South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Ladakh…Is the dragon stretching itself in too many directions? – Defence News of India

South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Ladakh…Is the dragon stretching itself in too many directions? – Indian Defence Research Wing


The violent clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan valley along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh has led to the death of 20 Indian troops and an unknown number of Chinese casualties. The deaths on both sides represent the most serious incident involving the two militaries since 1967, and the shockwaves from this will reverberate far into the future. Put simply, India-China relations will never be the same again.

For the last two decades, the relationship was marked by border tensions but also a willingness to not let the situation escalate at the LAC. It’s clear that Beijing is no longer interested in telling its frontline troops to maintain a degree of restraint that is necessary to prevent any face-off from spiralling out of control. Which makes this a much much more dangerous escalation than the Doklam stand-off in 2017. 

Even if there is no conflict between the two nuclear powers, trust between the New Delhi and Beijing has been given a fatal blow by President Xi Jinping’s belligerent show of strength, as far as India is concerned.

Geo-political analysts and China-watchers have two questions uppermost on their minds: “What happens next” and “Why now”.

The answer to the first question will become clear in the coming days and weeks, and will depend on a series of complex military, strategic, diplomatic and political calculations in New Delhi and Beijing.

But we may never know the precise answer to the second question – not very soon in any case. However, if one looks at China’s pattern of behaviour since the COVID-19 outbreak started in January, a few trends emerge.

Not just Ladakh

China has made a series of aggressive moves in the last few months. Its rubber-stamp parliament passed a new law that virtually ends the ‘one country two systems’ that governed mainland China’s relationship with Hong Kong. In other words, Hong Kong’s autonomy could soon be a thing of the past, once the law gets implemented on the ground.

China has also taken potentially destabilising steps in the South China Sea, including naming all the islands and other features in the sea so as to claim them. Beijing is making it abundantly clear that it considers the whole of South China Sea as its own backwaters, much to the alarm of several countries in South East Asia.

Xi’s government has also threatened Taiwan, using language that is a marked departure from its more careful statements in the past, and has started an ugly war of words with Australia, which had sought answers from China on the origins of the coronavirus.

The aggression in Ladakh is, therefore, another piece of this puzzle, though the bloodiest one so far.

Xi, it appears, has made up his mind that 2020 is the year when China will push the accelerator on its road to global dominance. With the pandemic wreaking havoc around the world, Beijing sees this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make rapid territorial gains and become the undisputed hegemon of Asia, from where it can then look at the ultimate prize – challenging the US for sole superpower status.

Just weeks after he became China’s leader in 2012, Xi floated two deadlines for his country. The second of these deadlines was that China must become a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation by 2049. Beijing thinks decades ahead, and the events of the last few months – including the cynically executed brutality in Ladakh – are likely all part of a grand plan. The only thing we don’t know is how the plan might end.