China’s concerns over ongoing tensions with several of its neighbours, from Japan to the Philippines, may have prompted a rethink leading to the withdrawal of its troops from the face-off situation in Ladakh, a Chinese analyst has suggested.
Han Hua, a leading South Asia scholar at Peking University and director of its Center for Arms Control and Disarmament, told the Global Times on Monday that China’s current territorial rows with a number of countries may have informed its decision-making to ensure relations with India did not spiral out of control.
Chinese soldiers, who sparked the stand-off on April 15 by setting up tents on the Depsang plains 19 km into what India sees as its territory, withdrew from their positions on Sunday evening with both sides agreeing to return to the status quo prior to the incursion.
“Given current rows with Japan over the Diaoyu [or Senkaku] Islands, there is no reason to start another row,” Ms. Han told the newspaper.
Chinese officials have, however, revealed little about what prompted the April 15 move by the People’s Liberation Army which triggered the tensions.
Indian officials say while both sides have carried out patrols up to where they see their claim-lines, neither side had taken the step of setting up tented posts.
Ms. Han told the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid known for its nationalist views, that she saw ties with India improving since 2010 because of China’s territorial disputes with other neighbours, particularly with Japan in the East China Sea and a number of countries over the South China Sea.
“Bilateral ties were tense from 2006 to 2009 due to rows over the eastern section of the China-Indian border, but have warmed up since 2010, partly because of rising disputes with China’s neighbours to the east as a result of the U.S. pivot to Asia,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
Ms. Han said China’s “grand strategy” was “to avoid troubled relations with its neighbours,” although Beijing has left a number of countries in the region concerned over territorial disputes that have resurfaced.
“The new leadership adjusted its policies and now seeks a stabilised relationship with India,” Ms. Han said. “As emerging powers,” she added, “the two countries both face pressures from the West, and have the will to cooperate on a wide range of global issues. They both want stability and prioritise economic development, so they don't want to clash with each other.”
Separately, Pei Yuanying, a former Chinese ambassador to India, told the official China Daily on Monday that resolving the border dispute would require “time and patience.”
Even as the stand-off evoked concerns in India, Chinese media outlets have given little attention to the row.
Journalists at two State-run media outlets told The Hindu there had been directives to play down the incident, particularly as the Chinese side “did not want the tensions to derail” the expected visit of Premier Li Keqiang to India on May 20. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will arrive in Beijing later this week for talks with his counterpart Wang Yi and other officials to lay the groundwork for the visit.
That the Chinese government was apparently keen to ensure the visit would go ahead smoothly, under the right atmospherics, has made it all the more puzzling why Chinese troops decided to set up tents in Depsang on a night three weeks ago.