BEIJING / NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The skirmish between Chinese and Indian troops over a long-disputed border this month is being treated in New Delhi as the country’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades, even when it is downplayed by Beijing.
FILE PHOTO: Protesters burn Chinese-made products and a disfigured poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping during a protest against China in New Delhi, India on June 22, 2020. REUTERS / Adnan Abidi
China is already locked in diplomatic combat over a series of disputes, from the United States and Australia to Taiwan and Hong Kong, and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. According to some analysts, it is reluctant to participate in another front, especially one that could bring New Delhi closer to Washington.
The two sides were working to ease tensions, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Tuesday. Chinese media coverage has been poor.
Beijing’s response also signals its interest in reducing the crisis on a border stretch that is less politically important than other territorial priorities, such as claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea and its greater control over Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
The contrast reflects differences in two systems of government: India is the world’s largest democracy, while China is governed by the Communist Party and strictly controls its media, as well as the internal realities of a dispute that has little political potential. for the leaders of any country
Since the death of 20 Indian soldiers in hand-to-hand combat in the Galwan Valley, in the worst combat losses on the de facto border with China in more than 50 years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a strident nationalist, has been faced asks for a strong response.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is not under such public pressure.
“Indians look at everything China is doing, but most Chinese only have eyes for international affairs related to the United States or Taiwan,” said Zhang Jiadong, director of the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan University. in Shanghai.
Both governments would prefer to minimize the confrontation, he said, but information from the remote battlefield that leaked into the Indian media forces Modi in a way that would not be possible in China.
“The crash occurred because the troops on both sides have a different understanding of where the actual control line is located,” he said.
“This area is a barren hill with no economic or geostrategic value. From the Chinese government’s point of view, there is no point in destabilizing bilateral relations on this, ”said Zhang.
The border crash did not grab the top 50 Weibo searches, similar to Twitter in China, on Tuesday.
In India, opposition leaders, former generals and diplomats have criticized Modi for failing to protect the lives and territory of the Indians. Many have called for boycotts of Chinese products. The story picks up wall-to-wall coverage in the national media.
China’s perceived threat, which humiliated India in a brief border war in 1962, has overshadowed India’s COVID crisis, in which the number of cases has crossed 400,000 with no signs of a spike.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India supports Modi, but that he must take responsibility.
“We are at a historical crossroads. The decisions and actions of our government will have a serious impact on how future generations perceive us, ”he said.
Such language makes it more difficult for Modi to commit without losing face, analysts say.
Modi came to power in 2014 promising to make India an economic and military power, but China has made further progress in its vigilance. Its economy is five times greater than India’s, with three times military spending.
Control Risks said in a note that the Modi administration will likely employ economic measures against China to dampen public pressure, rather than risk a military conflict with a stronger adversary.
Reports by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Written by Tony Munroe; Editing by Angus MacSwan