India is sceptical about China delivering on its promised disengagement and de-escalation in East Ladakh before the communist party’s grand birthday party planned in July this year, people familiar with the matter said on Sunday, suggesting that President Xi Jinping is expected to stick to his strident position enforcing Mao’s 1959 line on Ladakh, Bhutan, Taiwan, South China Sea and Japan as China prepares to showcase the ruling communist party’s 100th anniversary later this year.
The people, who spoke on the Indian government’s assessment of the standoff set off by China’s attempt to unilaterally change the alignment of the 1,597-kilometre Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, said Beijing was expected to drag its feet towards disengagement and de-escalation of troops across Ladakh. The Chinese expansion also diverts mind of Han people from President Xi’s mishandling of coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, and the resulting economic downturn. The pandemic has infected nearly 90 million people globally and killed close to two million people with democratic countries bearing the brunt of the disease.
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China showcases its aggression in East Ladakh to its domestic audience and builds pressure on other smaller countries in South Asia such as Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to fall in line. “But we are prepared to stand our ground for as long as it takes and to deal with any eventuality,” said a national security planner.
India moved over 40,000 soldiers with support elements to the Himalayan border last year, matching the presence of Chinese soldiers along with the LAC after a bloody faceoff in June when troops blocked an effort by Chinese soldiers to take over Indian territory. India has called for disengagement of soldiers from the high-altitude desert to minimize the risk of accidental conflagration but insisted that Chinese troops should restore status quo ante that existed in late April 2020 when PLA’s patrol teams triggered the standoff, now into its ninth month.
The standoff in Ladakh, however, wasn’t China’s one-off effort at a time China faced sharp criticism for its handling of the coronavirus disease that was first reported in Wuhan but was spreading rapidly across the world. It also coincided with Beijing’s renewed attempt to arm twist its neighbours in the South China Sea, ramp up military presence in the waters around the rocky uninhabited group of Senkaku islands under Japanese control and step up pressure on the US and Australia.
President Xi also tightened the screws on Taiwan and Hong Kong; and the Buddhists of Tibet and Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang back home where the communist party had stepped up its sinicisation efforts to wipe out religious identities of its minorities that President Xi believes is crucial to strengthening China under the communist party.
As the United States had then put it, China’s aggressive stance in Ladakh fitted with the larger pattern of Chinese aggression in its neighbourhood and elsewhere in the world.
Many strategists within the government suggest that tensions provoked by Beijing would be on the rise for most of this year.
President Xi has planned for the 2021 centenary celebrations of the communist party for years, right down to fixing milestones when he had just taken over in 2012.
The 100th anniversary celebrations of the communist party would be projected as a strong counter to the so-called ‘century of humiliation’ that the Chinese empire and the Republic of China faced between 1839 and 1949 at the hands of western powers, Russia and Japan.
It is unlikely that President Xi would take any decision that doesn’t promote his narrative of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
For a China that has sought to displace the United States as the predominant power in Asia and beyond, President Xi’s signature Belt and Roads Initiative has helped. China has loaned billions of dollars to participating countries for the trans-continental passage and projects that would have flunked the standard viability test, pushing nations into indebtedness.
It will help Beijing that President Xi may be able to engineer cracks between the United States and Europe that had been working together on China with his surprise intervention last year.
President Xi extended key market access concessions to EU businesses under the comprehensive agreement on investment that Europe had been asking for. The resistance to the pact within the EU melted soon after. But there are concerns that the pact – which gifted China a diplomatic coup – jeopardises the attempt to forge a common stance on Beijing.