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'China will face consequences of misplaced aggression'

By Manash Pratim Bhuyan
Last updated on: July 23, 2020 03:33 IST
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'We are beginning to see that the rest of the world will not simply accept the domination of one power'
'China is compelling many of its neighbours to build stronger ties with the US including on defence and security cooperation'

China will face the consequences of its misplaced aggression in eastern Ladakh and other parts of Asia because its misadventures may trigger nationalist counter-responses among neighbours who will simply not accept any attempted domination, a strategic affairs expert said Wednesday.

Prof C Raja Mohan, who heads a prestigious institution in Singapore, also said China's actions in eastern Ladakh have created conditions for a 'fundamental reset' of New Delhi's ties with Beijing as its 'unacceptable assertion' of power and quest to grab more land undercut nearly three decades of efforts to build mutual trust.

China has been equally belligerent in South China Sea and East China Sea much to the chagrin of countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.

Prof Mohan said China will face consequences for its misplaced aggression as Asian countries will produce counter-responses, including a push for re-balancing of power in the region.

"We are beginning to see that the rest of the world will not simply accept the domination of one power," he said.

"I think the important point here is that the Chinese might have fundamentally miscalculated the nature of nationalism in Asia. Most countries in Asia are nationalist, India is nationalist.

"There is a strong sense of nationalism all across South East Asia," Prof Mohan told PTI in a telephonic interview from Singapore.

"The very attempt at imposing one nation's will is going to produce a backlash just as most Asian countries like China fought off colonial powers. So they are not going to simply accept the attempted domination by any new power in Asia," he said.

The noted Indian strategic affairs expert is currently serving as director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

He said China has been pushing the countries closer to the US by its aggressive behaviour, adding there has been a resistance from the rest of the world to counter Beijing as the global community cannot simply accept the attempted domination of one power.

"What China has done is to nudge most of the countries towards the US. The countries which were hesitant or reluctant to deal with the US. China is compelling many of its neighbours to build stronger ties with the US including on defence and security cooperation," he said.

"So the effect of its action is counter-productive even from China's own perspective purely looking at it as an analytical thing. So my sense is, even within China, I am sure there are people who see this as a miscalculation and that the consequences of needless assertion will cost China," Prof Mohan observed.

He said the primary consequence of China's misadventure in eastern Ladakh including the Galwan Valley clashes was the impact on the three decades of normalisation of India-China relationship that began with the visit of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 and subsequent signing of a series of agreements.

The relationship suffered a massive setback when 20 Indian army personnel were killed in Galwan Valley clashes on June 15.

"But by unilaterally trying to change the border and adopting an aggressive posture on the Ladakh frontier and other places, China has dramatically undercut the developing trust in Beijing by the Indian people and this has created conditions for a fundamental reset of the relationship," Prof Mohan said.

"What China might gain in territory, it loses in terms of the steady expansion of goodwill for China among the Indian population and the larger benefits of economic cooperation with India," he added.

During an interview with PTI last month, Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong had refused to answer why China resorted to such aggressive military behaviour when the world was battling COVID-19.

He wouldn't say what was the motive behind the massive build-up of troops and why Chinese military carried out the brutal assault on Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley.

The Chinese envoy was also asked whether China will punish the soldiers involved in the attacks on Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley, or what the Chinese casualty figure was.

He wouldn't even say why China has not allowed Indian patrols from Finger 4 to Finger 8 areas in Pangong Tso and remained mum when asked if he thought the border standoff will have a huge impact on economic ties between the two countries.

The Chinese envoy also did not respond to questions in the course of the interview on why China violated an agreement the two sides reached on June 6 to disengage from all the friction points on the Line of Actual Control(LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

When asked about the Chinese behaviour on the Indian border, Prof Mohan said it might have been quite surprising to a large number of people in India, but appears to be part of a general pattern that has been seen elsewhere.

He said China under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and 90s agreed to put aside territorial disputes and focus on regional cooperation.

"Deng Xioaping's philosophy was there must be peace on the frontiers, and India-China normalisation was also based on Deng's formula of keeping peace on the borders.

"What we have seen under Xi Jinping's leadership in the last few years is to abandon the approach of peace and unilaterally assert China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, in the east China Sea, more muscular behaviour towards Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the Indian case," he said.

Prof Mohan said China's aggression in eastern Ladakh is not exclusive to India, but seems to be part of a pattern where China has asserted itself in a 'strange ways' on its territorial disputes.

"This is part of a larger transformation of China that is taking place under Xi Jinping," he added.

Asked whether China has been attempting to change the world order, Prof Mohan said China benchmarks itself against the US and sees itself as about to overtake the US, believing that it has the means and the capacity to restructure the global order.

He said one of the negative consequences of what China's behaviour has been is making the US an ally of nationalist sentiments in Asia.

"Today, because of its actions, it is making the US a natural ally of nationalism in Asia."

"By aggressively embarking on a unilateral change of territory and unilateral assertion of power, China is pushing the rest of the world to counter.

"Normally, the tendency by most of the states is that look when you have a strong power, you do not want to pick a fight especially when you have a lot of economic stakes in the relationship."

He said all of Asia was looking up to China as there has been deeper and greater economic interdependence with that country. But today, because of China's pressure, he observed, there is a pushback from the rest of the world.

Prof Mohan said most countries want economic cooperation with China but are reconsidering such commercial engagement because of its expansionism.

"People are trying to get together to deal with Chinese assertion of their power. Maybe Beijing calculated that others will not react or that it is not possible for them to resist.

"But we have already seen in the case of 5G, in the case of emergence of new institutions of collaboration like the Quad and other institutions."

"When you are pushed around by somebody, you try to balance. I think that is the natural impulse. If China rides roughshod over its neighbouring countries, the countries will seek balance. I think that is what is beginning to happen," he added.

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Manash Pratim Bhuyan
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