– Dr Satish Misra
US President Donald Trump, true to his character, has sought to seek a role for himself by making an offer to mediate between India and China over what he calls a “raging border dispute”.
Through his tweet, Trump made an attempt to become a party to the recent build up along the Line of Control (LAC) by Indian and Chinese armies following a recent face off in the region of Ladakh.
While neither New Delhi nor Beijing have acknowledged Trump’s claim of an offer of mediation or arbitration on the border dispute, Trump has opened cards through his tweet.
Known for his eagerness to mediate, New Delhi had earlier rejected rather rebuffed the US President’s offer to play a role of a broker between India-and Pakistan on Kashmir saying that there was no role for a third party in a bilateral issue.
Several areas along the LAC in Ladakh and north Sikkim have witnessed arms build up by the two armies across the border which is being interpreted by strategic experts as a sign of escalating tensions and hardening of positions by both Beijing and New Delhi. The two countries have a long over 3500 km long border that is mutually accepted as ‘de facto’ boundary of the LAC.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 26 May undertook a review of the prevailing tensions on the border with China with National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs, Chinese President Xi Jinping too ordered the military to scale up battle preparedness taking into consideration the worst case scenario and asked his troops to remain ready to defend the country’s sovereignty.
Earlier. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting with CDS Gen Rawat and three service chiefs during which the former was briefed on the ground situation in Ladakh deployment of armed forces and the state of preparedness along the LAC. Two meetings were held a day before the biannual Army Commanders conference and officials labored hard to underscore that much should not be read in these meetings as they were pre-scheduled yet it is impossible for any responsible government to overlook developments along the LAC.
Blowing hot and cold for which China is famous, within hours of Xi’s command to his troops evoking nationalism, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told media that China’s position on border-related issues was clear and consistent and was based on “consensus reached by the two leaders and strictly observing the agreements between the two countries”. which was a reference to President Xi and Prime Minister Modi during the two informal summits at Wuhan in 2018 and Mamallapuram in 2019. The two summits were held after India and China had a prolonged military standoff at Doklam in 2017 and one of the aims of the summits was to avoid repetition of Doklam type incidents on the LAC. The two sides had agreed to take more measures to maintain peace and tranquility along the border.
“We are committed to safeguarding our territorial sovereignty and security, and safeguarding peace and stability in the border areas. Now the China-India situation is overall stable and controllable”, Zhao said.
India had also asserted last week that New Delhi has taken a very responsible approach towards border management. “Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC in the western sector of at the Sikkim sector is not accurate. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the Line of Control in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously”, the External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastav had said on an online briefing last week.
India, China and the US have their respective reasons to divert the people’s attention from domestic scenario to a foreign enemy. Though China has been able to control the spread of corona virus that broke out in November in Wuhan but the outbreak of the deadly disease and its impact on country’s economy as well as on its international image has brought seriously dented President Xi’s image and quality of leadership. Situation in Hong Kong, before the outbreak of the deadly virus was getting out of control as student protests had acquired threatening dimensions. Taiwan, with the US backing, is reasserting itself under a new leadership that is a serious challenge to Xi leadership.
The US along with its allies is waging a concerted campaign against China holding it responsible for the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and is supporting the reentry of Taiwan into the World Health Organization (WHO). India has already given firm signal that New Delhi is with the US and its allies on the WHO. Moreover, India’s ministers have also accused China for spreading the Corona virus by letting it out of its laboratories.
Covid-19 in India is spreading unabated despite a two months long lock-down and numbers of infected patients from the disease is rising having already crossed 1.5 lakh taking the country to top 10 nations in the list of affected persons. The disease has worsened the state of country’s economy further bringing migrant labor on the street. Serious challenge has begun to face Prime Minister Modi as despite best efforts of media management, critical observations on his leadership are becoming increasingly visible on social media.
A tiff that does not lead to full scale armed confrontation with China is an excellent opportunity though sent by Beijing to take away people’s mind from immediate issues of unemployment, spreading corona and others. It remains to be seen whether the border tensions can be sustained for so long that Covid-19 comes under control and economy begins to recover. It is not easy but desperate leadership cling to smallest hopes.
In his bid for the second term at the White House, Trump has joined the issue by his mediation offer is just an attempt to show to his people that he is acceptable to both Indian and Chinese leadership. Since both the numbers of Covid-19 patient and deaths because of the disease have seriously eroded Trump’s credibility and chis chances of reelection, Trump will try to use every little issue to have votes in his favor. Voters of Indian origin in the US are important to him and he is trying to seek their favor by offering to mediate.
Though neither New Delhi nor Beijing are going to accept his offer, yet the US President is hoping that some India-American voters would come his way. Problem is that very few trust him as a mediator, or an arbitrator or even a broker not only should have confidence of all the contesting parties but must also have credibility and standing which the US President lacks.
(Dr Misra is a researcher, author and senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)