The world will be looking at how India deals with the Chinese military aggression on its border. India’s handling of the aggression is important not only for India but also for the world, especially East Asia, because over the last two decades, China had self-assumed an element of invincibility. Such a new metric is factored in by many nations in their security calculations, and this had happened without China even firing a single bullet or engaging and winning a war in its modern history. This fallacy or fact of invincibility had come into existence, thanks to the thumping success of the Chinese business model and the resultant accrual of massive wealth with the Chinese government. The Chinese are out to prove to the world this notion of its military dominance as a fact. How India handles the new-found military aggression by China will set precedents on how the larger world will deal with China. The current military standoff between India and China, which has been of a larger intensity since the neighbors fought a war in 1962, is a litmus test for India whether or not it can stand firm and show that the Chinese are not invincible and can be bloodied. In Asia, only India can do it, for its own peaceful existence as well as of others in the Indo-Pacific region.
The South China Sea is an international water and does belong to the world. In 2018, China had tried to alter this fact by coming out with a map showing four spots, depicting four natural land formations in the South China Sea, which were hardly visible during low tides. It erected the formations further up with land-filling and made them into military sites. Subsequently, China declared these artificial islands as Chinese territory and barred all navigation within their 12 nautical miles. Besides, China declared almost the entire airspace of the South China Sea as its airspace, making mandatory for airlines seek prior admission to fly through. The United States of America is the only country that defied these aggressive behaviors of China by making its warships enter the 12 nautical miles thereby pronouncing that the South China Sea was available for freedom of navigation. Fighter jets from the U.S.A. also flew through the space without taking any permission. The Chinese military did confront neither these ships nor the jets.
The Chinese expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea did not stop there. It staked claims on the Senkaku islands that were owned by a Japanese national. Seeing the threat, the Japanese Government bought the island from its citizen and formalized the land as its territory. China, however, does occasional bullying but never tried to forcefully occupy the Senkaku islands. Why? Because Japan is under the security umbrella of the U.S.A., and as per the terms of this security pact signed in the aftermath of the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, the U.S.A. will defend Japan any foreign adversaries. China knew it so stopped bullying Japan on this front.
Claiming of Spratlys islets and islands of the Philippines and harassing its fishermen by the Chinese naval boats continue to be done by China. Vietnam is also facing the bullying by China in the South China Sea. The Chinese navy tried to stop oil drilling by Vietnam in its territorial waters and harassed Vietnamese fishermen many times and still continued to do so. South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Malaysia are also facing bullying by the Chinese Army in the South China Sea. All these evidences of the Chinese expansionist ambitions had come out in the open in the last 10 years.
China is an expansionist force that traditionally followed the expansion strategy of “inch by inch” – gradual calming of and occupying others’ land over a period of time. However, with massive wealth accumulating, China went on the top gear of expansionism by force projection as well as by using force itself as suited it. In this game, China does not show respect for the weak. Its reluctance to confront the U.S..A in the South China Sea while turning predatory to other nations is a demonstration of this fact. India should not budge the Chinese aggression. South East Asian countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and other nations in East Asia and larger Asia consider India as a counterweight to China. And this weight-index has security element, and if India fails to defend itself against the current Chinese aggression, it will send a wrong signal to these nations, making it easy for China to coerce and cave them in to the Chinese domination. On the other hand, if India defends itself and make the Chinese military to get a bloody nose for the aggression, then these nations will also stand up against the Chinese browbeating. Besides, India’s firm response will send the right signal to the Chinese leadership that India is not a pushover and that India is ready to fight.
India must give a befitting reply to the Chinese aggression. China is a bully which understands only the language of force. India should call the Chinese bluff. The myth of the invincibility of the Chinese military will have to be shattered for India to live peacefully within its borders. War is not a solution. And at the same time, peace is possible only if enemy understands the language of peace.