In Armed Conflict With India, China Would Be A Bigger Loser

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In Armed Conflict With India, China Would Be A Bigger Loser.

The ongoing standoff at Doklam Plateau is less a boundary incident involving India, China and Bhutan and more a coming together of geopolitical faultlines in Asia that were long set on a collision course. China's wanton aggression, and India's refusal to be intimidated by it, stem from the different realities they live in. China believes it is destined to lead Asia, and indeed the world, by a process in which other actors are but bit players. India is strongly convinced of its destiny as a great power and an indispensable player in any conversation to re-engineer global regimes.

It is against the backdrop of these competing ambitions that China's provocations on the Doklam Plateau must be viewed. As the race to establish an Asian order - or at least determine who gets to define it - intensifies, China will test Indian resolve and portray it as an unreliable partner to smaller neighbours. The current differential in capabilities allows China to provoke and understand the limits of India's political appetite for confrontation, and create a pattern of escalation and de-escalation that would have consequences for New Delhi's reputation. Its border transgressions are aimed at changing facts on the ground, and allowing for new terms of settlement. For China to engage in a game of chicken, however, would be counterproductive.

In case of an armed conflict, the bigger loser will be China. The very basis of its "Peaceful Rise" would be questioned and an aspiring world power would be recast as a neighbourhood bully, bogged down for the medium term in petty, regional quarrels with smaller countries. For India, a stalemate with a larger nuclear power will do it no harm and will change the terms of engagement with China dramatically.

Through the Doklam standoff, China has conveyed three messages. The first is that China seeks to utilize its economic and political clout to emerge as the sole continental power and only arbiter of peace in the region. Multipolarity is good for the world, not for Asia. When India refused to pay tribute in the court of Emperor Xi Jinping, through debt, bondage and political servility that the Belt and Road Initiative sought from all in China's periphery, it invited the wrath of the middle kingdom. Confrontation was but a matter of time.

The second message from Beijing is that short-term stability in Asia does not matter to China, because it does not eye Asian markets for its growth. Through road and rail infrastructure along the Eurasian landmass and sea routes across the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, China hopes to gain access to an eighteen trillion dollar European market. Given this reality, no Asian country can create incentives for China to alter its behavior simply with the promise of greater economic integration.

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