 1962, when the two countries fought a war which China resoundingly won.
This time the dispute is centred around the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan. The area in question is circled on the map below.
India is upset with China for building a road on the Doklam plateau which China claims as its sovereign territory. Bhutan which relies heavily on India for its defence capabilities also claims the plateau.
China has conducted live-fire military exercises in nearby Tibet while India has moved its armed forces into the region and refuses to stand down.
Today, China’s Defence Ministry issued a warning to India not to continue its provocative movements in the region. Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry of China stated,
“China’s determination and resolve to safeguard national security and sovereignty is unshakeable.
Here, I wish to remind India, do not push your luck and cling to any fantasies”.
He continued saying,
“The 90-year history of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has proved but one thing: that our military means to secure our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has strengthened and our determination has never wavered. It is easier to shake a mountain than to shake the PLA”.
Hours later, China scrambled two fighter jets to intercept a US spy plane over the East China Sea.
This events bolster claims made previously in The Duran that the United States is keen on disrupting the equanimity of China’s maritime sovereignty in a process designed to embolden India in its ongoing disputes with China.
Although the United States will likely not get involved in or around the borders between China and India, the United States will continue to make moves in East Asia which China understands as provocations.
As I wrote previously,
“China has warned India that peace-talks on the disputed Himalayan territory will not be able to continue until New Delhi withdraws its troops.
India is testing the United States as much as it is China, in some ways more. China’s position on the matter is clear and has been stated clearly multiple times. China maintains its territorial claims in the region and any further discussions must be done only after India acts on promises to de-militarise the region.
By contrast, while the United States is de-facto eager to disrupt progress on China’s New Silk Road (One Belt–One Road), India is not one of the hot-spots of disruption for the US at this time. Beyond selling India weapons, the US does not have troops in the contested region.
It has become apparent that when it comes to Asia and moreover South Asia, the US is concentrating on eliciting a response from China through provocations in the South China Sea region rather than in or around India.
Assuming this trend continues and it likely will do, India may find that it does not have any substantial support in its dispute with China. Unlike during the Cold War, Russia is manifestly closer to Beijing vis-a-vis New Delhi in 2017. This puts Russia in the position as a potential mediator in the dispute, but if Modi continues to play games of cat and mouse with China expecting to rely on Moscow for help, it means he is clearly mistaken.
In this sense, India’s position is out of date in respect of Russia and out of sync in respect of the United States which remains squarely focused on the South China Sea as well as fomenting conflicts in other areas along the New Silk Road that are far to the west of India. America will not jump when Modi says so, no matter how positive his meeting with Donald Trump appeared to be.
It remains in India’s interests to view China as a complimentary economic partner rather than a territorial let alone economic rival. If India tries to ‘beat’ China in either of these two spheres it will clearly lose a great deal, including Moscow’s patience.
By contrast, if India embraces the cooperative spirit of both the BRICS organisation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India could find itself in a key position as a major producer and manifold transit point along China’s New Silk Road”.
There is increasingly little question that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who continues to buy weapons from the United States, will be emboldened by US manoeuvres around China which anger Beijing. There is even less of a question that China will feel that India is betraying a peace process involving respect for and dialogue with China over disputed territories by continuing its position which can be characterised as unwavering.
What’s more is that as China along with Russia recently oversaw the admission of both India and Pakistan to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) just months ago. Because of this, China will feel increasingly incensed that India under Modi continues to play both sides against one another rather than utilising the SCO as the proper means to settle any disputes with a fellow member whether it be China or China’s traditional ally Pakistan.
The other key element is that Russia is now for all intents and purposes closer to China politically and militarily than it is to India. This is the complete inverse of the realities during the majority of the Cold War.
What is crucial though is that contrary to what some in India might think, New Delhi is not leading events but merely attempting to seize opportunities to stand against China that it believes America is providing it.
Much though America would like to upset China’s One Belt–One Road (aka New Silk Road) trading initiative, the China/India border disputes are not the area in which America is going to get actively involved. The US has taken the decision to disrupt China’s progress on the New Silk Road in regions that are ‘softer’ targets from the American perspective. This leaves India in a position of allowing itself false hope which will only result in humiliation from China.
Russia is happy to act as a mediator in disputes between India and China and America has shown that it is happy to agitate on the peripheries of such disputes, but neither super-power will come to India’s ‘rescue’ in the dispute with China, which after all is a super-power where India for all its economic might, is ultimately not.
If a war is to break-out between China and India in 2017, the results would be even more humiliating for India than those in 1962. The best option for India is to cooperate with China. This would be not only in the best interests of regional peace, but would be economically beneficial for India. India’s economy can function best when it is understood as one that can compliment China rather than one which attempts to compete with it, a competition that ultimately India like any other nation would lose.