China's expanding core interests

China Marine Surveillance is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organisation. Its cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China's expansive claims

Now that the 'tent confrontation` in Ladakh is over and politicians' call to "drive out" the Chinese has died down, the story will disappear from the front pages. Yet, the latest episode on the India-China border offers an opportunity to assess where India fits into China`s broader security posture and what may be the most judicious course.

The border kerfuffle has to be seen in the context of what China considers to be its "core interest" and what China's new president Xi Jinping calls the China Dream.

For long Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang were China's core interests รข€” in defence of which it is ready to go to war. Hence its acute concern over the India-China border and its unrelenting effort to restrain the Dalai Lama`s influence. In 2009, China`s then state councillor Dai Bingguo elaborated on the notion of core interest: maintenance of the Communist Party-led system; protection of state sovereignty and territorial integrity; and development of the economy and society.

The following year, Chinese officials expanded the core interests to include China's sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and reefs covering 3.5 million square km of water. In 2011, China proclaimed that the Japan-occupied Senkaku islands too were part of its core interests.

Enter the new president and commander-in-chief Xi Jinping with his signature slogan: China Dream or "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation". Building China`s military might is an important part of the rejuvenation that would restore China to its former power and glory. One of his first forays as the new chief was to a Chinese navy ship to call on the rank and file to step up preparations for "military struggle". Last month, a Defence White Paper released by China said that the mili-tary`s role was to "safeguard the realisation of the 'Chinese Dream'. "

China's seriousness about realising its dream of dominating the South China Sea and the East China Sea has been repeatedly demonstrated in the past months. In late March, a Chinese navy task, including an amphibious landing craft, sailed 1,800 km from the mainland to drop anchor at the James Shoal, an outcrop claimed by Malaysia barely 80 kilometers from its coast. It is not just its expanding naval force; China has put into service a panoply of resources, prime among them aggressive patrolling by its coast guard. As Captain James Fanell, a senior US naval intelligence officer, recently told a San Diego conference: "China Marine Surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China`s expansive claims." China Marine Surveillance, he concluded, " is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organisation."

Recently, China deployed a cruise ship carrying 300 or so `tourists` to sail to the Vietnamese claimed Paracel islands to establish its claim of sovereignty. By deploying coast guard and fishing vessels and cruise ships, unchallenged by weak claimants, China is on its way to reclaiming the hegemonic position it once held in East Asia.

Along its land borders, China has employed a variety of means to maintain its upper hand. Despite multiple provocations by Pyongyang and pressure by Washington, China has held firm to its troublesome ally. Concerned by recent Burmese moves to woo the United States and open the country to western investment, China has sent a clear signal to the leadership by supplying arms, including armoured personnel carriers, to Wa insurgents (former member of the Burmese Communist Party) along its border.

Compared with aggressive Chinese moves over the Senkaku islands and the South China Sea, the stand-off in Ladakh is a mild affair. While reminding India that it retains a vastly superior infrastructure and military, China is nonetheless keen to maintain good relations with India. As it focusses its attention on securing control over the oil-rich waters to its east, it prefers not to have any distractions in the west, especially along the border of a restive Tibet. Keeping India from a strong US embrace also remains an important goal, especially as Asean countries are increasingly looking to Washington for security.

Border incidents have happened hundreds of times and are bound to recur. While seeking a settlement through diplomacy, India's military preparedness has to be bolstered by the leverage that comes from the strengthening of strategic ties with the US, Japan, Vietnam and other countries concerned about China`s expanding core interests.

Times of India


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