The 12th round of corps commander-level talks between the militaries of India and China recently concluded with a joint statement carrying the usual homilies about enhancing mutual understanding and resolving the remaining disputes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. It is to be noted that no concrete forward movement has been visible in the unfinished disengagement process which has stalled since Indian and Chinese troops pulled back in the Pangong Tso area in February this year. True, discussions on other friction points – Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang Plains – continue and plans are afoot to establish a buffer zone in one of the friction points. But on this too China’s approval is awaited. As I have mentioned in my previous articles, India is in for the long haul as the Chinese are unlikely to give up their military-strategic advantages accrued through ingress into Indian territory and its boosted military infrastructure along the LAC.
Several theories have been put forward about why China adopts an aggressive posture towards India at the LAC while continuing to pitch for peace and cooperation between the two countries. These range from China asserting itself as the No.1 power in Asia to Beijing’s desire to keep New Delhi off balance and remind it of the consequences of moving closer to the West. As with many things in international relations, the truth is multifaceted involving several factors. Hence, all current theories regarding China’s foreign policy-military posture contain a kernel of truth. But none of them can claim to be the definitive truth.
So yes, China does not want India to get too close to the West and Beijing has indeed embarked on high-pitched nationalist rhetoric. But my addition to the truth is that China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping has been trying to rejuvenate the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and prolong its life span. True, this assessment might seem odd. In fact, many would argue that the CCP seems the strongest ever today. But the reality is that when Xi took over as party general secretary and President in 2012-13, he inherited a CCP that had become vast with multiple centres of power. While this was a natural consequence of three decades of China’s economic opening up and meteoric GDP growth, it was also putting a strain on internal party unity. CCP leaders govern through internal consensus. But what happens when ideas about what that consensus is start to diverge?
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