China has long adopted a foreign policy of undermining Indian influence in South Asia. Beijing’s assertive approach has included regular high-level official visits, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the sale of military weapons and platforms to India’s neighbours. The Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh in the summer of 2020 is only the latest form of such a policy.
Clearly, there is little let-up in China’s pace despite the fact that the Chinese economy is struggling on a number of fronts. One of these is the impact of COVID-19 but this might be said to be a common problem across the world. What is noteworthy is that China is currently also contending with the consequences of an ongoing and sharpening conflict with the United States in the form of a ‘trade war’ since January 2018, and what is being described as a new cold war on the political front. What is more, the chances of an outbreak of kinetic conflict because of a mistake or heightened tensions cannot be ruled out either. How is it then that China has opened up a new front of conflict on its borders with India at this juncture?
Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping’s objective is to make China great again. He is not unaware of the challenges but he is also counting on the leaders of nations competing with China being too cautious, making mistakes, being plain incompetent or all of these things combined. And in varying degrees his gamble has paid off from Germany to India to the United States.
While the going mantra in India – not without reason – is that Xi has through his actions only strengthened coalitions against China, there are at least two other ways to look at this.
A recent Indian news report pointed to the presence of Communist Party of China (CPC) members serving in several institutions that operated in India or had a connection with India. In one instance, at least one former employee of the Indian Consulate in Shanghai was clearly identified as a CPC member. A report in September this year had referred to a Chinese technology firm collecting open-source information about prominent Indians from all walks of life.Both reports are the result of a multi-country investigation by an international consortium of journalists.
Neither report should be the subject of such surprise or alarm as has been the case in India.