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Dragon On Fire

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Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
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The Chinese Dragon is burning with uncontrollable rage after losing face in the South China Sea dispute. By pouring scorn over the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PAC), China is exposing the duplicity it practices. And is becoming the world's biggest bully threatening all those who do not see eye-to-eye with it, particularly small neighbours like the Philippines.

This is in a way true to what the Chinese foreign minister had told his Singaporean counterpart back in 2010: 'China is a big country and all other countries are small countries. And that is just a fact.' China expects all countries in the world to bow before it. It is an extension of the 'might is right' theory.

Driving home this message, China has since built artificial islands, unmindful of the ecological damage it caused, installed radars and missiles and declared an Air Defence Identification zone in the disputed waters. China is beginning to pose a threat to free maritime movement in international waters on the basis of false claims and threatening postures.

Only a few days ago, the very same China had taken a high moral ground to block India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Ground because it had not followed certain procedures. What right China has to talk about legality and procedures when it is so contemptuous of them? More so since China had voluntarily joined UNCLOS, which made it obligatory for it to renounce its 'historic' South China Sea claims.

India did not react strongly to the Chinese snub at the NSG meeting in Seoul. Delhi will do well to remember that cautious approach to China is no good.

On July 21, for instance, China criticised the reported deployment of battle tanks by the Indian army in the Ladakh sector near the India-China border. The Indian deployment is a response to the presence of major mechanised units on the Chinese side. Yet, the state-run Global Times said, "It is puzzling that while deploying tanks near China's border, India still strives to woo Chinese investment."

India has miles to go to catch up with China's military and infrastructure build-up across the border, which, analysts says, is aggressive. Nonetheless, China has the cheek to link border-security drills to investments in India.

"The deploying of tanks near the Indo-China border may hit a nerve within the Chinese business community, causing investors to weigh the threat of political instability when they make investment decisions," the Global Times cautioned.

The short point is that whenever it decides to berate India or any other country, China does so with vehemence, often lacing oblique warnings.

India will be affected severely if at some stage in the future China decides to impose its views on maritime traffic in the waters close to China. These sea lanes carry out a three-trillion-dollar trade annually. So, India should factor in the Chinese negative reaction to the PAC ruling, and its policy of encircling India by gaining access to ports in not only Pakistan but also Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other littoral states.

India cannot deal with the situation by sounding almost apologetic in criticising China. For that matter any of China's neighbours, who have dispute over maritime rights--the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Japan.

In 1974 and 1988, China had driven out Vietnamese soldiers from an island it claimed as its own. In the 1980s, Vietnam lost 60 soldiers in a clash with the Chinese soldiers. But the case against China at the PAC was brought, not by Vietnam, but the Philippines. The reason could be that Vietnam has a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards China. The Communist parties in the two countries have fraternal ties and Vietnam, like many other countries India including, looks for Chinese investment and help in building infrastructure. It cannot go beyond a point in criticising China.

Of these countries, Japan may be described as the fiercest critic of China but it has a flourishing trade relation with China. Yet, Japan often takes a more critical view of illegal Chinese activities. China cannot, therefore, take it for granted that its money power, backed up by its considerable muscle, can neutralize the fallout of its defiance of an international court order.

China may work on Asian members to create a rift that it can exploit to its advantage. But that too will not make China look a benevolent power. Murmurs of Chinese arrogance are often heard in many countries, especially in Africa, where the Chinese are pouring in cash in return for taking away their natural resources. China has not even tried to look like a 'soft' power.

Whatever be the mutuality of investment interests, China has not earned any brownie points in the West. In fact the Chinese behaviour has created an unfavourable impression. And the West is not going to condone the Chinese violation of an international court ruling lest it will encourage similar behaviour by other countries.

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Rama Rao Malladi is New Delhi based senior journalist and distinguished commentator on South Asian and Central Asian issues. He is a regular contributor to several publications in and outside India. His articles are featured in News Blaze.Rama (more...)

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