Did Xi Jinping create tension in Ladakh to mask domestic troubles, strengthen grip on Hong Kong?
Ladakh tension engineered by aggressive Chinese military has got the attention of the UN and the US among others. It also shifted the focus from coronavirus-induced problems of China and Hong Kong protests as Xi Jinping regime passed a law to change its character.by Prabhash K Dutta
- China is facing massive job loss, protests due to coronavirus pandemic
- World attention was fixed on Hong Kong protests as China worked new law
- Ladakh tension has shifted attension from Hong Kong, Covid-19 issues to India-China border disputes
Coronavirus emerged as the biggest challenge to all-powerful Chinese President Xi Jinping. The virus is making resurgence in some Chinese cities, including the original epicentre, Wuhan.
The general public of China, otherwise ingrained to toe the communist regime, feels the government mismanaged the coronavirus situation, putting lives of millions at risk. They are now angry at the government for trying to muzzle voices that tried to alert them about the dangerous nature of this virus. This is evident from the recently published 'Wuhan Diary' by Fang Fang.
China has long depended on having a labour-intensive economy, where some 20 crore migrant labourers are estimated to be working. With coronavirus lockdown extending for more than two months, China has a bigger migrant problem than India.
Estimates vary but different agencies say 5-13 crore workers have been laid off or furloughed in China under the impact of coronavirus. Data are not transparent but rising unemployment can be corroborated from Chinese government's decision to massively raise allotment for unemployment allowance fund from around $27-28 billion to over $82 billion. This fund is comparable with the EPFO fund in India.
Still China has been witnessing protests by rural migrant workers. According to the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based NGO monitoring workers and labourers' issues in China, around 50 protests by migrants took place in China during the coronavirus lockdown. Among the protesters were also construction workers who helped build new hospitals for Covid-19 patients. They were protesting over wages.
These protests were happening while China was battling the coronavirus and tackling protests in Hong Kong over a new law - passed Thursday by Chinese parliament or the National People's Congress - that ends "one country, two system" rule. It was under this formula that China had taken control of Hong Kong from the UK in 1997.
The protesters were hitting the streets of Hong Kong, chanting "Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!" The movement was attracting worldwide attention. The US and its President Donald Trump were most vocal in their support to the protesters in Hong Kong.
The US-China trade war had already derailed the economic ambitions of Xi Jinping. With Donald Trump as the US President, Xi Jinping was finding it difficult to play another Chinese trick. When it seemed that US-China trade war would end after their first deal earlier this year, coronavirus became a pandemic.
The pandemic exposed the healthcare infrastructure of many countries and proved that the Trump administration - like many other governments - was inept in meeting the challenge. Trump's re-election appeared in danger, prompting him to pin the blame on China saying it was its deliberate attempt to influence the US election scheduled for November this year.
Taiwan was yet another problem that was leading to some diplomatic isolation of China. It had already been isolated at the World Health Assembly over the coronavirus outbreak.
Following a simulation video released by China, it is being widely speculated that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is planning military takeover of some of the islands belonging to Taiwan, which had become an irritant for China in the middle of Covid-19 pandemic.
The WHO's baffling response to Taiwan question during Covid-19 crisis was linked with the Chinese pressure. China and the WHO drew flak after the WHO refused to acknowledge Taiwan even during Covid-19 crisis.
Against this background emerged border tension between China and India. Chinese troops engaged in physical brawls with Indian soldiers in Sikkim and Ladakh sectors. The way China mobilized its troops gives an impression that it was a pre-determined tension.
Soon after, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the PLA to prepare for war on the sidelines of the meeting of China's parliament. The news was broken by state-run agency Xinhua.
Usually, when a head of state tells the country's army to prepare for war, it is not publicised for it is bound to alert the enemy. But China chose to make the call for war preparation public.
India ramped up its troop presence in Ladakh and Uttarakhand responding to the Chinese aggression along the LAC (Line of Actual Control), and subsequent to Xi Jinping's war preparation call.
A military tension involving India is always a concern for rest of the world. Being a democratic country with open markets, the world's stake in India is very high. China has been dabbling with hostile military policy and cheap labour-induced manufacturing economy for far too long.
India getting anxious on its borders drew expected response from the US and also the United Nations. Donald Trump tweeted his mediation offer. The UN called for maintaining calm along India-China border.
And, while the world discussed another possible Ladakh misadventure by China, it passed law to take away democracy, freedom of speech and some of fundamental rights from people of Hong Kong. The same day, Chinese envoy to India said China is not a threat to India and focused on talks to resolve any issue between the two countries.
So, the question is, did Xi Jinping use Ladakh as smokescreen to mask his domestic problems in general and the Hong Kong move in particular? Your guess is as good as ours. But you are not the only one to connect the dots. Read parliamentarian Manish Tewari's Twitter thread.
China has been a master of deception in diplomacy. This is how China shocked India in 1962 war soon after creating a facade of Hind-Chini Bhai Bhai.