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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

China’s expansionism in South China Sea and how Bharat & other nations should respond?

The Ishigaki City Assembly in Okinawa, Southern Japan passed a bill to change the name of the disputed islets from Senkaku to Tonoshiro Senkaku Islands. The bill was resolutely opposed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry calling it a “serious provocation to China’s territorial sovereignty, which is illegal and invalid and that Diaoyu Islands[1] belong to China”[2].

On the other hand, the Philippines, a purported Chinese ally reacted sharply to the presence of two Chinese ships within the Philippine territory stating that any foreign vessels manoeuvre into its territory will be met with pointed response diplomatically and otherwise. Per the reports Philippines Navy Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo remarked “Chinese navy and coastguard, as well as fishing vessels, continued to “loiter” within the Philippines’ 112 nautical miles EEZ and that at times the Chinese navy appeared to be trying to provoke their Philippine counterparts into aggression” [3].

The ASEAN nations, that have for years been an China ally, articulated a tougher stance stating UNCLOS to be the legal basis to resolve maritime and territorial disputes.

It is intriguing, that the three nations of Japan, Philippines and the regional bloc ASEAN issued these statements in a matter of one single month or two. The ASEAN and Philippines have maintained deep relations with China. In-fact the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made a concerted effort to reset the pivot away from its traditional ally the U.S. toward China.

While the ASEAN bloc comprising of smaller nations depend heavily on China for trade, have typically adopted a diplomatic stance on these issues; however only recently have they adopted a more articulate and resolute opinion on Chinese incursions in the South China Sea (SCS).

If we compound China’s SCS territorial claims with that of its invoking of national security act in Hong Kong with next up Taiwan[4] (at least according to Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu); incursions with Bharat and its egregious territorial claims with Bhutan, Nepal, Tajikistan and per reports Russia as well – we are looking at China’s COVID-19 strategic opportunism. Already a group of 122 member states of the World Health Organization have called upon an independent investigation into the Coronavirus outbreak in China much to its protest[5].

An increasing number of nations came in support of Bharat following the Galwan valley clashes between the Indian Army and PLA, dealing a massive blow to Chinese overtures in the region. Much to its embarrassment the PLA Army hasn’t revealed the number of casualties their forces suffered; however, the US intelligence puts the number to around 35 casualties[6]. The families of the fallen of the PLA Army have been instructed by the state to refrain from giving public burials that caused much anger among the families of soldiers.

The aftermath of Galwan has shaped up a rather optimistic opinion toward Bharat since the Indian Army paid respect and homage to its martyrs, the fallen martyrs got acknowledgement of their sacrifices on the field. Major world powers like the U.S. made a statement through Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “the actions of the ruling Chinese Communist Party meant there were threats to India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia amid the stand-off in South China Sea”.

The U.S. reduced its troops across Europe to deploy in South East Asia, apart from that stationed its aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan in South China Sea. Followed by the U.S., Australia, France, Japan, ASEAN and Israel have supported the cause of Bharat internationally.

Team Modi comprising of NSA Ajit Doval, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have worked in cohesion in fast-tracking vital supplies to augment military capacity. Case in point is acquisition of 36 French Dassault Rafaels, of which 5 have landed in Bharat and the fast tracking of indigenously produced Kalashnikov rifles[7] in Amethi (where some politicians had also talked of establishing a factory of potatoes!), in addition procurement of 72,000 SIG Sauer assault rifles[8] and advance supplies like tent, rations, gear to support from extreme temperatures for the troop deployment along the LAC.

Per the PM’s statements and stance adopted, it is that of restoration of status quo ante along all clash points i.e. Gogra Hot Springs, Pangong Tso, Galwan valley and Depsang Plains.

Someone in China’s high-powered Central Committee miscalculated and made a grossly scandalous decision. They did not anticipate a pointed reaction from Bharat or from Japan or least of all from ASEAN bloc. China’s overtures have the capacity to stir up a NAM like movement among smaller nations critical of its actions.

By the support thrown by international community there is already a large number of nations that are growing wary of Chinese hegemony in Asia. This will have repercussion over Belt and Road initiative, one of its most ambitious projects. While momentarily China has the requisite means to further its interests, that may not be the long-standing situation.

According to Mr. Young Liu, Chairman Foxconn, one of largest manufacturers of electronic components used in Apple iPhones stated, “China’s days as the world’s factory are done”[9]. This is in the wake of U.S. sanctions on China made products, imposed with heavy tariffs and duties, that forces manufacturers like Foxconn to diversify their supply chains even if that means relocating bases to Bharat or expanding their chains.

Amid the ban on Chinese apps like Tik-Tok, UC Browser among many others, have a spiraling effect on the economic might. The alternative to Bharat’s most popular apps have sprung up on Google Play store, like Bolo Indya instead of Tik-Tok or Jio Browser instead of UC Browser. Taking a cue from Bharat, the U.S. has followed suit in banning China origin applications.

By way of a Presidential decree makes it unprecedented, since Apple iOS and Google are both American companies and dominate the operating systems in mobile phones world over. This severely curtails Chinese companies’ ability to do business once their apps are taken off such vital operating systems.

Reason for Xi-Jinping regime’s ferociousness, rather its obscure designs in the region is a well-kept secret, however if we go back to 2014 we find a clue; upon coming to power one of the first decisions of PM Modi were to delineate power of approvals to the DG level in the BRO enabling speedy construction of all-weather roads along the border enabling troop patrols, development of security infrastructure and expeditious deployment in case of escalations.

Suhas Ambale in an article stated, “according to Former Defence Minister A.K. Antony, not developing the border was seen as the best defence, as an undeveloped border is safer than developed border”[10]. The hierarchical break-down in approvals given to the Border Road Organization supported development of security infrastructure and troop mobilization.

The 21st century in the coming future will be defined by “Atma Nirbharta” as evident by the import ban of 101 defence items. This movement has led a social revolution amongst the citizenry that now checks origin of their products be it automotive or phone apps. Bharat will lead this revolution on the shoulders of PM Modi who has enjoyed unrelenting democratic mandate despite the odds stacked against him.


[1] The disputed islands are called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

[2] Channel News Asia, “China warns of reprisal as Japanese city changes disputed area name”

[3] Raissa Robles, “South China Sea: Philippine Navy Chief warns of Chinese provocation”

[4] The Guardian, “The next Hong Kong: Taiwan’s Foreign Minister sounds warning over China”

[5] David Brennan, “122 Countries want an investigation into how the Coronavirus outbreak happened, but China says it’s “premature

[6] Financial Express, “India-China Galwan valley clash: 35 Chinese soldiers died, report cites US intelligence

[7] Rajat Pandit, “Govt. clears fast-tracking of projects to arm Israeli drones, produce AK rifles in India

[8] Peter Suciu, “Indian Army to acquire 72,000 Sig Sauer 716 Assault rifles

[9] Tyrell Sonnemaker, “The CEO of largest iPhone manufacturer reportedly predicted that China will no longer be the world’s factory

[10] Suhas Ambale, “Infrastructure Development in Border areas as rattled the Chinese

-by Laveesh Sharma

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