China’s Global Times has waved ostentatious proof of the country’s peaceable intentions, noting that China “has not engaged in any military conflicts” with its neighbours in over 30 years. The state-run newspaper’s firm declaration has come as Indian and Chinese troops bulk up on both sides of the ill-defined Ladakh border and engage in high-altitude shoving matches. Shots haven’t been fired between India and China since 1975, even through the Doklam dispute. But this time, the standoff’s on a greater scale than ever before, at three contested locations. It’s also been matched by aggressive rhetoric at the People’s Congress, where Xi Jinping signalled China’s ready to take on all-comers, saying: “It is necessary to step up preparations for armed combat.” The remark was made in the context of increasingly fraying relations with Taiwan, but India would be advised to take heed.

Unquestionably, India was caught unawares by China’s aggressive Ladakh behaviour. Military observers believe Beijing’s actions have mainly been triggered by India ramping up logistics on its side of the border, in response to Chinese moves. Others see it as a not-so-veiled reminder to India to not tilt too far towards the US. The Chinese recently called Foreign Minister S Jaishankar to tell India not to refer to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus”, as the US has been doing. India, which took over chairmanship of the World Health Organization, is also in the eye of the storm about whether to allow Taiwan observer status. Taiwan’s tamed Covid-19, but China’s bitterly opposed to the island having any WHO representation. Besides this, Beijing’s also angered by India’s new investment rules, aimed ostensibly at “bordering” countries, but which target China. Newer Chinese investors are warily watching to see how the regulations play out though more experienced players are still moving ahead.

China’s been striking out in all directions. One explanation is it feels cornered and is responding aggressively to all-comers. There’s no doubt it’s decided to take a muscular stand against anyone moving against it. China’s positioned two aircraft carriers off Taiwan’s coast. It’s also cracked down in Hong Kong by introducing tough security laws and arresting hundreds of demonstrators. Beijing’s tactics have been dubbed in China as ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy, after a slew of Chinese action flicks. At a global level, they’ve translated into a punishing 80 per cent Australian barley tariff after Canberra called for an inquiry into the coronavirus’ origins. More significantly, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s move followed a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump — who’s also offered to play “honest broker” and mediate between India and China, which China has dismissed. The rise in global temperatures and Chinese-India differences have surfaced at a time when the world should be focussing on working together to vanquish Covid-19. That’s the lone priority at the moment, and world leaders would do well to give it precedence over all else.