Saturday, January 28, 2023
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5 ways the world can stare China down

China is lashing out in Ladakh and South China Sea after Covid blame. It's an established Chinese behaviour to create a new crisis to push the previous one out of sight.

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The Chinese leadership has two problems. Staving off an international scientific investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic because it could trigger enormous demands for reparations, and concurrently repair the global damage to its standing.

A democracy would have dealt with it differently. It would have welcomed and cooperated with an inquiry and acknowledged or differed with its findings. It would have leveraged its soft power patiently to slowly undo the image deficit caused. However, China is an authoritarian capitalist oligarchy whose leadership is punch-drunk on hubris.

Also read: China believes India wants Aksai Chin back. PLA has likely secured 40-60 sq km in Ladakh

Creating flash points 

The Chinese leadership, therefore, has started lashing out on all sides trying to create strategic and tactical flash points to somehow make the – ‘China is responsible for the contagion’ – headline go away.

It has stoked tensions in the South China Sea by unilaterally announcing on 18 April 2020 the establishment of two new administrative structures, prompting the US Navy to launch its fifth freedom of navigation operation in the past five months.

It has belligerently taken on US President Donald Trump and other world leaders who are publicly calling for an ‘origin’ investigation into the Covid-19 epidemic. It has drastically altered its relationship with Hong Kong by partially enacting a new security law that fundamentally transforms the ‘one nation two systems’ paradigm.

It has encroached into Indian territory and, according to an estimate by the former Northern Army Commander, Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag, illegally occupied between 40-60 sq km of Indian territory in the Galwan River area and on the Indian side of Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh. It has also encroached into Indian territory in Naku La in north Sikkim.

Thus, in a short span of one month, China has created a maritime, land-based and a sovereignty flash point, each with short-term eyeball grabbing potential and longer-term  strategic and tactical advantages.

Also read: China has definitely crossed India’s Lakshman rekha but it won’t lead to 1962 again

China’s established pattern

This behaviour is not surprising. The Chinese leadership, from 1947 onwards, has always resorted to obfuscation and deception to deflect from its failures and internal crises.

A classical and often un-analysed aspect is the correlation between the failure of the Great Leap Forward and the 1962 War with India. The Great Leap Forward was a five-year plan of forced agricultural collectivisation and rural industrialisation that was instituted by the Chinese Communist Party in 1958 and abandoned in 1961. It occasioned a drastic shrinking of the Chinese economy and was responsible for 30 to 55 million deaths due to starvation, execution, torture, forced labour, and suicide out of harassment. It was the biggest distinct, non-wartime pogrom of mass killing in human history.

It is another matter that the Chinese were able to get the erstwhile Soviet Union on board for the 1962 aggression against India as a quid pro quo for keeping quiet on the Cuban missile crisis initiated by the Soviet leadership. Similarly, the Sino-Vietnam conflict had as much to do with the evolving leadership dynamic within the Chinese Communist Party post the death of Mao Tse Tsung as it did with the situation in Cambodia. Deng Xiaoping assumed the leadership in December 1978 and Chinese troops entered Vietnam in March 1979.

Thus, there is a clearly established pattern to the Chinese behaviour. Create a new crisis to push the previous one out of sight.

Also read: UK wants 5G alliance of 10 countries, including India, to avoid reliance on Chinese Huawei

Stare China down

Should the Chinese leadership be allowed to get away with it this time around again? The answer is no.

The world needs to stare the Chinese squarely in the eye. There are five things that must be done.

First, the call for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 must be taken to a logical conclusion. Second, Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO) must be reinstated. Third, China’s disproportionate influence in the institutions of global governance must be substantively diminished through collective action beginning with a summer cleaning of the WHO.

Fourth, the quad between the US, India, Japan and Australia must be formalised to keep the Indo-Pacific free of malefic Chinese influence. Fifth, the international community must unite to, if necessary, sanction China to keep democracy and liberty alive in Hong Kong.

