The talk in China is, since the Indian government has failed to contain Covid-19 and since the economy is facing problems, therefore, the government, in order to divert the attention of the people, has picked up a fight with China at the border!

With the military standoff between India and China entering its fifth month, the possibility of complete disengagement and de-escalation in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary appears remote, given the adamancy of China in changing the status quo on the ground by force in places like Depsang plains, finger areas along the northern bank of Pangong Tso and the Gogra heights, and presenting the same as a fait accompli to the Indian side. This could be attributed as the main reason for a bloody brawl that took place on 15 June and resulted in 20 fatalities on the Indian side and an undeclared number on the Chinese side. Undoubtedly, the incident has further flared up public opinion and nationalistic sentiments on both sides. Indian troops, taking a leaf out of the Chinese playbook, on 29-30 August, along the high grounds in the southern bank of Pangong Tso, and the People’s Liberation Army’s attempt to replicate the 15 June incident in one of the points in this area on 7 September demonstrate that we are sitting on a powder keg, which may explode anytime.
The new development in the south bank of the Pangong Tso has rattled China, and its media and scholarship have minced no words in stating their rhetoric of humiliating India yet again. In order to peek into China’s narrative of the standoff, let’s examine the following:
One, the debate in China is that since the Indian government has failed to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and since the economy has encountered huge difficulties, therefore, the government, in order to divert the attention of people, has picked up a fight with China at the border. They are quick to point out that India has beaten Brazil to become the second worst hit country in the world, and that India’s second quarter GDP has experienced an unprecedented decline of 23.9%, worst among the world’s major economies. Feng Chuanlu of Research Institute for Indian Ocean Economies, Yunnan University of Finance and Economics is one of the many Chinese scholars airing such views. In an interview to the Red Star news reporter, Feng said, “India’s actions and attitudes towards China have been to a certain extent related to the out-of-control Covid pandemic, economic downturn, and rising populism…A series of moves from Modi are indeed designed to calm the mood of the domestic public and the opposition parties…” Li Bingxian, a regular contributor to Fanhua, draws an analogy that “there is leakage all over in the big Indian ship.”
Two, Chinese scholars have maintained that India has been “nibbling Chinese territory” all along. China has been portrayed as a victim, the one exercising restraint, and never crossing the LAC. Conversely, India has been blamed for her so-called “assertiveness” and “frequent cross-border provocations.” Such views are reflected by Long Xingchun of China West Normal University, Lin Minwang of Fudan University, Liu Zongyi of Shanghai Institute of International Studies and many others. Huang Hanchneg, editor in chief of Trigger Trend pronounces the same as India’s “wolfish nature” (langzi yexin) and “obsession (zhinian) with Chinese territory. However, he rebuts his own words when he says “Whoever controls Tibet can control the subcontinent.” In fact, India “nibbling Chinese territory” is an old narrative propounded by China’s political class as well as older generation scholarship like Wang Hongwei, Yang Gongsu, Wang Dehua etc., and inherited by the present scholarship. Present scholarship argues that India wanted to repeat a Doklam in the Western Sector and unilaterally change the status quo, but was thwarted by the PLA. However, they fail to explain as to why China’s claim line in the Western Sector has been moving westward.
As regards the Indian patrolling in finger areas along north bank of Pangong Tso and Depsang plains, they argue China had “allowed” India to go to the areas she claimed, but China has learnt its lessons since the Doklam standoff.
Three, most Chinese scholars are quick to remind India that China’s comprehensive national strength is five times bigger than India’s, its defence budget more than three times of India, China’s weaponry far advanced than the weapons system purchased by India from a “thousand countries”, and that in event of conflict, China will definitely win the war and India will have to suffer humiliation worse than the 1962. Huang Hancheng is quick to indicate the prevailing asymmetry as regards military assets between India and China. According to him, China has 2.29 times more fighter jets than India; 12.22 times more attack helicopters; 3.8 times more armoured combat vehicles; 9.96 times more rocket launchers; 4.6 times more submarines and 3.6 times more destroyers. Moreover, he states that China has better logistic support and infrastructure along the LAC. In the same vein, Feng Chuanlu says that “India cannot afford to fight a war, and would not be able to bear the outcome of defeat”. Similar views are mirrored by Gao Feng, a military affairs analyst. Moreover, if the standoff enters winter, Indian forces do not have the requisite winter paraphernalia and logistic support, assert the Chinese scholars.
Four, though most of the writings do have a threatening tone, however, they also advocate that rather than confronting India directly, the game must start from the small countries around India. China must initiate a strategic thinking of “aligning with smaller countries to stabilize the big” (hexiao wenda). For example, strengthening strategic cooperation with countries such as Nepal and Pakistan will help to counterbalance India’s tough posture against China. This certainly has been part of China’s pivot to South Asia for quite some time, however, it remains to be seen if China would be successful in converting some of them into pivot states in the line of Pakistan.
Five, China believes India punches above its weight. Right from the 1950s, “India claimed to be the center of Asia. Nehru once dreamed of establishing an Asian federation with India as its nerve center”, asserts Huang. According to Feng, ever since Modi ascended to power in India, he declared India’s ambitions to become a “global leader”.
However, he maintains that India is mistaken that the balance in “Dragon-Elephant Contest” has tilted in favour of India. The Chinese scholar posits that “against the background of the American hawkish strategy towards China, India believes that it is currently in a period of international strategic opportunities, and has unique geographic superiority to take control of the entire South Asia and overlook the entire Indian Ocean”. In such a scenario, he believes that it would be unrealistic to obtain external support for furthering Indian interests.
Many Chinese scholars including Lin Minwang has argued that India has already become a pawn of the US, which could be ascertained from its approach towards the border and other regional issues including the Indo-Pacific strategy of the US.
Six, China officially doesn’t consider Ladakh as a “part of China”, however, China’s position on Kashmir and some of the Chinese scholars openly advocating that it is part of Tibet and hence Chinese territory, is worrisome. Some of the scholars like Hu Zhiyong of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Wang Dehua of Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies and others hold such views. In the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, Chinese analysts made noises that “India assimilates Chinese territory Ladakh into India” and “violates Chinese sovereignty”. Scholars such as Lu Yang of Tsinghua University, Zhao Gancheng, a researcher with Shanghai Institute of International Studies, Lan Jianxue of China Institute of International Studies, Hu Shisheng of China Institute of Contemporary International Relations had published articles reflecting such views.
Seven, as far as India’s economic measures against China are concerned, China is in disbelief that these have happened. Chinese scholars believe that India is highly dependent on China and if India has taken moves such as banning Chinese apps, cancelling contracts etc., this will harm India rather than China.
It’s a different matter that though it is true that in the short and medium terms Indian supply chains in electronics, telecommunication, automobile and pharmaceutical sector are bound to be disrupted, but in the long run, it may make India self-reliant in these sectors and boost domestic manufacturing.
Finally, it is obvious that China’s perception about the standoff is diametrically opposite of India’s. No one needs to tell the world as to which country has been doing and simulating military exercises since early 2020, and who altered the prevailing status quo in the Western Sector. The only thing India has been negotiating with China is the restoration of status quo ante. If this doesn’t happen, a repetition of capturing higher grounds in all the sectors of India-China boundary by both cannot be ruled out. The very exercise will push both to the razor’s edge as has been witnessed at the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso. The tone and tenor of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his counterpart Wang Yi’s meeting in Moscow has raised hopes for a diplomatic settlement.
However, both sides need to walk the talk, both must activate all channels at their disposal including another Modi-Xi summit to inject positive energy to the relationship and save it from further derailment.

B.R. Deepak is Professor at the Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.