China's Aggression In Ladakh Has Nothing To Do With Dilution Of Article 370; It Is A Convenient Excuse With Many Takers
The timing of China’s aggressive behaviour is a clear giveaway — it is likely one among many actions Xi Jinping is taking to rally support behind him amid trouble.
Dilution of Article 370 is an excuse that already had many takers in India in the form of people who opposed the move.
Earlier this month, an influential think-tank associated with China’s shadowy Ministry of State Security, often referred to as the main intelligence body of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), published an article blaming the recent tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the abrogation of Article 370 by India.
The article, which came to light after a press officer at the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan tweeted it, says India’s move on Article 370 “posed a challenge to the sovereignty of Pakistan and China”.
Riddled with factual errors and contradictory arguments, the article says that India’s move to “unilaterally change the status quo of Kashmir” has “forced China into the Kashmir dispute, stimulated China and Pakistan to take counter-actions, and dramatically increased the difficulty in resolving the border issue”.
This isn’t the first time an attempt has been made to link India’s decision on Article 370 and China’s aggressive behaviour in the border areas. Similar arguments had been made by some observers in India when reports of Chinese incursions and build-up along the LAC first made headlines over a month ago.
However, the fact is that the dilution of Article 370 changes absolutely nothing when it comes to the control of territory on the ground in Kashmir and Aksai Chin. With this change, India did not lay claim to any new territory.
Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement on Aksai Chin and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir during the debate on Article 370 in Lok Sabha was only a reiteration of a claim that India has made for decades.
Despite saying that the dilution of Article 370 has forced China to take “counter-actions”, Dr Wang Shida, the author of the article in question, agrees: “India's moves will have no effect on the Chinese side, nor will they change the fact that China exercises sovereignty over relevant territories and the status quo that China exercises effective jurisdiction”.
Why does he then try to blame China’s aggressive behaviour in eastern Ladakh on the dilution of Article 370 by India in August 2019?
It helps portray China as a victim of ‘unilateral’ Indian actions in Kashmir and, thus, legitimises what the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is doing in Ladakh and elsewhere as a reaction to, and in defence against, these actions.
But even if one agrees with the claim that the dilution of Article 370 forced China to do what it did in Ladakh, how will Beijing explain the creeping invasion and salami-slicing of Indian territory along the LAC by the PLA over decades?
The claim does not stand up to scrutiny, and is clearly aimed at spinning a victimhood narrative to justify China’s aggressive behaviour along the LAC.
China’s victimhood narrative isn’t new.
In 1962, it portrayed India’s effort to safeguard its territory against China’s creeping invasion as ‘aggression’ before launching an all-out war.
It uses the same script when it comes to the South China Sea, where it portrays itself as a victim of conspiracy by the US to justify its aggressive posturing, including the military buildup on artificial islands and bullying of rival claimants.
In fact, as Taiwanese journalist Hilton Yip writes in Foreign Policy, the victimhood narrative is ‘deeply embedded into China’s official stances’ on various issues. In its reaction to the US actions against it for unfair trade practices to its response against Australia’s call for investigation into the origin of the Covid-19, China has consistently portrayed itself as the victim while being the aggressor.
Such victimhood rhetoric serves the CCP leadership well at home.Combined with ultra-nationalism, it helps distract domestic attention away from tricky issues.
Currently, the situation may be more than tricky.
Among other things, China’s economy, which was slowing even before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, shrank at the start of the year for the first time in over four decades. The official urban employment jumped to highest on record in the first two months of 2020.
As former Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale suggests, President Xi Jinping may possibly be preparing for ‘a challenge to his authority’.
“Buried in media reporting on the recent meetings that the leadership has held, is the phrase, ‘stability is the big picture’. The regime uses such phrases when it senses a threat,” Gokhale writes, adding that the situation “China now finds itself in might just bear some semblance to the second half of the 1980s” when “a faltering economy created a desperate tinder-box like situation” in the country.
The external environment, as China sees it, isn’t good either. Its deliberate cover-up of the Covid-19 outbreak, which delayed the global response, has put China in a tight spot. The post-Covid external environment may not be very different.
Putting the situation along the LAC and other recent instances of China's aggressive behaviour in this context makes the picture clear.
While the situation in eastern Ladakh may also have to do with local dynamics along the LAC, the timing is a clear giveaway — it is likely one among many actions Xi is taking to rally support behind him as he deals with mounting internal and external pressure.
Xi is finding refuge in ultra-nationalism. Blaming tensions in Ladakh on the dilution of Article 370 is an excuse that already had many takers in the form of people who opposed the move.
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