The recent and ongoing spat between China and India over disputed territories in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh has flared up further after Chinese troops entered nearly 1.5 kilometers into Indian territory near Mount Gya, recognized as the international border by both India and China. The Chinese soldiers painted “China” in Chinese characters with red spray paint all over the boulders and rocks. This incident comes weeks after Chinese helicopters entered into Indian air space along Damchok area and Trig Heights in Ladakh and air dropped canned food containing frozen pork and brinjal, which had passed the expiry date.
In international arena, China for first time tried to influence the territorial dispute through a multilateral institution when they tried to block a 2.9 billion dollar Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan to India on the grounds that part of the loan was destined for water projects in Arunachal Pradesh. They also led the botched attempt to stymie the U.S.-India nuclear deal by blocking the Nuclear Suppliers Group from opening civilian nuclear trade with New Delhi. More recently, there were reports of China trying to undermine the Indian brand through export of fake pharmaceutical products labeled “Made in India.”
This hardening of Chinese stance toward India started three years ago when the Chinese ambassador to India publicly raked up the issue of Arunachal Pradesh. Since then, the Indian army has seen Chinese military incursions increase in frequency across the post-1962 line of control. According to Indian defense officials, there were 270 line-of-control violations by the People’s Liberation Army and 2,285 instances of “aggressive border patrolling” by it last year alone. Other border incidents also are being reported, such as the PLA demolition of some unmanned Indian forward posts at the Tibet-Bhutan-Sikkim trijunction and Chinese attempts to encroach on Indian-held land in Ladakh.
All this makes one wonder what is china upto?
Is China trying to divert attention from its domestics issues?
In the past few years, growing disparities of income, official corruption, and the lack of democratic institutions is fueling social unrest in China. Often-understated government figures give an indication of the extent of growing social unrest in China. A recent Ministry of Public Security report says there were 8,700 “mass incidents” in 1993; 32,000 in 1999; 50,000 in 2002; 58,000 in 2003 and 87,000 in 2005.
Although political observers have described social unrest among farmers and workers since the early 1990s, recent protest activities have been broader in scope, larger in average size, greater in frequency, and more brash than those of a decade ago. Protests are growing in average size from 10 or fewer people in the mid-1990s to about 52 people per incident in 2004. In the first half of 2005, there were over 340 protests involving more than 10,000 people.
Zhou Tianyong, a researcher at the Central Party School in Beijing, wrote in the China Economic Times
“The redistribution of wealth through theft and robbery could dramatically increase and menaces to social stability will grow. This is extremely likely to create a reactive situation of mass-scale social turmoil,"
The rioting in Xinjiang Autonomous Region on July 5 was the worst in the history of the People’s Republic of China and cost the lives of 197 Han Chinese and Uyghurs. It was the greatest loss of life since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. The situation became so worse that Hu Jintao peremptorily left the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, on July 9 to take personal control of the situation. This was a serious loss of face for the President of China in the eyes of the world’s public.
A public opinion poll released by a research center affiliated with the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that 91 percent of respondents said the justice system was unfair while 80 percent said they wanted to elect their officials directly. A majority said the party Congress should focus on improving social welfare and job creation and should adopt new political reforms.
The growing internal unrest is making Beijing jittery.
Although the Communist Party has increased membership to 64 million, the party is losing its grassroots appeal in rural areas where local officials’ corruption has bred resistance. The party is also losing popularity in industrial centers. According to party journals, only 17 percent of private firms employed party members in 1999 and only 3 percent had any kind of party organization. But even where the party has managed to gain a foothold in foreign and private enterprises, its role is far less important. In urban China, party activities may be confined to government institutions and departments where party membership remains a prerequisite for advancement.
As the orthodox ideology waned drastically, if not completely, in Chinese political life and the Chinese lost their confidence in communism and Marxism, the leadership found that they had little alternative but to cultivate national pride and patriotism to hold the country together. Patriotism was designed to counteract regional decentralization, to divert attention from inequalities such as the unequal distribution of wealth, to suppress democratic movements in China and to shift public attention from domestic social unrest to international problems.
After the Tiananmen crisis, the Chinese government preached patriotism under the slogan of "Renewing China". Beijing pursued a campaign of patriotic education focusing on China's humiliating past to arouse awareness of suffering. In 1990 Chinese government incited anti-West patriotism through two commemorations: the May 4th Movement and the 150th anniversary of the Opium War.
