One more Chinese puzzle

| Updated on: May 01, 2013

Why is Beijing behaving the way it has with regard to the intrusion of its forces in the east Ladakh region, giving the impression that it is digging in for a “showdown” with New Delhi on the border issue? Why has the event been timed the way it has been?

The first point about which there should be no confusion is that this is not an issue where a “rogue” Chinese commander has hijacked Beijing’s border policy by independently sending his people across the line of actual control and — what is more important — making them stay put in an area which, in New Delhi’s perception, is on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, at the time of writing, the intrusion has been deliberately underscored by the setting up of an extra tent in the cluster already set up by the intruding Chinese force, thereby sending a message loud and clear that the intrusion is not an error.

The inference, therefore, is that Beijing has planned the east Ladakh incident. The next question is, why at this precise juncture when a flurry of relationship-building visits by Indian and Chinese leaders is on the cards? Or is the message intended for some other country, Asian or not?

Leftover from history

As far as the first point is concerned, it would seem that the real message to New Delhi (vis-a-vis the ongoing Ladakh incident) was contained in the March 19 statement of the new Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in which he said that the border conflict between the two countries was “a leftover from history”, the more important part of the statement, however, being that he preferred “friendly consultations” so that “we can eventually arrive at a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement”.

The focus clearly was on cooperation, for the Chinese President also called for “solid steps” to strengthen the bilateral economic exchange so that the India-China relationship could be taken to “a new height”.

Now, in view of this “cementing of bonds” statement from the Chinese President, the east Ladakh incident just a month later appears, to say the least, incongruous. Since it appears that the Ladakh incident has been closely planned, what precisely is the planned larger picture?

The Pak factor

A brand new leadership has taken control of China. It is to be expected that, in line with the changing circumstances in which Beijing finds itself in the world today, a fresh policy set-up will be devised. Among other things, Sino-Pakistan ties are one area which must undergo change if strategic Chinese policy in the second decade of the 21st Century is to reflect the ground reality in South Asia.

The submission — rather farfetched, some might say — is that the border flare-up in east Ladakh is part of the larger exercise of Beijing’s changing equations with Islamabad (“be tough with India because you are going to be tough with Pakistan”). New Delhi will have to do its best to tackle the domestic political fallout of the incident. It is intriguing why at this precise moment Shyam Saran has chosen to resurrect the Pakistan nuclear bogey. Is this New Delhi’s way of deflecting attention from the Ladakh incident — or has Beijing kept New Delhi in the loop as regards its new South Asia perspective?

Published on March 12, 2018

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