Also read: Covid showed dependence on China poses all kinds of risks. For India, it’s even greater

Modi govt’s border conundrum

That leaves the question of dealing with the border encroachment carried out by China in Ladakh and north Sikkim. There, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government will have to carry the cross alone, keeping the possibility of a China-Pakistan link-up in Sub Sector North in mind.

For starters, the Narendra Modi government must tell India what is really going on. Are Generals Panag and Prakash Menon correct that a ‘Lakshman rekha’ has indeed been breached? If so, what is the extent of the transgression and what does the government intend to do about it?

Unlike the maritime domain, where shared interests are at play, here, India is virtually on its own. However, it holds some cards, for example the Chair of the WHO’s Executive Board, 5G trials for Huawei, activating the Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor. If the Modi government uses these skilfully, coupled with a patient, sustained but a determined force posture in Ladakh and north Sikkim, India should be just fine.

How Prime Minister Modi must be regretting shelving the 90,000-strong 17th Mountain Strike Corps or the Brahmastra Corps cleared for raising by the Congress-led UPA government in July 2013 especially keeping the Sino-Indian situation in mind. It would have been fully operational by now.

The author is a lawyer, MP and former Union information and broadcasting minister. Views are personal.

This article has been updated. The earlier version incorrectly referenced to the Bay of Pigs misadventure. It should have been the Cuban missile crisis. The error is regretted.

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  1. it is quite unfortunate that that most of the parties ruled our country since independence,never interested in the national welfare and wanted to retain the power for themselves..and the country went haywire; all our youngsters must be made to fall in line to build a disciplined society that is lacking; into a student ‘s job is to study and not to indulge in unwanted activities;reducing the voting age,and 5 year compulsory defence can help in long run.and our judciary must be tuned to contribute and help to regulate our administation currupt free ..

  2. Can’t be certain of US. Some armament deals don’t really cement the partnership through all thick and thin. Until they part with cutting edge STRATEGIC undersea assets like Russia, urging us on to partner as QUAD in S China sea is very challenging.
    The Quad countries have very large trade balance sheets with China. Particularly Australia Japan . Unless personally affected slim chances of ACTUAL Tactical partnership from them . A counter response at Sea needs to be solely on self support with contingencies planned.
    Our valiant armed forces continue to modernize and recently integrated battle groups with air space support achieved. That is in vogue and US even China has restructured in those lines.

  3. Strike corps notwithstanding I feel integrated battle groups supported by air power mechanised forces , air defence, aero space response et all created . This is in vogue world over . US even China restructured its system.
    Point to note how much we depend on Quad ? If we venture out in S.China sea do we obtain support from neighborhood countries and Australia?It has strong business relations with China USA ? China imports much in Agricultural products .
    How much can one depend on Western support ? Will they part with cutting edge items like STRATEGIC undersea assets ?
    Before partnership need to achieve realistic capabilities.
    Only then can share in Indo Pacific Vandemataram

  4. One fails to understand Modi government’s China policy. Since the time Modi came to power in 2014 he has been cosying up to China and the so called summits Wuhan, Mamllapuram etc. have not bore any fruit so far as Indo- China relations are concerned.When in reality China always takes an adversarial stance against us in every international forum. They have trade surplus of $60 billion. They have firmly stood by Pakistan against us yet the government is so tight lipped about this whole issue of stand off in Ladakh. This government’s China policy is baffling.

  5. Situation is difficult. We must not underestimate the enemy but should keep a picture of Hitler in mind when thinking about it. In cold war, the two blocks were ruled by ideology. Today it is all self interest. We must enter into a formal military treaty with U.S. Interdependence has more power than independence.

  6. I agree with Shri Manish Tiwari.
    World MUST contain this Chinese behavioral Virus effectively and Urgently.

  7. The real truth of Kargil is coming out …………..India always need someone like Clinton in White House, not someone like Trump who rather than putting pressure is talking about mediation !!!

  8. look who is talking! Giving unsolicited advise to a leader much taller than tallest of their midgets.

    • If the advice is sound, one should still heed it. Tall leader would only be taller if he does so.

      Alas, a politician had to bring in politics in the last para of what was otherwise a good read.

    • Your statement is the essence of the Hubris that the author talks of affecting the Chinese leadership.

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