Journal : Global Times (Chinese) Date : Author : Hubo Feng,Yu Yang Page No. : 3

It is a strange phenomenon when two of Asia’s largest economies decide that in the midst of one of the worst pandemics the world has ever seen, they want to raise the stakes in a decades-long border dispute. What is really going on, one might ask. Is there a war brewing between India and China?

The skirmishes on the Ladakh border might suggest that long-standing territorial issues are at the core of the conflict. But there is another possible explanation. A larger conflict is brewing, almost eerily along the lines of the conflict between China and the US. And the dominance of global technology platforms and networks is likely at the centre of it.

Since the Sino-Indian border standoff, India has adopted a policy of all-round suppression against Chinese enterprises, technology and investment. “Indian Express” of the 25th published an article by Anirudh Suri, President of the India Internet Fund (India’s consulting company engaged in Internet venture capital) which analyzed that, to some extent, India’s moves may have been made in tandem with the United States. The article said, “It is often heard that India has decided to take a tougher stance against China, whether it is on the border or economically. But why the Indian side should be tougher is left unaddressed”.
One hypothesis, and this incidentally partly also explains the narrative above, is that India is demonstrating its commitment to and alignment with a broader US strategy against Chinese technology players. Earlier this year, the Donald Trump administration rolled out the Clean Network programme, “a comprehensive approach to guarding its citizens’ privacy and its companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party”. This programme is more significant than it seems. It is laying the seeds for a new kind of global alliance led by the US.  This new alliance is centred not around military bases or economic ideology but on ensuring that the emerging global infrastructure of 5G technology — networks, carriers, storage, apps and cables — is built “cleanly”, that is, without Chinese companies.Over 30 countries and many global telcos have signed up for this alliance already. From India, Reliance Jio has been named by the US as the trusted partner for 5G networks, ensconcing India and Jio firmly in the US camp. Not surprisingly, many of the recent global investors in Reliance Jio are prominent private and public players from the US and its allies.

Why is the 5G technology infrastructure so important? In the words of senior officials of the US State Department, “whoever builds a nation’s 5G networks gains the key to that country’s most sensitive personal, commercial, and governmental data”.  The article believes that 5G networks will form the underlying infrastructure for everything from financial networks, telecommunications, transportation and energy networks, to key government services such as defence and intelligence. So, if a 5G network fails or its security is compromised or its primary ownership or control lies with a foreign entity, there would be significant ramifications for all parts of society. The loss of economic prowess that will come by ceding ownership of the new “roads and seaways that connect the world” will be significant in itself.

Now, note this: In response to India’s move to ban 118 Chinese apps in the interest of national security, privacy and data security, the Chinese spokesperson did not criticise India’s move as much as she hit back at the US by citing US programmes such as Dirtbox, PRISM, and Irritant Horn, all of which according to the Chinese were aimed at similar objectives as the ones the Chinese companies are accused of.

In doing so, the Chinese have wittingly or unwittingly admitted to two things: One, that some of their technology players might be engaged in trying to do what the Chinese are claiming the US has allegedly long done, and two, that China and the US are engaged in this land-grab on the technology and 5G front, For this reason, India claims that the ban on Chinese mobile applications on grounds of national security, privacy and data security considerations. This is actually related to the battle between China and the United States in the field of technology, especially 5G technology and India is placing itself within the US camp.

In a way, it does not matter whether the Ladakh skirmishes are being caused by India firmly placing itself within the US camp, or vice versa. What is important is that both are intricately linked. The Chinese spokesperson’s statement suggests that China also views tensions on the Ladakh border as a manifestation of a broader strategy to encircle and exclude China from this Global Technology Alliance.

But the Chinese probably see the bigger picture. They definitely do not want to escalate the tensions to anything resembling a war right now with India or any other country that it has disputes with. China knows that its political capital with the rest of the world is at very low levels. That would explain why they have not hit back that hard.

It must also be noted that while the military conflict and tensions on the Ladakh border are dominating headlines in India, that is not the case in China. At the same time, while the aggressive Indian stance might, secretly at least, generate respect for India amongst Chinese policymakers, it would not be surprising if the Chinese also think creatively about how to show India down sooner than later.

China will most likely not let Ladakh escalate that much more now, and we’ll probably see a rapprochement in the coming days and weeks. But rest assured, the Chinese will try to open up another front to hurt India, and the board may include the technology front. Indian policymakers need to be ready 

It is not clear whether India will be “counterattacked” by China as the above article speculates, but the country’s policies to suppress China in various fields have brought many negative effects upon itself. The Huan Qiu Shi Bao reporter noted that India’s earlier announcement of the ban on Chinese apps has caused a huge impact on many people in the country. Many users who had tens of millions of followers on TikTok said that the ban has caused them to lose their main source of income.After the sixth round of military commander-level talks between China and India, how the border situation between the two countries develops is still the focus of attention abroad. Several Indian media quoted sources to disclose that although India and China promised to stop adding troops to the frontline areas and agreed to hold the seventh round of talks as soon as possible, the two sides remained deadlocked on the details of disengagement to move away from confrontation.

The Hindu quoted a senior official of the Indian government as saying on the 25th: “If the Chinese army approaches us, we will open fire.” The official emphasized that the definition of the so-called “close” distance depends on multiple factors such as daytime, night time and location. The Indian news agency ANI also reported that due to the previous violent physical clashes that resulted in casualties during close confrontation, the Indian army’s front-line troops have been authorized to “fire back when their lives are threatened”. The Indian side has reported this announcement to the Chinese side.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India stated at a regular press conference a few days ago that both India and China hope to “maintain stability on the ground” and “the effort to seek complete disengagement continues”. In addition, the two countries have also decided to hold a new round of Border Affairs Consultation and Coordination Mechanism meeting under the diplomatic framework, in addition to the military commander-level dialogue, in the near future to help resolve differences peacefully. However, a source told the “Huan Qiu Shi Bao” reporter that the current deadlock may continue “until political intervention at a higher level”. The Indian side believes that “the Chinese military seems to be using diplomatic and military negotiations to augment its presence on the ground, buying time for military and logistical deployment”. “This shows that the demands of the two sides in the negotiations are not on the same plane, so the process of achieving substantive results through diplomatic and military-level talks will be very complicated”.

At the same time, India is also trying to put pressure on China through joint military exercises. According to the Press Trust of India, the Indian and Australian navies have held a two-day joint military exercise starting on the 23rd. This is India’s fourth major military exercise since June this year. Analysis believes that this move is intended to target China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean.

“Eurasia Times” reported on the 25th that India’s economic policy towards China may make the situation more tense. Some economic advisers were puzzled by India’s move because the country’s policies would only hinder economic development. Many commodities in India rely on China’s imports, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, smartphones, etc. As of the end of the last fiscal year, India’s trade deficit has reached US$161.8 billion, a third of which  is the trade deficit with China. China accounts for 5% of India’s exports and 14% of imports, which means that the pressure on the relationship between the two countries will bring more economic difficulties to India. According to reports, in the face of the continued deterioration of the new corona pneumonia epidemic and economic recession, India should avoid diplomatic tensions. Reconciliation and focusing on economic development are in the best interests of China and India, and the escalation of the border situation will only further damage the Indian economy.


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