The list of countries and entities affected by China’s muscular unilateralism under President Xi Jinping is getting longer. From Australia to Europe and the long arc of Beijing’s Asian neighbours, from Japan to India through the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, nations are reacting against Chinese Communist Party’s aggressiveness of a kind not seen since the 1960s. Add Hong Kong and Taiwan to the list, and there is an incredible set of China-centred conflicts. Tensions between China and the United States are not being driven by President Donald Trump alone. The Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Joe Biden, who hopes to oust Trump from the White House in the November elections, is accusing the US president of being too soft on China.
The range and diversity of countries at the receiving end of Chinese belligerence should put an end to India’s self-referential debate on Beijing’s motivations for the Ladakh aggression. Assuming that India’s move to alter the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir last year in August and Delhi’s expanding ties with Washington provoked Beijing, does the CCP have the right to use military means to redress its disputes with India? The self-absorbed Indian debate fails to understand the dramatic changes in China’s worldview under Xi. The CCP now wants to redeem its territorial claims wherever they are — whether it is in the East and South China Seas or the Great Himalayas. China believes it is strong enough to violate the formal commitment to the principle of “one, country two systems” in Hong Kong and threaten to annex Taiwan through force. China also believes that it can punish any state that questions its policies, with economic sanctions. Beijing’s diplomacy, celebrated until recently as the paragon of sophistication, now drips with arrogance and condescension.
Most Asian nations affected by the CCP’s expansionism appreciate the massive asymmetry of military power vis a vis Beijing and the deep economic interdependence with China. America and Europe have no territorial disputes with Beijing but have huge economic stakes in China. Washington and Brussels know that China is too powerful to be contained in the manner that the Soviet Union was in the last century. If no nation, not even the US, is in a position to limit Chinese power on its own, the case for an international coalition that can persuade the CCP to abide by international law presents itself. But building coalitions, even among nations that share a common threat, is not easy. Most members would hope to get better terms through separate deals with Beijing. Bilateralism with China has indeed been India’s preferred approach until the current showdown in Ladakh. While a credible coalition is a long way off, it is time India raises its voice against Chinese aggression, not just on its northern frontiers, but wherever it takes place. There was a time when Delhi used to speak up against hegemony in Asia. It is time India recovered its voice.
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