India is, according to a commentary from China’s official Xinhua News Agency, jealous of China’s rise, and suffering from an inferiority complex.
The commentary, which suggests that India lacks a “mature and constructive mindset,” is likely to stoke tensions at a time when India has been eyeing a build-up of Chinese forces along the border between the two giants. Only last week, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony said India had noted the “expansion” in China’s military capabilities and was “concerned.”
But the Xinhua commentary, published under the name Li Hongmei, was dismissive of Indian worries. “China has done what India could not, especially when India perceives that China's influence has well reached to its doorsteps and created tremendous impact on those who should have banked on India as imagined,” it said.
“Why India appears so impatient to take more agreeable strategies in its periphery is still beyond understanding. But one thing is certain: Today's India, no matter how anxious it intends to lead the region and even the world, is far from potent and prosperous to act of its own accord.”
Indian policy makers have for some time been concerned over what they see as a “string of pearls” strategy aimed at encircling India with Chinese military bases and agreements. Such worries were given voice most recently by former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who wrote this week about Beijing’s encirclement strategy.
“China, has wei qui (known in Japan as go), which focuses on strategic encirclement. As Sun Tzu advised many centuries ago, ‘Ultimate excellence lies…not in winning every battle, but in defeating the enemy, without ever fighting,’” Singh wrote.
“For India, the sense that a struggle for regional mastery is occurring has become increasingly keen. Chinese activity in Pakistan and Myanmar, the expansion of China's port agreements in the Indian Ocean (the so-called string of pearls), and heightened Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean have jangled India's security antennas.”
However, the Xinhua commentary said such speculation was “nothing more than a loud jealousy, for the simple reason that China has done what India could not, especially when India perceives that China's influence has well reached to its doorsteps and created tremendous impact on those who should have banked on India as imagined.”
Indian concerns are undoubtedly exacerbated by a domestic media keen to pounce on any report, however dubious it turns out to be, of Chinese aggression.
As U.S. Naval War College analyst James Holmes noted last month in Flashpoints, a widely reported incident supposedly involving the Chinese and Indian navies, in which a Chinese officer is alleged to have warned an Indian vessel to leave waters claimed by China, probably never took place. And he takes Singh to task for writing as if it almost certainly did.
“Singh drains all ambiguity from a situation fraught with it. Then, having assumed what happened to INS Airavat last summer, he uses this suspect assumption to cast Chinese motives and actions in the worst possible light,” Holmes wrote. “For their part, Chinese commentators construe analyses such as Singh’s as part of a concerted Indian strategy to portray China as a malign actor in the South China Sea. Having discredited China, India and its allies mean to outflank, encircle, and contain it—frustrating its rightful aspirations. Each contender, then, tends to interpret the evidence as confirming its misgivings about the other. Mutual suspicions give rise to a competitive cycle that leads…who knows where.”
With this in mind, India’s media and officials would be well-served not fanning tensions with phantom incidents. By the same token, China’s official media would do both countries a favor by adopting a less condescending tone.