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G20 Summit: China's conduct over Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping meeting is part of its psychological warfare

The curious case of the Hamburg meeting between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi at G20 Summit once again brings to sharp focus China's psychological warfare against India. It is using every trick in the book to dominate and subdue its enemy without having to fight, taking ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu's advice. This compulsion to constantly view its present through the prism of its past is a recurrent motif that defines Xi's China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Xi Jinping in Hamburg. Twitter/MEA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Xi Jinping in Hamburg. Twitter/MEA

Even as it emerges as the new mercantile superpower of the 21st century and seeks to alter the geopolitical and geographical order around it, China remains trapped in a time capsule. It obsesses about a return to its Middle Kingdom glory. Fuelled by sustained, unprecedented economic growth, China feels its moment has come and it must seize it. As the US relinquishes its global leadership of the liberal-democratic order and Europe struggles to contain its demons, China is poised to fulfill nature's abhorrence of a vacuum.

Concomitantly, it is being led by a president who seeks to bring them closer to their 'destiny' by embarking on an aggressive neocolonial strategy and in the process, solidify his grip on domestic politics. Xi feels a combination of ultra-nationalism and assertive expansionism in Asia should be enough to seal his second term during Communist Party's upcoming 19th Congress and assure him a place in history. The coming together of these two factors have introduced an inordinate amount of volatility in Asia where new terms of engagement are constantly being drawn owing to China's revanchist actions.

Doka La conflict is the implementation of the same template that China has successfully employed in the past during its friction with Japan over Senkaku Islands or bullying of smaller nations such as Philippines and Vietnam over the South China Sea. Citing ancient maps (nine-dash line) China claims virtually the entire waterway through which ship-borne trade and commerce worth $5 trillion is conducted each year.

The controversy over a Xi-Modi meeting that never was is another example of China's strategy of creating smokescreens to keep India under pressure. On Thursday, news agency PTI had quoted a Chinese foreign ministry official as saying in Hamburg that "the atmosphere is not right for a bilateral meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi."

It immediately created an impression that the Chinese side is turning down a request from the Indian side for a one-on-one at the sidelines of G20 Summit between the two leaders.

While this sound bite came from Hamburg, in Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson during its daily media briefing said: "As for the arrangement of the bilateral meeting (in Hamburg) between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi, I have to point out that recently Indian troops trespassed into China and obstructed normal activities of Chinese troops in the Doklam region… This endangers China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and damaged the political foundations of bilateral relations between China and India."

Both calibrated sound bites contributed to the narrative that China is snubbing India at a high-profile multilateral forum and this was seen as yet another hardening of Chinese position and yet another step up the escalation ladder. India must withdraw troops immediately, or else…

That this was a psy-op became clear when India responded that it had not asked for any meeting in the first place. Gopal Baglay, the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson, laid out Modi's pre-determined schedule of eight bilateral events which had no slot for a Modi-Xi meeting.

"As mentioned earlier, the PM is visiting Hamburg from July 6 to 8 for the G-20 summit. His bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit are with Argentina President Mauricio Macri, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Italy, Japan PM Shinzo Abe, Mexico PM Enrique Pena Nieto, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, UK PM Theresa May and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. There is no change in the Prime Minister’s schedule," Baglay was quoted as saying in an Indian Express report.

Another report in CNN-News18 seemed to suggest that a bilateral meeting was indeed on the cards but it was China who had wanted it and then later decided against it because it might show Xi "in a poor light".

In a late development, both leaders had an impromptu meeting where certain issues were discussed.

While its political leadership tries to obfuscate and confuse, Chinese state-controlled media, which has taken an ultra-belligerent stand against India on the tri-junction conflict and had been regularly threatening war and fuelling of insurgency in India's Himalayan frontier, came up with another editorial on Friday suggesting that "there is harsh anti-America sentiment in India, which prevents the country from being a close friend with the US."

As China, emboldened by its power differential with India, seeks to test New Delhi's pressure points from time to time, its own strategic vulnerabilities are evident with India's growing proximity to the US-Israel axis. In this game of one-upmanship and psychological warfare, India would do well to keep in mind one more strategic dictum which is attributed to Sun Tzu: "Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak."

Updated Date: Jul 07, 2017 17:39 PM

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