China’s reckless and reprehensible actions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh since April 2020, to change the territorial status quo in some areas, can only be characterised as irresponsible behaviour on the part of a nuclear state towards another nuclear state, India.
Another state which possess nuclear weapons which has consistently acted dangerously and provocatively towards India is China’s ‘all weather friend’ and ‘iron brother’ Pakistan.
It has done so through the sponsorship of terrorism, certainly, for the past three decades, in the now Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and of Ladakh and the rest of the country too.
Viewed from this perspective, China’s India policy is now openly emulating Pakistan.
This is in itself strange for two reasons: one, while China calls Pakistan ‘friend’ and ‘brother’, it is in fact its patron; hence, in undertaking these actions along the LAC in Ladakh, the patron is following the line taken by a ‘slavish client’; second, China aspires to be acknowledged as a global pre-eminent power in the same bracket as the United States but by pursuing an irresponsible path, it is demonstrating that it is should be put in the same bracket as Pakistan.
China Has Overlooked That India Is ‘Different’ From Other Countries It Is Targeting
China’s aggressive behaviour on various fronts, including its disdain for global rules, has been exacerbated since Xi Jinping became the supreme leader of the country. Its conduct in the South China Sea in asserting its dubious claims, its behaviour against the Philippines and Vietnam, its barely concealed hostility towards Taiwan and its crushing of the democracy movement in Hong Kong are part of a pattern of ‘couldn’t care less’ irresponsibility indicative of a desire to promote its interests without attempts at reconciling them with other states.
This ill-concealed disregard for other states has become more pronounced since the outbreak of COVID-19.
China wishes that it should not be held guilty for the pandemic. Instead of showing evidence that it has clean hands in this matter it is using all its coercive instruments to silence its critics as seen in the way it commercially retaliated against Australia.
In all this China has overlooked that India is different. This is for the simple reason that unlike other states it is targeting, India is a nuclear power. It has also got the wherewithal to become a great global power.
In overlooking these facts, it is breaking the norms that governed relations between nuclear states in the past—that nuclear states would not undertake provocative action on territories of other nuclear states or territories controlled by them. This was seen all through the Cold War and was observed by the United States and the Soviet Union.
What The Focus Of Nuclear States Like India & China Should Be
China did not observe the restraints that the US and the Soviet Union observed. Mao Zedong took his country to the brink of war against the Soviet Union in 1969 when both countries had nuclear weapons. Signs indicate that Xi Jinping considers himself in the mould of the great leaders of the Chinese Communist Party of whom clearly Mao has been the greatest. He should understand that the world expects greater maturity from China and his own leadership than that shown by Mao.
In a recent interview to a prominent Indian journalist, Chinese scholar Zhao Tong argued that the belief in Beijing and Delhi that India-China mutual deterrence was so stable that conventional armed hostilities would not escalate into the strategic dimension was misplaced.
The focus of nuclear states should not only be on the stability of deterrence but on the avoidance of grave and unacceptable provocation.
And any action by way of nibbling at the LAC as China has done in the past, and its blatant attempts at changing the status quo completely, qualifies as unacceptable provocation.
Interestingly, Zhao Tong also said in the interview that China feels that India has been ‘aggressive’ and wishes to change the status quo at the LAC.
Certainly, China has given no evidence of this belief if at all it harbours it; and, nuclear states cannot afford to misread other nuclear states; it is much too dangerous.
India-China Conflict: Use Of Force Must Never Enter Equation Between Two Nuclear States
In any event, Chinese feelings that Indian actions have been provocative are merely excuses for its own aggression.
If China’s actions in Ladakh are based on its assessment that its conventional armed forces are superior to India’s, it should realise that India is now capable of mounting sufficient defence all along the LAC to ensure that it would be able to largely safeguard its territory there and elsewhere too.
Besides, as a P5 member which is part of the group that is supposed to helm ensuring the maintenance of international security, China should be able to demonstrate restraint and responsibility.
The issue between nuclear states is not that conventional war without escalating into the nuclear dimension can be fought but that the use of force should never come in the equation between them. That can only be so if there is no provocation which Pakistan through terrorism and now China with the LAC incursions are indulging in.
(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)