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Interpreting Wang Yi’s press conference showcasing Chinese magnanimity

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the side-lines of the National People’s Congress held a press conference to explain the Chinese views on the regional and international issues and the Chinese ‘red-lines’. The Global Times in its editorial has highlighted that his statements showcase the magnanimity of the Chinese diplomacy and provide “a rare opportunity for the world to have a comprehensive understanding of China’s foreign policy”. While pointing out that “China is a friendly and modest country”, the editorial posed an interesting question. When has the international community ever seen such a warm and humble major country? It further emphasised that “China is undoubtedly the most faithful practitioner and defender of the norms of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.” Really?

The above can hardly be justified when the Chinese activities are viewed in the context of what is being done in the South China Sea (SCS) and along the Indo-Tibet border. In the SCS, the Chinese intrusions into the EEZs of other neighbouring countries have increased enormously. Its coercive measures keep smaller countries under severe pressure. Its naval and military exercises are aimed at deterring them from opposing its illegal claims on the SCS. Chinese bullying tactics can hardly justify its claims of the warm and humble major country.

Wang Yi reiterated the Chinese official position on Taiwan and the SCS. On the Taiwan question, he asked the US to change the previous administration’s practice of “crossing the red-line” and “playing with fire.” On the SCS issue, he criticized the US and other Western countries for making trouble in the region in the name of “freedom of navigation”. There was no mention of disputes with other countries, reflecting that the nine-dashed line claim is not under dispute for China. There was no mention of artificial islands and their militarisation in the SCS.

Similarly, on the Indo-Tibetan border, the Chinese intrusions into the Indian territory had been taking place since long. It occupied Aksai Chin and started strengthening its presence along the border. Its claim line keeps on expanding along the border. Last year it tried to further extend the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by making efforts to grab the Galwan Valley. And this is not the only point: China is trying to move further at several places along the entire LAC. Since May 2020, it has been building a military base on the Tibet-Bhutan border opposite Drowa village in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). An airport has been built at Yadong opposite Nathu La in Sikkim. At the border opposite Arunachal Pradesh, China has built a village to change the ground realities. There is a strong suspicion that China launched a cyberattack on India’s electricity grid.

More importantly, Wang Yi’s statement that China and India are ‘friends and partners and not threats and rivals’ are in contrast of not only what is being witnessed on the ground but also what has been asserted by Hu Shisheng, director of South Asia Affairs Department in the Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in two articles in the Global Times. As is well known, the CICIR is under the Ministry of State Security, the Chinese external intelligence agency. He asserted that India and China “were doomed to have a serious collision of interests or even military conflict from the very beginning of their independence and since establishing frontier and regional order”. He further pointed out that the major issue is the contention over influence and dominance in the region. He blamed India for disrupting China’s agenda in multilateral mechanisms in BRICS and SCO. He added that in times to come the difference would grow further and the favourable atmosphere for cooperation would fade away.

These reflect the real issue behind the continued efforts of China is to contain India through its string of pearls policy. China is extremely concerned over the safety of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and therefore would be interested pushing back India as far as possible in the J&K. For China, CPEC is important for getting access to the Indian Ocean, where it intends to have three life lines.

Significantly, the statement of Wang Yi has come after the Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar had a telephonic talk and the Indian Ambassador Vikram Misri met Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui and called for completing the disengagement of troops from all areas in eastern Ladakh, saying that it would help restore peace and tranquillity at the border and provide conditions for progress in bilateral ties.

Hence, the statement of Wang Yi on India needs to be seen more as a diplomatic response to Jaishankar and Misri’s advice to improve the relations than providing with an opportunity for comprehensive understanding of its foreign policy. Wang’s suggestion that both Beijing and New Delhi should strengthen cooperation was aimed at projecting China’s willingness to improve relations and placing responsibility on India to respond. The facts are before the whole world clearly indicating the responsibility for deterioration in relations. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar has aptly stated that India China relations have been profoundly disturbed as the result of violence at the Galwan Valley.

Currently China is under pressure from the internal and international forces. The main tenor of Wang’s statements was to blame the US and its allies for all problems. US policy has remained unchanged on China. On the human rights the pressure has considerably increased. The Dutch Parliament has termed the happenings in Xinjian as a “genocide” after Canada passed a non-binding resolution labelling China’s treatment of the Uyghurs genocide. Hong Kong is increasingly getting the adverse international attention. China would like to celebrate the centenary of CCP in July this year showcasing its peaceful rise without having any border problems with neighbours. Hence, China desires to keep the tension in its periphery at a lower level till July.

The crucial issue is whether there is any real change in the Chinese approach or not. The Wang Yi’ statements not only contradict what the Global Times editorial says but is also against the Chinese actions so far. Importantly, in the beginning of this year, Xi ordered the PLA to be ready to “act at any second”, revealing its intentions to use force to attain its objectives. India’s disengagement process has just begun. At other places like Despang, Hot Springs, Gogra and Demchok, the process of disengagement is yet to start. It is assessed that the developments both in the international and domestic spheres are pushing China to have temporary easing of military tension. Going by its past record, there is no place for optimism in the long run. India would do well to remain vigilant at the land border, while pursuing its plan for Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IOPI) that would foreclose the possibility of hegemony of a single country in the region. The plan of Quad plus naval exercises in the coming period is the right and timely step.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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