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Xi doesn't have a predetermined policy to contain India: China scholar

The expert said China is worried about India’s stronger ties with the US in the same way New Delhi is worried about Beijing’s expanding footprint in South Asia.

world Updated: Oct 22, 2017 19:16 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
India,China,South China Sea
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2017.(Reuters)

A difficult period lies ahead for Indo-China ties, with New Delhi’s interests in the South China Sea likely to be undermined by an assertive Beijing under Xi Jinping, a leading scholar has said, adding that it would be a mistake to assume the Chinese president has a “predetermined” plan to contain India.

“You will see increasingly powerful China (and) to a certain extent it may undermine India’s interest in the South China Sea. It is going to be difficult period in many ways when you see these two most populous countries (who) still have a poor understanding of each other,” Li Cheng, director of the John L Thornton China Centre at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said.

“The important thing to understand for both the Americans and Indians is that nothing is predetermined. It will be a mistake to see that the Chinese leader already has a strategy to control the world or the region. No, it’s not like that,” he told Hindustan Times, asserting that Xi is China’s “strongest president in the last two to three decades”.

“Nothing is predetermined, nothing is inevitable. It requires imagination, it requires out-of-the-box thinking. I hope that thinking will lead to peace and cooperation rather than preparation for military conformation. India’s smart politicians will not miss that,” Li said.

He said China is worried about India’s stronger ties with the US in the same way New Delhi is worried about Beijing’s expanding footprint in South Asia.

The expert, however, said Xi did not want a “military conflict” during the two month long Donglang standoff partly because of the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) congress, currently in progress.

“It is true that Xi did not want to have a military confrontation. If that had happened, the whole thing of the 19th party congress would have been in jeopardy... No, I don’t think, Xi Jinping is interested in military conflict.

“There is very good reason to avoid conflict... as there will be no winner. Both India and China will be losers... It will jeopardise both India’s and China’s development,” he said.

Li dismissed speculation that said Donglang confrontation was triggered by People’s Liberation Army officers who wanted to undermine Xi’s authority.

“I don’t want to go that far. By then he was already in control of the military. Not like four years ago, when he was still quite weak and some members could create a crisis. But I don’t buy that... Some people speculate that chief of staff Gen Fang Fenghui was behind (the standoff). No, I think by that time, he was already marginalised.”

Li said it was good for China and neighbouring countries that Xi had a grip over the Central Military Commission.

“My point is that to consolidate the civilian administration’s grip, to make sure that the military will obey the order of the commander-in-chief is a good thing. It is a good thing for China and also a good thing for neighbouring countries because if you have more players, more military figures, it will be more dangerous in a conflict.”

First Published: Oct 22, 2017 18:33 IST