What is China telling India?

On Monday an interesting statement was made by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, in Beijing that China was “committed to uphold peace and tranquility” along the India-China border, while replying to a question on the recent clashes that took place between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh and in Sikkim’s Naku La.

The spokesman said that there was no scope for animosity between the two countries since 2020 was the “70th year of establishment of the diplomatic relations between India and China” and because the two countries have joined hands to fight Covid-19. He followed up his statement by saying, “Now the most pressing issue for the international community is solidarity and cooperation against Covid-19.

We shouldn’t allow any politicisation or stigmatisation in a bid to create more differences or confrontation.” It’s obvious that such a statement has more to do with China feeling stigmatised as the origin of the novel coronavirus than China’s willingness to treat neighbour India with the respect it deserves.

And even if we take this statement at face value, the immediate question that arises is, what was China doing just about a month ago, when the coronavirus pandemic was raging already, raising the Kashmir issue at the UNSC? On 8 April, China raised Kashmir at the UNSC by calling it “a dispute left from history”. It also opposed any “unilateral action” there— the reference being to India’s defanging of Article 370.

If this is not playing politics in this hour of crisis, what is? And this is not new—this has been the dominant trait in India-China relations, which has led many to believe that India cannot resolve its differences with China; at best, it can try to manage its differences, that also primarily for the sake of trade.

As for stigmatisation, if the Chinese really want the world to believe that it is unfair to pin the blame of the “coronavirus” on them, all they have to do is offer proof. Until now no proof is forthcoming and attempts to manage the narrative by throwing money around to “dependents” or by trying to browbeat critics, appear as propaganda and bullying, two things that the Chinese are very adept at. The public mood the world over, including in India, is hostile to China.

The West is clamouring for action against China. It’s a different matter that we don’t know what sort of action will actually be taken. Our concern is India, and even the Indian government, however friendly it might want to be to China, when push comes to shove, it will have to go by what the public wants. It’s a democracy after all, something China’s communists will not understand, ever.

There is no reason for Indians to feel grateful that the skirmishes at the border were managed well. Instead, they should ask why did such a situation arise at all? What emboldened the ground level, Chinese troops, to be so belligerent in this hour of grave crisis? Was this muscle-flexing actually an attempt to show India its place, asking it to toe the line of stigmatised “big brother” China? Unless of course China has left it to low-ranking PLA officers to decide China’s India policy!

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