Unprovoked aggression is hurting China’s image The Statesman 18 May 2021 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Unprovoked aggression is hurting China’s image The Statesman 18 May 2021

          The Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jiming, stated last week, ‘Obviously it will not be a good idea for Bangladesh to participate in this small club of four (QUAD), because it will substantially damage our bilateral relationship.’ It was an outright interference in foreign affairs of Bangladesh. He added that this was conveyed when the Chinese defence minister, Wei Fenghe, visited Bangladesh a few weeks ago. He is stated to have told the Bangladesh government, ‘Beijing and Dhaka should make joint efforts against powers from outside the region establishing a military alliance in South Asia and practising hegemonism.’

The Bangladesh government reacted maturely. Its foreign minister, Dr AK Abdul Momen, stated, ‘We’re an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy. But yes, any country can uphold its position.’ He added, ‘Usually China does not interfere in others’ affairs. The aggressive way the ambassador spoke is very unfortunate.’ Anger against direct Chinese interference is growing within Bangladesh. This is not the first time that China has directly interfered in internal matters of countries.

The Chinese ambassador to Nepal had throughout May and Jun been attempting to build consensus within the Nepal communist party to ensure survival of the Oli government. These attempts, apart from failing, angered the population of Nepal against China. Anger was evident when the Chinese defence minister visited Kathmandu in Nov last year. He was given a formal audience by the President, Bidya Devi Bhandari, had no meeting with the PM, also the defence minister. The luncheon in his honour in the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu was cancelled as the Nepalese government voiced reservations. 

In Myanmar, anger against Chinese support to the military junta and interference in their internal matters has been rising. During recent riots against military rule, dozens of Chinese factories were attacked and burnt as also Chinese citizens became targets. In Pakistan, Baluch insurgents and the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) have been attacking Chinese diplomats, workers and CPEC projects, displaying anger at exploitation of their country by the Chinese. Its taking over the Hambantota port has angered local Sinhalese. Similarly, anger is rising against China in Maldives. 

Within SE Asia, China no longer enjoys the same standing as it did earlier. The Philippines foreign minister had tweeted in anger, ‘China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O…GET THE F**K OUT. You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend; not to father a Chinese province …’ His subsequent retraction did little to change Chinese impression in the country. Japan and Indonesia have rising anti-China sentiments for its offensive forays into their island territories.

China has taken over Laos’s power grid system due to non-payment of dues, resulting in a growing anti-China wave. A report in The Diplomat states China obtained 1,158 Kms of territory from Tajikistan as an alternate to repaying loans. It will demand assets from Montenegro as it fails to repay a USD 1 Billion loan. The EU has refused to intervene.

China threatened Australia with economic and military actions over its demands for a probe into the origins of the virus and tensions over Taiwan. This only hardened Australian resolve. Even New Zealand has begun having doubts over its trade relations with China, as per latest comments from their Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. It is a matter of time before this relationship also goes downhill.

China’s trade deal with the EU, announced with much fanfare, and expected to break US-Europe alliance, is now in tatters. China imposed sanctions on few EU Members of parliament for commenting on Human Rights abuses against Uighurs. In retaliation, the European Parliament withheld support to the trade deal. China warned Sweden to reverse its ban on Huawei or face retaliation against Ericsson, its rival. Sweden has refused to bend. The G 7, united due to Chinese actions, sent a strong message to China on its aggressive actions and human rights violations.

There is growing anger against the Chinese in Africa on account of debt owned by nations on BRI loans. Djibouti was the first African victim to China’s debt-trap and compelled to permit China to build its first overseas military base in the country. Nigeria is facing pressure from China to hand over strategic assets. Many other countries facing similar pressures, have ordered probes into the loans taken, leading to resentment against the Chinese.

The anti-China wave continues in India. The Ladakh crisis of last year, followed by the Galwan clashes, and currently growing casualties from the China virus is adding to this wave. India has made it clear that there would be no restoration of ties, diplomatic or economic, unless the Ladakh crisis is resolved. It is with this background that India banned the participation of Huawei and ZTE in its 5 G trials. When China faced the first wave of the pandemic, India despatched 15 tonnes of assistance, however, India despite facing a devastating second wave, has refused official Chinese aid, while allowing companies to procure medical stores from China.

The recent incident of debris falling from the Chinese space rocket displayed the global disconnect between China and the world. A similar incident of a US rocket was ignored, while China was accused of carelessness. Overall, the global community is displaying a dislike for China and its leadership.  

China, which should have converted its economic clout to positively alter its image and project its ideology as an alternative to democracy, failed due to its military and diplomatic aggressiveness. It expected third world countries to gravitate towards it, but on the contrary, its BRI is viewed as a debt trap. Its breaking global norms, open aggressiveness, seeking to grab strategic national assets, wolf warrior diplomacy as well as directly interfering in countries has led to it being disliked. Its neighbours, fearing its aggressiveness, maintain silence, though seek to challenge Chinese hegemony. The Chinese downslide is evident, when the Chinese spokesperson in Beijing, daily spends more time defending China from global accusations than questioning other nations.