From Ladakh to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, ‘bully’ China is in an overdrive

China’s latest complaint to Tokyo falls into a pattern and is part of its tactic to push the envelope with its neighbours – one step at a time.

China complained to Japan early this month about its fishing boats moving in the vicinity of Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Beijing also wanted Japan to cancel the resolution passed by the Ishigaki city assembly last month to change the name of the southern Japan area from Tonoshiro to Tonoshiro Senkaku. Japan, as expected, has told off China.

Beijing’s latest complaint to Tokyo falls into a pattern and is part of its tactic to push the envelope with its neighbours – one step at a time. In the East China Sea, the demarche was designed to build its claim over the archipelago that includes five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks spread across 7 sq km. It wasn’t just the presence of Japanese military around the islands east of the Chinese mainland that Beijing was going to object to but fishing boats too.

To be sure, China has been attempting to expand its territories over the last two decades but it has only been after the latest round of steps, or mis-steps that Beijing has been called out for bullying its neighbours, first by the United States. For instance, it has been laying the ground for the Ladakh adventure nearly 20 years ago.That is when teams of Indian and Chinese officials, in an effort to understand each other’s perceptions about the Line of Actual Control and narrow the differences, produced maps of the western sector at the meeting of the expert group of the two countries on 17 June 2002. But the Chinese side declined to exchange these maps that would have formalised their claims and perception about the LAC. China hadn’t, for example, made claims over Gogra, or the fingers overlooking the Pangong lake.

Over the next 18 years, China has been attempting to nibble away territories that it claimed as its own, and the ones that it traditionally hadn’t. Like parts of Galwan valley that China has discovered can be strategically useful after India scaled up its border infrastructure and brought the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie close to the LAC.

Indian officials concede that there had been this lurking suspicion about China for years. But there was a belief within Indian diplomatic and military community that with close interaction over the years, the mindset of Han Chinese would change. “This has been a singular big mistake,” a senior official said.

But the Indian government isn’t the only one to have gone wrong with its assessment of China.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has conceded that consecutive US administrations had gone horribly wrong with their policy that deepening ties with China could help democratize the country and the Trump administration was fixing this policy approach.

US Attorney General William Barr expanded on the administration’s approach last week, warning US business and academia that China means to co-opt, destroy and eventually replace them altogether.

The Trump administration has increasingly been focused on China bullying countries in the region, right from India and Japan to the smaller Southeast Asian countries.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea and the islands and reefs that dot it. As the world struggled with the virus that originated in its Wuhan, Beijing announced 2 districts to administer islands and reefs of Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands to strengthen its claim to sovereignty over the area.