Why China can bully India and the West

Beijing has the temerity to threaten India from Indian soil with consequences if New Delhi does not withdraw from Doklam.

 |  4-minute read |   08-08-2017
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China gets a level of international esteem that it does not deserve. The explanation lies in the West’s long standing fascination for China that overlooks or tolerates China’s frequent misconduct.

Despite its bullying and intimidatory tactics in dealing with others, its assertion of territorial claims contrary to international law, its open rejection of democracy and western values, its curbs on the internet, its enormous internal security apparatus, its intolerance of internal dissent, its suppression of the rights of the Tibetans and the Uighurs, the expansive military doctrines it is adopting, the hegemonic ambitions in Asia that the Belt and Road Initiative represents, western opinion at large is not only unwilling to actively deplore this reality, there is a tendency to find reasons why China behaves as such, show a degree of comprehension for its conduct and even sympathise with it as a victim of historical violation of its rights by outside powers.

Muscle-flexing

The ASEAN countries are surprisingly timid towards China, even though their collective strength is not negligible and China’s divisive tactics can be foiled if they acted with greater unity. If ASEAN was initially built as a bulwark against communist China, it can fulfil its purpose in the changed context of a hegemony seeking, national power obsessed, mercantilist China.

The West has manoeuvred itself into a weak position vis a vis China by fuelling its economic rise and forging deep trade and financial links with it that now inhibit any really strong response to Chinese muscle-flexing.

Whether it was the romantic notion that as China develops economically and becomes more prosperous, the political aspirations of its growing middle class will make it more democratic and the country will become more wedded to the existing world order. Or whether it was the business interests of western multinational corporations that in driving the agenda of economic globalisation focused on China as an untapped market of vast proportions for their products and technology, can be debated.

xibd_080817105422.jpgThe ASEAN countries are surprisingly timid towards China.

The US does not as yet feel seriously threatened by China as the military gap between the two remains vast and China is for the time being pushing against US power in its periphery and is not endangering US national security by dominating the Pacific. For the US the challenge is to preserve its alliance system in the region by retaining the confidence of its allies in the security cover it provides, keep China bottled up in the Western Pacific, and to the extent China tries to escape these constraints, expands its naval power and extend its presence to the Indian Ocean, to work together with countries like India and Japan to limit this.

Given its huge investments and other links with China — far more than with India — Japan too is careful in handling China and would want to avoid any serious showdown with it. Europe is too far away geographically, has no significant military involvement in the western Pacific, and is therefore focused on its economic ties with China in the hope to expand mutual trade and benefit from Chinese investments.

Australian opinion is divided on policy towards China, torn between its security links with the US and its economic links with China as its biggest trade partner.

Ugly face

With Russia now willing to play second fiddle to China on the economic front, and US/EU sanctions pushing it further into the arms of China and weakening its position vis-a-vis the latter even more, China’s tail is up. All this has given China considerable room to conduct itself in its extensive neighbourhood with a sense of impunity.

It is baring the ugly face of its diplomacy more and more, using unbecoming language, adopting condescending postures, crowing about the disparity in power between it and others and unashamedly acting as a bully where it thinks it can. The churning created by rapid transformation of China from poverty to enormous wealth seems to have thrown up towards the top the many base elements in its society that have known how to profit most from the change.

This might explain the boorishness and lack of refinement in its diplomatic conduct.

Low-level polemics

The statements coming from the Chinese Foreign Office and the People’s Liberation Army spokespersons on the Doklam stand-off are illustrative of the coarseness of Chinese diplomacy. Summoning India to withdraw humbly and unconditionally from the plateau before China teaches it a lesson worse than in 1962, warning that its patience is running out and that Indian forces will be evicted by force, brandishing its military might as a tool of intimidation, shows that the Chinese have lost all sense of proportion.

China’s diplomatic loutishness has reached a point that its number two diplomat in Delhi in a show of professional incompetence has the temerity to threaten India from Indian soil with consequences if India does not withdraw from Doklam. In normal circumstances, he should be recalled or expelled, but the government has decided, not wrongly, to avoid escalation, abjure low-level polemics, state our position firmly but leave the door open for diplomacy, discreetly warn China of the economic costs it will bear if it is reckless.

The absence of a matching Indian response to China’s fulminations conveys a sense of quite confidence on our part which no doubt unhinges the northern bully even more.

(Courtesy: Mail Today.)

Also read: India-China standoff: Do we have an exit plan in Doklam?

Writer

Kanwal Sibal Kanwal Sibal

Former Foreign Secretary

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