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SOURCE: The Tribune

China lambasts India’s slow progress so often that it is a rare surprise to find officials and state-steered media complimenting New Delhi’s policy. The official daily, Global Times, has hailed India’s decision to abstain from joining the Quad partners (the USA, Japan and Australia) in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations. The daily has welcomed India’s refusal to serve as America’s ‘hatchet man’ against Russia. It has gloated that the other Quad members have not been able to influence India.

Such praise is in contrast to the line taken by the Global Times barely two years ago, when it ran India down for ‘actively promoting’ security cooperation within the framework of Quad. Scoffing at India’s claim to be a great power, which “cannot be supported by its strength”, it had pointed to contradictions innate in India’s refusal to joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an economy- and trade-centred bloc, and its ambition to playing a lead role in Asia. Generally, it had chided India for cosying up to the US and Quad.

Beijing has also abstained from condemning Russia. It has, instead, blamed the NATO expansion for provoking the Ukraine war and the western sanctions for disrupting the world economy to the detriment of the progress of developing countries. Like India, China favours a diplomatic solution. But the Sino-Indian border dispute mars their tie, which, nevertheless, remains afloat, buoyed by a strong trade relationship and China’s successful competition with the USA for the position of being India’s top trading partner.

Amid the territorial conflict, the Chinese media sees the Ukraine war as an opportunity to drive a wedge between India and its Quad partners. In particular, Washington is accused of sowing discord between Beijing and New Delhi by demonising China as a security threat.

This follows from Beijing’s official line. China — like Russia — has always disliked Quad and criticised India for joining what it sees as an anti-China grouping. China’s Foreign Ministry says that Quad is steeped in “the obsolete Cold War and zero sum mentality and reeks of military confrontation.” China, claims Beijing, stands for regional peace, stability and prosperity.

Unsurprisingly, the Global Times smugly affirms that India’s stance on the Ukraine crisis “means the US won’t be able to use India as a tool.” It seemingly relishes the thought that India, the world’s ‘largest democracy’, is missing from the ‘democratic camp’, and is fed up with America’s ‘hypocrisy, bullying and arrogance’.

China is trying to show that it has much — though not everything — in common with New Delhi. During his visit to New Delhi in the last week of March, Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that both sides should place the border issue ‘in a proper position’ in bilateral relations (without defining what he meant by a proper position). Wang discussed Covid-19 control, the Ukraine crisis and the Afghanistan issue with Indian officials. Both India and China fear that instability in Afghanistan could spread across South and Central Asia to their respective territories.

At the international level, China is scheduled to host the BRICS summit in June and it is again using the group — comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — to burnish its image and assail Quad and the concept of the Indo-Pacific. Hosting the BRICS sherpas’ virtual meeting on April 12-13, China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu, who also coordinates its BRICS Affairs, voiced Beijing’s firm opposition to the use of the “Indo-Pacific” strategy to ‘divide’ the region and create a ‘new Cold War’ and the use of military alliances to put together an ‘Asian version of NATO’.

India has rejected this analogy. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar has underlined that India is not a treaty ally of the US.

At the same time, China stakes a claim to be the leader of developing countries. Officials often refer to the ‘wisdom’ of China, which, they boast, has taught the world how to deal with the relationship between ‘stability’ and ‘progress’. Beijing has reiterated the concern of developing countries over the impact of anti-Russia sanctions on the global economy and security of supply chains. Those are criticisms of the US, without naming it.

Since China is economically the strongest BRICS country, it claims some clout as the ‘leader’. The inference is that China can put developing countries on the rails to progress. China wants the BRICS countries, as representatives of emerging markets and developing economies, to take on more responsibility and serve as the ‘stabiliser’ and ‘accelerator’ to support the global economy.

Meanwhile, China is also trying to gain support for its Global Security Initiative, which President Xi Jinping highlighted at last month’s Boao Forum for Asia. This seeks to counter America’s Indo-Pacific strategy and Quad. Unlike the western sanctions, China claims that its Global Security Initiative would stabilise the world economy and enhance security, based on the model of “mutual respect, openness and integration” against “hegemonism, power politics and bloc confrontation.”

In a self-congratulatory mode, Wang Yi, writing in the People’s Daily, claimed that “China’s wisdom” had contributed to addressing “the deficit in peace for mankind.” China is likely to use its position as the chair of the forthcoming BRICS summit to show off itself as the world’s peace and development leader.

India will probably continue to keep its distance from the US on the Ukraine war. Despite the Sino-Indian cooperation in multilateral fora, like the BRICS, strong trade ties and the coincidence of their stands on the need for a diplomatic breakthrough on Ukraine, China’s enduring challenge to India’s territorial sovereignty rules out New Delhi being swayed by Beijing’s blandishments at any international or bilateral meetings. And that is how it should be.