Ram Madhav
April 6, 2024

Calling China’s Bluff

(The article was originally published in Indian Express on April 6, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

When news of China renaming some geographical entities in Arunachal Pradesh broke in December 2021, some social media enthusiasts took a “tit for tat” approach. They gave Indian names to Chinese and Tibetan cities. Beijing was called Bhujang Nagar and Lhasa became Laxmangarh. They also referred to Shanghai as Sanghipur, Nanjing as Nandigarh, Yunan as Yananapuram, Chengdu as New Chandigarh, Hubei as Hanumangarh and Guangzhou as Gandhinagar. This was mere light-hearted banter by social media activists, who were idle due to Covid restrictions.

The Chinese tamasha of releasing “standardised” geographical names in “Zangnan”, their name for Arunachal Pradesh, started with the renaming of six places in 2017. Then they added 15 places in 2021 and another 11 in 2023. In 2024, the list included 30 new places, among which were 11 residential areas, 12 mountains, four rivers, one lake, one mountain pass and even a piece of land.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry did the right thing by dismissing the renaming tamasha. “China has persisted with its senseless attempts to rename places in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. We firmly reject such attempts,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said.

China’s ‘invented’ historical claims

There is a method in this madness of China, a civilisational nation with an “invented” historical memory. Its claims are for the long term. For example, the historical figure Zheng He was invoked in a novel in the early 1900s. A century later, this novel is a reference point in Chinese plans to explore the routes and destinations of his voyages with the aim of making historical claims to them. It sent so-called research ships to the Sri Lankan coast recently, claiming that Zheng had visited that country in the 15th century. In the case of Arunachal Pradesh too, the Chinese leadership had once claimed that graves of their people’s ancestors were in that state and that the descendants should have the right to worship them. Such claims sound senseless and invented today. But that is China’s way of using history as a weapon for expansion.

To tackle China, we must understand its civilisational character and know how to hit back where it hurts the most. That is precisely what External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar did during his visit to the Philippines in the last week of March.

India’s firm stand

India has traditionally avoided expanding theatres of engagement. To the chagrin of its friends in the QUAD, Delhi steadfastly refused to commit itself to a role in any potential conflict in the Western Pacific. However, in the Philippines, Jaishankar made an important departure from that position by telling the hosts that India would stand by them.

“We are convinced that the progress and prosperity of this region is best served by staunch adherence to a rules-based order. UNCLOS 1982 is particularly important in that regard as the constitution of the seas. All parties must adhere to it in its entirety, both in letter and in spirit. I take this opportunity to firmly reiterate India’s support to the Philippines for upholding its national sovereignty,” Jaishankar said. The Philippine News Agency also reported that Jaishankar assured President Ferdinand Marcos Jr that India is “very resolute” in its position on the South China Sea disputes and acknowledges the validity of the 2016 Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling, which invalidates China’s claim on the Philippines’ waters. He is also reported to have expressed his willingness to become a “charter member” of the Philippines, as far as efforts against China’s aggression in the South China Sea are concerned. He said India was ready to help the Philippines, “whatever consequences they may be confronted with”.

This is a bold move from the Indian leadership. India has always been an abiding signatory to the UNCLOS regime, even when rulings have gone against its own positions. However, an explicit statement calling on China to adhere to the tribunal’s 2016 ruling came for the first time last year when Enrique Manalo, the Foreign Minister of the Philippines visited New Delhi for a bilateral dialogue. While reciprocating the visit last week, Jaishankar not only reiterated that statement but also demonstrated India’s arrival on the global stage by indicating its readiness to get involved in a conflict far from its neighbourhood.

A predictable response — and futile threats

India’s firm stand had a predictable response from China. “Jaishankar’s visit is not purely for diplomatic purposes”, Global Times wrote, alleging that “(India’s) motivation was to draw countries that have conflicts with China, especially over territorial sovereignty disputes” closer to itself.

The Chinese mouthpiece said that India’s hope was that “the Philippines will engage in a long-term entanglement with China in the South China Sea, depleting China’s strategic resources, tarnishing China’s image in the international community, and diverting China’s attention in India-related issues.”

That Jaishankar’s statement has had the desired effect can be gauged from the futile threats issued by Chinese spokesmen, that “India’s involvement in the South China Sea will also have a significant negative impact on China-India relations, forcing China to be vigilant against the Indian government’s potential intention to stir up more trouble”.

India is a responsible nation, not a warmonger. Its leadership wants to play a “responsible and influential” role in global affairs.

In his recent phone call with US President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping enumerated three principles for good relations between China and the US. First, peace must be valued. Second, stability must be prioritised. And third, credibility must be upheld. India wants the same from the Chinese leadership in its engagement with itself and other countries. India wants all nations, including China, to adhere to a rules-based international order. That was Jaishankar’s core message from Manila.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

The Kite-Flying about RSS

The Kite-Flying about RSS

April 6, 2024
Please Choose Wisely

Please Choose Wisely

April 6, 2024

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 × 4 =