The following exert was taken from this months edition of China Strategic Brief which is produced in collaboration with our partners China Policy. To read the publication in full just fill out the form below to request your free copy.
President Xi Jinping — speaking at a 7 July 2017 BRICS conclave on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg — praised India. But he politely overlooked the China–India standoff over the Sino-Indian border — over the strategic plateau of Doklam (Donglang) which is claimed by both Bhutan and China — by then in its third week. Indian troops stopped a Chinese road project that it claimed is harmful to Indian security.
The situation remains unresolved, with warnings from the Global Times, a mass audience and hawkish daily tabloid, that Chinese patience is ‘wearing thin’. Its English language version, which is mainly read in New Delhi, was missing many nuances. But nuances can’t be called frequent.
The narrow range of opinion was on show through July. China’s Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, called for India’s unconditional retreat before any meaningful dialogue. ‘Misjudging its own capabilities and China’s baseline, India risks military confrontation’ warned Wang Dehua, who is the director of the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies South and Central Asia Institute.
President Donald Trump passed Prime Minister Narendra Modi a wink, speculated Shen Dingli, vice dean of Fudan University Institute of International Studies. He confirmed the conspiracy that Chinese analysts sense in Modi’s US visit and the standoff. India is signalling to the US its desire to constrain China’s rise, suggested Liu Zongyi from Shanghai Institute for International Studies. Whatever the anti-China thrust of the US–India accord, advised Liu and Zhang Jingwei from the Chongyang Institute, divisions over climate change, immigration and trade will inevitably sour it. India has — according to Zhang Yongpan of the Research Centre for Chinese Borderlands — ‘upset the applecart’ and Bhutan is not to blame because border talks with it have actually progressed.
Nuanced or not, some took the road less travelled. Geopolitics pundit Yan Xuetong argues that war is unlikely: ‘There is no strategic conflict of interests. Border disputes will not, India realises, be settled in the coming decade’. Another exception to the mainstream, former consul to Kolkata, Mao Siwei, warned on 14 July against the now conventional Beijing response of under-estimating India. Meanwhile China, like the US, struggles to find a credible stance on the current blockade of Qatar. One answer appears to be to use the imbroglio as a stick with which to beat Singapore. As an enclave — surrounded by powerful Muslim neighbours — the city state felt a bond with Qatar. Both were committed to strenuous balancing and ‘punching above their weight’. The current lesson to be drawn by Singapore, contend Beijing media, is to rebalance its relationship toward China and away from the US. Who would carry out a blockade of the island state is a question left unanswered.
Beijing has declared open season on Singapore in the wake of the Lee’s family feud. It cannot feel alone among China’s neighbours: what some commentators in Beijing fault as ‘overreach’ is being felt in Mongolia whose new President, Khaltmaa Battulga, is accused of upsetting another applecart, namely Belt and Road; and Japan whose ocean boundaries have been overflown by Chinese surveillance flights.