While the Covid-19 pandemic rages across the world, instead of focusing on controlling it and finding a vaccine against it, China has decided to destabilize its region with military might. As all countries are fighting the virus and the global economy is crippled, a war threat was the last thing we could have imagined. Conspiracy theorists will now strongly believe that China has been planning this situation since years, waiting for a time like now when it would be challenging for countries to revert to dragon’s threat.
In the past few weeks, India landed into a border dispute with Nepal when our Army Chief stated that Nepal was working on Chinese instructions. Along the border in Ladakh, India and China are at a standoff and the US has offered to mediate between the two. The new national security legislation approved for Hong Kong in China has caused another chaotic situation; citizens are protesting the legislation as it erodes the autonomy of the city-state. Amidst all this chaos, Taiwan is already anxious about its fate as China’s rise endangers its freedom too.
Chinese Propaganda: 1962 Pattern?
This is not the first time that a country is using war rhetoric and threats to stabilize its domestic problems. Leaders tend to go for hard and immoral politics to regain power. The 1962 Indo-China war has some similarity with the 2020 skirmishes.
China was suffering through the Great Chinese Famine from1959 to 1961 due Mao Zedong’s policies, notably the ‘Great Leap Forward’ which advocated rapid industrialization of China to challenge the West post World War II. Mao was facing much criticism after his industrialization policy brought famine which claimed around 40 million lives, so he decided to retire temporarily. In the early 1960s, Wang Jiaxiang, a senior leader of the Chinse Communist Party (CCP) was working to reconstruct China with a ‘softer policy’ towards the Soviet Union, the US and India.
As Chinese leaders and political analysts recall, China was not planning a war with India but only intended to negotiate border issues. However, China’s quest to do so went in vain; the then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s statements on having a pre-condition before negotiation differed in front of the Chinese envoy and at home. Nehru’s ‘Forward Policy’ was a trigger for the conflict between the two countries. This was the time when Mao was planning his ‘return’ and said: “Indians are not reliable”.
Swedish strategic affairs expert Bertil Lintner argues in his book, ‘China’s India War’, that this armed conflict with India was an opportunity for Mao to regain his power in China and unify the nation. India was also a soft target at that time due to its support to Tibet. Lintner also suggests that the aim of the war was to gain geopolitical significance among newly independent nations in Asia and Africa. After 1962, China indeed became the leader of the Third World.
However, in his book, Lintner refuses to accept that Nehru’s Forward Policy triggered the war. He maintains throughout that China was preparing for the war which India didn’t see coming. He says that the claims that troop movement around Dhola post northwest of Tawang, and skirmishes between Indians and Chinese in October 1962 triggered the war, were part of a “twisted interpretation” of the cause of the war.
The Covid-19 pandemic shows a similar pattern. China is crippled politically and economically, facing a global backlash.
The US and Europe have harshly condemned China of spreading the virus. Conspiracy theories claim that bioweapons were evidently a focus of Chinese military research for the past 20 years. Germany has even sent China a bill worth USD 130 billionfor the losses it incurred due to coronavirus. India is already framing anti-China policies to reduce trade with the country, and to promote public boycott of many Chinese products. Trump has accused the WHO of working on Chinese instructions and announced US’ withdrawal from the organization.
This pandemic is about to change the world order and China’s dominance in the region. Amidst the uncertain situation, China’s only way out is its military might and vague war threats that target India, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, for different reasons.
What the US and India should do
The focus of current Indian and Taiwanese governments on defence has been remarkable, gauging the threat rightly. The current anti-China stance of Tsai Ing-wen government has been irking the dragons. The cherry on the top was the US selling weapons worth USD 2 billion to Taiwan; symbolically, this gives recognition to the island nation otherwise overshadowed by the communist flag.
It is time the US goes beyond the ‘Quad’ and assures security in the Indo-Pacific region by proclaiming its support to India, Taiwan and Hong Kong in all circumstances. Despite the claim to contain China, the purpose of the Quad is still vague. President Trump has offered to help mediate the border issue with India, however, Taiwan and Hong Kong remain jeopardized.
China’s immoral rise in the region is dangerous for the world order and its democracies. Instead of taking responsibility of the pandemic, China ordered its military to prepare for war. This comes after its tensions with the US, and its politicians repeatedly calling for re-unification with Taiwan, by force if required.
China should not be given another opportunity to bury its mistakes under the might of its arms, like in 1962. Diplomatic efforts to avoid the war is certainly a solution to be pursued, however, it is high time the world pressurizes China and criticizes its idea of growth.
Indian scientist Sonam Wangchuk recently asked Indians to boycott Chinese products, but we must understand that is not enough. To cripple the Chinese economy, the world needs more technological alternatives. Till we find them, we need a harsh stance towards China for the sake of the idea of a ‘peaceful rise’ of a nation. India must show strong solidarity and support to Taiwan and Hong Kong and increase its military ties with them. To avoid another situation of war threats, maintaining balance of power in the region is necessary.
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
Sugandh Priya Ojha
Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.