Ever since news of the India-China standoff at Doklam has become public, the Chinese state-run media has gone on an overdrive, threatening India in the most bellicose language possible. This belligerent tone has found reflection even in the language used by some Chinese diplomats and other government officials, including a Chinese diplomat issuing threats against India from Indian soil. There is a widespread perception that the confrontational language being used by the Chinese media has a great degree of official sanction, because in essence they are the mouthpieces of China’s Communist Party. It goes without saying that India cannot afford to brush off such aggression as a mere show. A conflict is a possibility and India has to be prepared for that. At the same time, by using such hostile language if some in China plan to frighten India into submission, or hopes that public or Opposition pressure will force the Indian government to ask its Army to stand down at the disputed territory of Doklam, then it has both misunderstood and underestimated this country, its politics and its people. Indians have an innate sense of pride in their 5,000-year-old history, in spite of the severe flaws in its body politic, which may take several decades to correct. It is not just a country, it’s an ancient civilisation. They are also proud members of a fully functioning, rambunctious democracy—the biggest in the world—with the power to decide the fates of their rulers, something the Chinese cannot even dream of. However fissiparous the tendencies that Indians may demonstrate from time to time, when it comes to their country, or a crisis, they tend to coalesce into an impregnable whole. This has a direct bearing on Indian politics as well, because neither the government nor the Opposition can survive by ignoring the people. Of course India has a long way to go to be anywhere near China, both in terms of military might and economic heft. But it is also not a pushover. So it is naive on Beijing’s part to expect that such a country and people will meekly toe its line, just because it imperiously asks them to do so.
China’s rhetoric is crossing all limits of decency and diplomacy as it escalates its insulting tone with every passing day. It does not behove a country, which sees itself as the world leader, to use the language of a bully. In fact, it has a lot to learn from New Delhi and the Indian media, who have been behaving in an exemplary manner by refusing to escalate the war of words to a point of no return. Surely diplomacy is the only way out of the impasse, for a conflict between India and China will hurt relations between the two Asian giants immeasurably, apart from having several other dire consequences. Also, it will dent China’s claim that peaceful development and co-existence with its neighbours are at the core of its growth as a world power. China also needs to realise that its attempt to paint itself as a victim of Indian aggression is not going to wash with the world community, which is already suspicious of its intentions in different geopolitical theatres, including the South China Sea. Beijing is boxing itself into a corner by allowing aggressive language to dominate the Chinese public space, thereby making conflict inevitable. No amount of diplomacy will extricate it from economic and other losses, should it choose a border conflict with India. Beijing must give peace and not war a chance, for the sake of ensuring an Asian Century with China and India as the stars. Much will depend on the meeting at Xiamen between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping after a month.