While there was a spurt in terrorist activities in Kashmir, Chinese troops reportedly got involved in unarmed combat with Indian troops in Sikkim at Naku La on 05 May 2020, where 7 Chinese and 4 Indian troops got injured. On 10 May 2020, Chinese troops and its two helicopters made a close call along the Line of Control (LoC).
Though the helicopters did not cross the LC ,but India had to scramble its fighter jet aircrafts to shoo away Chinese helicopters. Question arises if China was trying to bully India or there was something else on its menu?
On the face of it, one gains an impression that these acts might not be in isolation. There is a method in this madness. These acts are coordinated along with Pakistani acts. There could be a joint Hybrid War against India by the duo. While Pakistan has paid anti- India trolls on Twitter in the West, UAE and Saudi Arabia to discredit India on Islamophobia; on the other hand, China was discreetly paying to bloggers in Nepal and Bhutan to generate anti-India sentiments.
Bhutan has been on its radar for long because it wants to create an alternative land route to Indian Ocean through Bay of Bengal. The Doka La crisis of 2017 explains why Bhutan was figuring on Chinese strategic screens. There are protests in Nepal over India having built a road to Kailash Mansarovar through Lipulekh Pass. This project was started in 2008 but completed now. Coaxed by China Nepal’s Communist party has objected to it because it lays claim to Lipulekh pass. China is thus quietly creating hostile neighbours all around India.
Why is China sparking border skirmishes? Some Indian scholars assert that it could possibly be because of recent Indian edict to Pakistan to handover POK to India. Partially, it could be true because $62-65 billion (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) super highway hinges on passage through Gilgit-Baltistan (part of POK), which India considers its own territory.
Such moves by India puts CPEC into jeopardy, which is an intended land route for China’s petroleum product needs from the gulf region. The land route is only 3,000 Kms to Sinkiang province from Gwador port in Balochistan. It is not only short but it is secured by Pakistani troops. It curtails the need for ferrying its petroleum products over 12,000 Kms through sea route via Choke points at Malacca strait and disputed South China Sea.
90% of China’s energy needs come from Gulf region. It is estimated that China has only 55 -60 days of oil reserves for any conventional conflict with USA —- which may happen because of recent Sino-US activities in South China Sea and aggressive posture by both.
However, CPEC might not be the real reason for its aggressive posture on India. The two more important reasons are South China Sea situation and internal storm building against the present Chinese regime of President Xi Jin ping. Internal situation is intriguingly calm.
South China Sea (SCS) is supposedly rich in oil and minerals. The SCS is estimated to possess 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China claims sovereignty over the entire sea and it’s resources. There are six nations, including China, on its periphery. Other five nations are Vietnam, Taiwan. Brunei, Malaysia and Philippines. According to UN Convention on international law on sea resources the maritime boundary of Littoral states extend upto their EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), which is around 300 Kms offshore for every nation.
Accordingly all other littoral states of SCS claim rights over its resources. But China denies it to others. It claims entire SCS as part of China. It has been creating artificial Islands in SCS with military facilities on them. It has deployed its aircraft carriers in the region. China refused to accept the verdict of international tribunal in 2016, which had rejected Chinese claim of sovereignty over SCS. China has virtually annexed SCS and even now eyeing East China Sea, where it is in confrontation with Japan.
To counter Chinese aggression in SCS, United States has also stepped up its military activity and naval presence in the region in recent years, including freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in January and March 2018. However, in April 2020 things took a dangerous turn when Chinese ship came very close to US destroyer Berry in a threatening posture.
This alarmed the United States and thus the USA beefed up its presence in SCS. According to world News on 11 May 2020, USA had deployed around 200 ships in SCS. This has panicked China. There is a real danger of military confrontation with USA over SCS and belligerent USA, under President Donald Trump would not shy away from this.
According to CNBC article of 04 May 2020, an internal report by Chinese State security ministry has said that Beijing faces a wave of anti-China sentiment led by the United States in the aftermath of the pandemic and needs to be prepared in a worst-case scenario for armed confrontation between the two global powers.
At this stage, Chins does not want to get involved with USA, because the worlds public opinion has turned against it due to Covid -19. Also, China does not want SCS as a war zone because other littoral states would rise against it. Besides, in conventional superiority, China was no match for USA. There is a need for China to divert attention to some other region, where it can show its might.
Therefore, China is trying to divert attention by heating up Sino- Indian Border, It would kill two birds with one stone e.g. one, to provoke India against Pakistan and thus divert US attention to South Asia from SCS. Second, by creating Indo-Pak tension, make Muslim nations rise against India, thus, create favourable conditions for China against USA. The bonus of these skirmishes could be to gauge Indian capabilities and intentions for a future confrontation .
To an ordinary viewer, it might seem mere conjectures and intelligent guesses on likely Chinese motives. However the internal situation in China is so disturbing that it was mandatory for the present regime to divert national attention and rake up nationalistic feelings. There are reports of angry voices rising in China on the poor handling of Corona Virus cases. A number of critics have been arrested. In fact, one of the important dissident leaders had called Xi Jin Ping, a clown. He has since disappeared.
The situation in Hong Kong is getting worse every day. There is a grumbling against the way the Hong Kong situation was being handled. Even in the mainland China, opposition to Xi Jinping is rising. It is reported that the supreme leader is now going to various provinces to calm down the agitated minds.
It seems, the only way, Xi Jinping can rake up patriotic feelings is by initiating a conflict with India, which is far away from SCS and comparatively weaker in both counts of economy and military. Wars often emotionally surcharge the general public. Xi might be banking on a 'quickie' with India with positive results. He does not need a full scale war but token skirmishes on the border in collaboration with Pakistan.
While Pakistan might be encouraged to go all out, China herself will watch the match from the sidelines. Thus, these skirmishes are primarily aimed at igniting Indo-Pak war and force USA to move away from SCS, leaving the five littoral states of SCS at the mercy of China.