Amid strained ties between the two countries, China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe has reportedly sought a meeting with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
The Indian Express quoted sources as saying that South Block has given the go-ahead for the meeting in the hope that it will lead to “early and complete disengagement” as well as de-escalation along the LAC.
This comes just days after India banned 118 more apps with Chinese links and accused China of attempting to change the status quo in Ladakh. Both the countries have accused each other this week of engaging in provocative actions along the Line of Actual Control.
China has reacted defiantly to the ban, which includes popular gaming app PUBG, but analysts point out that the country will take an economic hit. This might be a reason, they say, for China seeking a meeting with Singh.
“While South Asia might represent less than 1% of China’s total trade in normal times, in the times of a pandemic and heightened possibilities of an escalated trade war with the US, even 1% of global trade means a lot for a country like China whose growth model is export reliant.” said Sriparna Pathak, Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean in the Jindal School of International Affairs.
China’s foreign ministry reacted to the ban by saying that the Indian side is sacrificing the rights and interests of the Indian users, and damaging those of Chinese companies. State-run Global Times also acknowledged in an opinion piece that related Chinese firms will bear huge losses, but said that the ban is a “double-edged sword” for India.
Pathak said that China would, therefore, want to assuage the situation and go back to a situation where the Indian market accepts Chinese goods and apps.
The meeting between the defence ministers is proposed to give out the impression that it is trying to bring down aggression, she added, but pointed out that China will not adhere to this image and it will encroach more into Indian territory while promising the contrary and achieving its purposes of getting Chinese goods and apps into the Indian market. “Chinese diplomatic doublespeak is something India needs to guard against,” she said.
During the regular press briefing on Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying cited Tagore, yoga and hit movie Dangal to say that both the countries are close neighbours and proud of their civilisations. “Yoga and Indian movies like Dangal are also very popular in China. However, it never crossed our mind that India is trying to infiltrate or pose any threat to our country,” the spokesperson said.
Chinese media has also slammed India for its move to ban Chinese apps and called it a tactic used by the Modi government to divert public attention from its failures.
An opinion piece in state-run CGTN said that the ban signals New Delhi’s determination in confrontation against Beijing. Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told CGTN that the move is also an attempt to “hide Modi’s failed domestic policy during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
China Daily’s editorial said “targeting Chinese apps — together with the other measures New Delhi has adopted, such as blocking Chinese goods at ports and freezing Chinese companies out of contracts — in retaliation for the ongoing border standoff is a misguided move that, except for fanning nationalist sentiment and jingoism in India, serves no interests.”
Pathak, however, said China is using India to deflect its domestic audience’s attention from soaring unemployment, reduced growth and the way in which the pandemic had been handled by the authorities.
China’s unemployment rate in urban areas, according to Xinhua, stood at 5.7% in July. A CNBC report from July pointed out that in addition to job losses from Covid, the country is set to receive a record high 8.7 million university graduates this year.
Scrutiny of Chinese apps
Chinese apps are also facing scrutiny in other countries which have spoken out over Beijing’s growing aggressiveness. Even as a deal for TikTok’s US operations remains uncertain, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Thursday that the Donald Trump administration is looking into banning more Chinese apps that could pose a national security threat, according to CNBC.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the “entire world” is beginning to unite against China’s unfair practices. In a Fox News interview on Tuesday, he said that countries like India, Australia, Japan and South Korea “have all come to see the risk to their own people, to their own countries and you’ll see them partner with the US to push back (China) on every front”.
India said its decision to ban 118 more apps, including PUBG, was taken “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India and security of the State”. In a press release, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that it was a targeted move to ensure safety, security and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace.
China alleges that US State Department has called on other countries to join India in carrying out the so-called “Clean Network” programme.
The Clean Network programme is the Trump Administration’s approach to safeguarding citizens’ privacy and companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party, according to the US State Department.
Hua Chunying added, “I wonder if there’s connection or coordination between India and the US on this issue. But India, as a country proudly possessing an ancient civilisation, is wise enough to have known about Dirtbox, PRISM, Irritant Horn, Muscular and Undersea Cable Tapping. It knows fully well whether the US is clean or dirty when it comes to US policies and practices. Independence is so precious.”
“We hope that the Indian side will stick to it. No short-sighted decisions shall be made to impede the long-term interests of the two countries and two peoples.”