There is a always a degree of risk involved in interpreting media commentaries as official narrative but the disclaimer comes with its own disclaimer, especially when it involves China’s state-controlled media. Erring on the side of caution could be a mistake because Beijing uses the press as an essential part of coercive diplomacy.
It was interesting to note two recent articles carried by The Global Timeswhich had been at the forefront of China’s psy-war against India. In Wednesday’s editorial, the newspaper termed the Doklam resolution as a “victory for Asia” and showed a magnanimity that was singularly missing during the 10-week standoff.
In an op-ed piece carried in the same edition, the newspaper heaped praise on Hinduism — the religion followed by a majority of Indians — calling it the deciding factor behind radical Islamism not taking root in India.
The article, written by Ding Gang of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, raises a rhetorical question: “Why does it seem that Muslims in India have remained largely apart from the radicalisation that has happened to Muslim groups in other parts of the world?” before adding that “the answer may lie in the facets of the country’s other major religion: Hinduism.” For good measure, it adds: “India is sure to continue to stand out in geopolitical significance when it comes to increasing religious and ethnic conflicts around the world.”
What’s happening here? The timing seems decidedly odd for a ‘Hindi Chini bhai-bhai’ redux, that too, at a time when the crisis hasn’t ended the way China would have hoped for. Stray murmurs of dissent are escaping even a uncomfortably closed society. Some analysts suggest Xi Jinping may cop considerable flak during the 19th Party Congress for botching up the operation.
Conspiracy theorists may see a game of smoke and mirrors. Indeed, China’s propensity to use deception as part of its assertive diplomacy cannot be ruled out. It is possible that China plans to reassert itself and is luring India into a false sense of security.
Even so, China’s real concern may be the trajectory of the bilateral relationship, which has taken a massive beating after the Doka La impasse. The face-off has ended in a way that is not only unsatisfactory for Beijing, it has simultaneously increased India’s stature as the net security guarantor in Asia — at a time when many smaller nations are feeling the heat of China’s not-so-peaceful rise.
Global Times‘s behavior post-Doklam, therefore, may appear to be counter-intuitive but is actually a pragmatic move. It’s important to remember that China does not benefit from an adversarial relationship with India. Mending of fences with a neighbour who gives access to one of the largest markets for its finished goods is the smart thing to do.