Where will China strike next? On an icy mountain battlefield or in the trading arena? And, the question isn't just where but also when because it will strike. China sees itself as Asia’s unquestioned master and it won’t countenance any challenge. So, Beijing believes India’s illusions of equivalence must be forcefully dispelled; Chinese capital must roam freely in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and, of course, Pakistan. And, even beyond to the rest of Asia. China is particularly keen to weaken the Quad, the alliance of India, the US, Japan and Australia, which it sees as threatening its hegemonic ambitions. It’s smartly picking on what it views as the weaker powers in this alliance, Australia and India. So we have 50 ships carrying Australian coal which have been sitting outside Chinese ports for months, victims of an unofficial ban.

While the vessels fly different flags, the men who sail them are mostly Indians. The Chinese have cut back on buying Australian products ranging from wine to barley. Having shown the Australians their place, the Chinese are now showing small signs of relenting but only if the Australians make the first moves. The Chinese have grabbed large chunks of territory in Ladakh, which we consider ours. Several rounds of talks have been fruitless and now they appear stalled. Says Manoj Kewalramani, Fellow, China Studies, The Takshashila Institution: “I see them being as aggressive (in the future) as they have been. There’s really little incentive for them to change their behaviour.”

This means India must take into account all possibilities and be ready. A conflict in the Himalayas would be the worst-case scenario and we can only hope that won’t happen. But India as well as many other countries also rely on Chinese-made active pharmaceutical ingredients. While India is working on creating alternative supply sources, that takes time. China’s also sending out bellicose messages to India not to interfere in Tibet in the wake of US President Donald Trump signing a law seeking to block Beijing from picking the next Dalai Lama. It seems China has decided India will always be an enemy and there’s no use in pretending otherwise. This could play out in unpleasant ways in 2021.