Hu Jintao’s pragmatic, non-ideological agenda has two core values—maintaining social stability to further economic development and sustaining Chinese culture to enrich national sovereignty. The current spike in social unrest (especially in Xinjiang) seriously undermines Hu Jintao policies thus jeopardizing his position in party. The leadership in communist party may be tempted to use a brief border war with India to divert the attention of its population from growing unrest in China and strengthen its grip on society & party.
A window of opportunity
The new government in Japan and US has given China a window of opportunity to settle its border row with India.
India’s growing strategic ties with the United States are more than offset by America’s own rising interdependence with China, to the extent that U.S. policy now gives Beijing a pass on its human-rights abuses, frenetic military buildup at home and reckless strategic opportunism abroad. America’s Asia policy is no longer guided by an overarching geopolitical framework as it had been under President George W. Bush, a fact reflected by the Obama administration’s silence on the China-India border tensions.
In addition, the significant improvement in China’s own relations with Taiwan and Japan since last year has given Beijing more space against India. A third factor is the weakening of China’s Pakistan card against India. Pakistan’s descent into chaos has robbed China of its premier surrogate instrument against India, necessitating the exercise of direct pressure.
We are at Critical Juncture of History
Like in the pre-1962 war period, India is again now at a critical juncture , it has become commonplace internationally to speak of India and China in the same breadth. The aim of “Mao’s India war,” as Harvard scholar Roderick MacFarquhar has called it, was large political: To cut India to size by demolishing what it represented — a democratic alternative to the Chinese autocracy. The swiftness and force with which Mao Zedong defeated India helped discredit the Indian model, boost China’s international image and consolidate Mao’s internal power. The return of the China-India pairing decades later is something Beijing viscerally detests.
China never thought India as an important trade partner or rival until now. China’s attitude towards India has always been contemptuous. When talking about Indian to Chinese people(Shanghaiese in particular), they will probably tell you that 70 years ago, Indians were working as doormen in Shanghai. A recently declassified letter (March 2, 1973), from Henry Kissinger to Richard Nixon, showcases the utter contempt Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had for the Indian leadership. Kissinger says, inter alia,
“In South Asia, the Chinese believe India remains Moscow’s principal agent; their distrust of New Delhi remains as potent as ever... Chou (Zhou) displayed a particular contempt for the Indians and a personal dislike for Indian leaders. He related several cynical and disdainful anecdotes about Prime Ministers Nehru and Gandhi.... In response, I said that we would go slow in any improvement of relations with New Delhi and would keep the PRC informed.”
Things are certainly changing now when China realized that the competition from India is real and serious. India is claiming to switch their focus from back office service to manufactory; Indian has English language advantage over China; Chinese Yuan is forced to appreciate against US dollar, etc.
Attacks on India in the Chinese media is increasing per day
The People’s Daily and the Global Times, both working under the close watch of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), have recently made derogatory comments on a purely internal Indian affair, the restructuring of its defense forces in Arunachal Pradesh.
On June 11, the Global Times wrote:
“But India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realized this. India is frustrated that China’s rise has captured much of the world’s attention.”
A week later, in an editorial the Communist Party’s mouthpiece Peoples’ Daily, Li Hongmei stated:
“Many Indians actually have very subtle impressions (sic) upon China, which has been translated into a very complicated mindset - awe, vexation, envy and jealousy - in the face of its giant neighbor. The reason for this mentality is multi-faceted, and brought about by both historical factors and reality. In 1947, when India freed itself from the British colonization and won independence, it was one of the global industrial powers, ranking Top 10 in the world and far ahead of the then backward China. But today, China’s GDP has tripled that of India and per capita income doubled, which turns out to be a totally unacceptable fact to many Indians. And with China’s galloping economic growth since its adoption of the reform and opening up policy in the late 1970s, the wealth gap between China and India has increasingly widened.”
Under these scenarios, Chinese will always attempt to cut India down to size and create hurdles in its global ambitions. A recent suggestion from a Chinese think-tank that India should be broken up into smaller states also falls under this strategy.
Against this background, It is just a matter of not if but when Beijing actually sets out to teach India “the final lesson” by launching a 1962-style surprise war. If India is not to be caught napping again, it has to inject greater realism into its China policy.