NEW DELHI: As the world battles the pandemic unleashed by the Chinese virus and nations increasingly seek accountability from Xi Jingping, internal unease in the Chinese Communist Party is manifesting itself in aggressive behaviour by the PLA in the neighbourhood.
While Vietnam and Philippines have been at the receiving end of Chinese muscle-flexing in the South China Sea (SCS), India is facing the PLA ire at the contested border with China along the Himalayan frontier as evident from incidents in Sikkim and Ladakh in the past few days.
China watchers recall that Beijing has always been on the ball when it comes to seizing opportunities in crises. In 1962, when the United States and USSR were engaged in the tense Cuban missiles crisis, Mao chose to attack India.
In 2008-09, the financial crisis coupled with American confusion on whether to really pivot to Asia or just pay lip service to its commitment on pushing back against Chinese aggressive claims in SCS allowed Beijing to assert its claim on the artificial reefs in SCS.
Now, in 2020, as U.S. and Europe muddle through the response to Covid-19 and India is preoccupied with managing the world’s largest lockdown, China has chosen to up the ante. The PLA hasn’t forgotten the 2017 Dolam insult. China is still trying to find ways to put pressure on Bhutan and keep Indian troops engaged in border faceoffs in Sikkim. The standoffs are no surprise. The assessment in Delhi is such incidents are likely to increase in coming days as PLA itches to assert itself. Dolam could see fresh tension as China may attempt to renew building the track towards the trijunction, the site of the faceoff for over 70 days in 2017 that finally led to the Wuhan and Mamallapuram informal summits.
Meanwhile, Chinese footprints continue to grow in South Asia. To sum it up, China is unlikely to relent in its attempt to browbeat its neighbours, Coronavirus or not. India will have to keep its guard up.