China will try to assert itself more across the world as it now feels confident that it has the economic, political and military capabilities to ensure that its views are heard on the global stage. It will assert itself in the immediate neighbourhood, the Indo-Pacific region and also across the world.
Dr Jabin Jacob, Associate Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, says that China sees itself in rivalry and competition with the USA and whatever the US is doing China will want to do that and try to do it better than the US. He says: “One thing is certain that China sees itself as a global power.”
As part of this assertiveness, China might be seen as officially arguing for multi-polarity in global politics but it will try to assert itself as a global hegemon. It will not brook competition from any other country. Driven by this thought, China sees democracies everywhere as a threat to the legitimacy of the Communist Party. The country will, therefore, continue to undermine democracies and other political systems.
China has grabbed territory in Ladakh as it sees India as a power that threatens its interests and ambitions. And to mount pressure on India, it will take a different stand against India’s neighbours. Because of this, the Chinese are capturing Nepalese territory and have walked into Bhutan as well—just to make a point against India.
Both India and China are currently stuck. India wants to restore status quo ante at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh while China wants that their bilateral and economic relations restored even as they keep occupying Indian land. Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar had made it clear that it is impossible to restore bilateral relations till China moves out of India. It is unwilling to detach the boundary issue with China to resolve its border dispute.
Jacob says that on the face of it, people might feel that India has lost face at the LAC by losing territory which India used to patrol that we cannot control now. “But that does not mean India is beaten or that India is down and out. China still has a problem on its hand as they say a wounded tiger is more dangerous and, therefore, the Chinese want to see that India behaves as the Chinese would like them to. But that is not happening.”
Within China the PLA is a powerful entity. It is much more powerful and higher in hierarchy than the Chinese Foreign Ministry. With the Indian military response, the PLA is under pressure to prove and respond to Indian actions. China will continue to create situations for skirmishes not just in Ladakh but also in Sikkim and Arunachal. China will keep creating problems for India across the LAC as the PLA is under pressure.
The Ladakh incident and the Depsang incursion in 2013 show that China has violated all laws in force since the nineties. India has shown its strength and determination by brazening it out in Ladakh – keeping its icy borders well defended even in the harshest winter. With China militarising the LAC with heavy armour and tens of thousands of soldiers, Ladakh will now remain permanently militarised on both sides of the border. But to deter China in future from violating its territory, India will have to take punitive action.
To be able to take on China, India will have to embrace reforms in all sectors—diplomacy, economy as well as military. This need for reform for the military has to come from within the defence forces as it is not coming from the civilian administration. If India has to take on China, India also needs to build up its navy. India will have to scale up its military diplomacy as well.
Also, the country lacks in its global understanding of other countries and cultures, including friendly ones. India will have to do more—cultivate countries like Vietnam and Japan by investing there, having better relations with them. India will have to build more understanding of other countries by investing in languages, culture, opening up more departments of research and study so that India and its leadership understand the world better. India should study various countries well, go to these countries and understand them more.
Regarding its Middle Kingdom approach, Jacob says that China is a Communist Party State. Moreover, President Xi Jingping's model is clear that the idea of China is a political and economic model which other countries should try to emulate.
Both the Tibetan government in exile and even the Indian establishment believe in Mao's doctrine of Five Fingers–taking over Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. However, there is more to this doctrine. It is not just the capture or occupation of territory but is also about exercising complete influence in all dimensions that matters to China. Even if it does not capture Bhutan or Nepal physically, China wants its voice heard in these capitals as the first and the most important voice that these countries listen to.
Talking about the neighbourhood, Indian leaders will need to look at China as the longer-term challenge and to fix relations with Pakistan also. “We have continued to look at Pakistan as the adversary, ignoring China all through, even though we understand the country well. Now is the time to rectify that approach,” says Jacob.