Tibet’s reference as an example of its Expansionist Policy irks China
Days after Chinese President Xi Jinping met People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers stationed at the India-China border in the name of “inspecting their combat readiness,” the principal spokesperson of US State Department said in an interview that United States opposes any “unilateral attempts” and any incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Although Chinese President was using this ploy as a tool of posturing to convey India about its military readiness and capabilities, it boomeranged. Vedant Patel, Spokesperson of the US State Department was the first to react sharply saying “We oppose any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by incursion, military or civilian, across the border or the established LAC.” The US reaction on Xi’s visit of Indo-China border is not the only reaction which has come against China’s expansionism in recent times.
Since the occupation of Tibet, China is generally seen as a military expansionist country. The recent border skirmishes it ignited along its borders of India is a living proof of Chinese mindset. Former Chief of the Indian Army M. M. Naravane recently said that India made a great mistake in 1968 when it accepted that Tibet was an autonomous part of China in a joint communique knowing very well that China forcefully occupied it in early 1950s and without any quid pro quo. He also said that Beijing is “destroying Tibetan Civilization, culture, way of life, and even demography” for its strategic designs against the southern neighbours. He reiterated the fact that “Tibet was a nation by itself and we (India) never had a border with China, only with Tibet.”
He also mentioned that the Chinese momentum of building border villages has increased. “Who are these villages meant for? Because there are no Tibetans there. They (village houses) look like villas,” he said. He also warned that if China would ever prefer to exercise military option to resolve its border dispute with India rather than peaceful dialogue and diplomacy, it would have to incur a very high cost. India today is very different from what it was in yesteryears and now it has strategic alliances with many global powers for the promise it has as the most emerging market in the world as well as a responsible nuclear power.
As the US State Department spokesperson clarified US position on Chinese President’s visit to the India-China border and the purported purpose of addressing PLA, the Chinese spokesperson, like other times, claimed that India and China have maintained “smooth and constructive communication” on boundary-related matters through diplomatic and military channels. They also “promote the border situation to switch from the phase of emergency response to normalised management and control”, the spokesperson contended. The ideal situation which the spokesperson tried to paint is far from the real situation which could be best described as “tense but under control.”
Donald Lu, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs had said earlier On January 16, 2023 that that Beijing has not taken “good faith steps” to address border tensions with New Delhi, saying there is no role for a third party in resolving the military stand off on LAC. He added that China had made “aggressive” moves along the border in India’s north-eastern states instead of taking steps to resolve the stand-off in Ladakh sector that began in May 2020.
Reacting to Lu’s comments, a Chinese embassy spokesperson commented that the US state department official had “made allegations against China regarding [the] China-India border issue without any factual basis”. The spokesperson added: “The Chinese side is firmly opposed to such acts that a third country point fingers at the bilateral issue between other two countries out of geopolitical consideration.”
The reaction of the spokesperson of the US state Department as well as US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs have just added to already existing reactions of other countries against China’s expansionist policies in the South China Sea, Hong Kong. Taiwan and other regions in the Indo-Pacific region.
The tension at Indo-China border is under control because India today is not as palpable as China would be tempted or like to believe on the basis of Indian setback in 1962 war, which many people believe was not due to the military superiority of China but mere because of an unanticipated deception by China.
The deception happened amid the slogan of Indo-China Bhai Bhai slogan which was rooted in a romantic and idealist foreign policy. This has since markedly changed as now India’s foreign policy is rooted in reality and it is well prepared for any eventuality.
It is why China’s recent expansionist moves on Indian border could not succeed. China underestimated India while it tried its expansionist moves in Doklam in 2017 near a tri- junction on India- China- Bhutan Boarder closer to the Indian state of Sikkim. China again tried the same tactics in the Galwan Valley (2020-2021), a valley of Galwan river flowing from Aksai Chin to the Union Territory of Ladakh. China has been doing lot of development near the Doklam region and Ladakh sector unilaterally not paying any attention to the territorial integrity of the neighbouring countries.
Nevertheless, India’s prompt and strong interventions in these expansionist moves stopped China from usurping the areas on which it never had any locus standi. But still in every such attempt China never goes back to its original point and keeps a part of the forward territories of the neighbouring countries or disputed areas. This is what is described as Salami Slicing.
The factual position on ground is quite different from what Chinese authorities claim and propagate. It is not only US which has pointed out towards Chinese expansionism in no uncertain terms, but many other countries in the world which find that China’s words do not match with their deeds. It is pointed out that China’s military expansionism and use of brute state power to silence people and suppress their aspirations and criticism is something which could neither be covered up nor washed away. It is visible from Xinxiang and Tibet to the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chinese state continues to flex its muscles. The actual behaviour of China is highly disappointing seen against its positive propaganda as part of its image building exercises.
It is not India alone, but in case of many other countries also China is criticized for its expansionism. For quite some time Japan has been objecting to China’s expansionist activities in the East China Sea (ECS). China has competing claims with Japan on small group of islands called Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. So is the case in the South China Sea where China is pursuing an aggressive policy and giving birth to maritime disputes. the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia also lay claim. The countries in the SCS region are also becoming victim of China’s increased muscle flexing and claims where it has built a series of artificial islands capable of supporting military operations despite overlapping claims of other countries in the region.
Realising that China is also following an expansionist policy in the Indo Pacific region, a US policy document identified China as “one of the major threats to American national security.” Keeping this in view, the US has reaffirmed its commitment to its Indo-Pacific treaty allies Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand.
The recent drama of China in the case of Taiwan also indicates China’s intent of going up to any extent for claiming it as part of its territory against the will of the Taiwan people. It engaged in intense military exercises on both the sides of the Taiwan Strait not only to threaten Taiwan but also others who favour the democratic aspirations of the people of Taiwan.
Rather than putting “Wolf Warriors” to defend China’s aggressive expansionist policies, China should change its mindset and learn to respect territorial integrity of other countries to evoke trust.