China was slow to send its congratulations to Indian PM Narendra Modi at the results were announced on May 16th. It was not after till after the swearing in ceremony that China did so. They also announced that their Foreign Minister will visit India.
PM Modi’s invitees for the swearing in included the PM of Tibetan Government in exile. An MP from Arunachal Pradesh that China claims as part of its territory was made a minister and a former Chief of Army Staff Gen VK Singh was made the MoS for North East. China must have sensed an alarm in the developments and decided to send a “special envoy” to India probably to gauge what’s the mood of the new government in India.
China has been increasingly belligerent in Asia since the last few years. It intruded into India and went back after a prolonged standoff in Depsang. It has disputes with nations of South China Sea where it claims islands close to Philippines, Vietnam and Japan in the East. Recently China set up an oil rig off Vietnam and damages Vietnamese boats. It refuses to accept international arbitration to resolve its dispute with Philipines.
China has been increasingly at odds with Japan. China claims the Senkaku islands of Japan and recently established an Air Defence Identification Zone in the area. China lays claim to 90% of South China Sea based on maps and history going back 2000 years.
Japan has not taken too kindly to the Chinese moves especially since Shinzo Abe came back to power. Abe has moved to revisit Japan’s pacifist constitution that prohibits it to have aggressively postured military. It also had laws ban in weapons sales to other countries. Abe government recently amended the law to sell weapons to other countries. It is in discussion to sell submarines to Australia and also amphibious planes to India. Recently it decided to sell patrol boats to Philippines and Vietnam.
Recently in the Shamgri La dialog, Shinzo Abe reiterated Japan’s resolve to help all the countries in the region that are troubled by China without naming it. It also resolved to work towards maintaining peace in the vital sea lanes where trade and energy shipments take place.
Japan has also been pursuing relations wit the countries of South Easy Asia as well as India. Japan seeks to form a quad with India,Australia and the US to take on China.
In my opinion, China has got its plates full in Its east particularly with Japan’s sharp response to China’s provocations and even the US backing Japan.
Narendra Modi’s reputation as a nationalist is well known even to the Chinese. During the election campaign, Modi while in a rally in Arunachal Pradesh called on China to shed its expansionist policy. So when he invited the Tibetan PM for the swearing in, it would have set the alarm bells ringing. The appointment of new ministers from and for the region would have further got it thinking. China would not want an openly confrontational India right now particularly as it faces rising violent incidents in its Xinjiang region which calls for independence and also Tibet where cases of self immolation are rampant. China sees the presence of Dalai Lama as proof of India meddling in Tibet.
For China, India presents a less of a challenge than Japan in the east. China has not been able to forget Japan’s occupation of China during World War II. Japan rearming itself and shedding its pacifist constitution aside represents a challenge for China in its quest to establish its hegemony in the region. Japan in spite of having a self defence force and spending only 1% of its GDP on defence, has one of the most capable forces in the region with a powerful Air Force as well as a powerful navy that includes Aegis equipped destroyers. In terms of equipment and training, Japan is the premier force in Asia. Tackling Japan will not be easy for China.
If China is able to keep India quiet for a few years while pursuing trade and investment potential in India, it will not have to look over the Himalayas for any trouble regarding Tibet. It can look to take on India at a later date.