Wang Xiaofeng,Beijing & Rupa Debroy, Delhi
Chinese president Xi Jinping on Tuesday upped the ante with the US , with top sources saying he has asked his top military advisers to prepare for war in the South China Sea.
In a speech made during an inspection tour of China’s Southern Theatre Command, Xi did not directly refer to the United States in quotes released by China’s state-owned media outlets, but the target of Xi’s ire seems nonetheless clear.
“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi was quoted as saying to his top military leaders about the South China Sea and the region around Taiwan.
“We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly. We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war.”
State media reports quoted the Chinese premier as saying that it was important to “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war”, “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty” and “safeguard the overall strategic stability of the country”.
Tensions have been increasing between the United States and China in recent years, in large part due to China’s aggressive claims of sovereignty over the entirety of the South China Sea.
The waterway, which is the site of competing territorial claims of no fewer than five nations, sees nearly a third of all global commerce shipped across its waves. It also boasts large deposits of natural resources and bountiful fishing territories — making the South China Sea among the most economically important bits of real estate anywhere on the globe.
Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea are, according to Chinese policy, based on a historical precedent.
Although other nations have shorelines abutting the South China Sea and international law dictates that their exclusive economic zones should extend 200 nautical miles from their own shores, China’s belief that they have long owned territories throughout the waterway has led them to force foreign nations out of their own territorial waters.
This affront to international law has led the United States, the United Kingdom, and several Pacific nations to adopt a confrontational approach to China’s claims in the region — calling them illegal and refusing to acknowledge China’s rule over the territory.
The U.S. Navy, in particular, has conducted a series of Freedom of Navigation operations (FONOP) that include sailing warships through what the global community views as international waters, much to China’s chagrin. Earlier this month, American and Chinese destroyers nearly collided while posturing toward one another during one such FONOP voyage, ramping up tensions (and rhetoric) on both sides. Despite China’s rapidly expanding Navy and tough talk, however, the United States has been garnering increased international support in the endeavor.
Two days back, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, heavily criticised the efforts of some US politicians to fabricate rumours and stigmatise China to blame it for the pandemic.
The US, Wang said, is pushing relations with China to “the brink of a new Cold War”. Chinese state councillor and foreign minister also rejected US “lies” over the coronavirus.
Tension is also escalating with India with troops from the two countries clashing along different areas along the 3,488 kilometre-long disputed border especially, in Ladakh, in May.
Both armies are said to have deployed additional troops in sensitive areas along the boundary with experts predicting a lengthy standoff.
In the midst of escalating border tensions between Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held a meeting with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs with a focus on bolstering India’s military preparedness to deal with external security challenges, government sources said.
The meeting came hours after the top four generals briefed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh about the situation in Pangong Tso lake, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldi where Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in aggressive posturing for the last 20 days.
People in the military establishment said the prime minister was briefed about the situation in Ladakh. There was no official comment or details available about the meeting.
Official sources said Doval has been closely monitoring the evolving situation along the LAC in Ladakh as well as in north Sikkim and Uttarakhand.
“China’s strategy to put military pressure on India will not work. We want restoration of the status quo along the LAC,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
In the meeting, the top military brass is learnt to have apprised Modi about the implementation of key infrastructure projects along the LAC, the de-facto border with China.
The meetings are the latest in a series of such consultations held in the last two weeks as India weighs its options to respond to the latest provocation by China at the border.
Singh was briefed by Army Chief General MM Naravane about the situation at the LAC two days ago after his return from Leh to take stock of the matter. It is learnt that Singh asked questions on troop deployment and expressed his full support for the Army’s response to Chinese aggression.
Six rounds of talks between Indian and Chinese troops since the first border skirmish on May 5 have failed to de-escalate tensions as the two sides have maintained aggressive posturing in the disputed border areas.
Sources say China has put forward the condition that India stop building infrastructure even on its own side of the LAC, a condition that will remain unacceptable to New Delhi. India, on the other hand, has asked Beijing to maintain status quo at the border, sources said. But the Chinese have refused to back off from India territory.
The People Liberation Army’s main bone of contention has been the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road that India last year built on its side of the border. It provides access to the Depsang area and Galwan Valley and ends near the Karakoram Pass. The infrastructure development has made it easier for patrols to operate and the frequency of patrolling can also be increased.
The series of meetings on Tuesday come a day before top Army commanders meet in Delhi for the three-day biannual army commanders’ conference.
“The apex level leadership of Indian Army will brainstorm on current emerging security and administrative challenges and chart the future course for Indian Army,” said a statement released by the Army.
While army sources have said the conference will focus on logistics and human resources, there is little doubt the situation unfolding at the border with China is going to dominate discussions.
The conference was originally scheduled to be held from April 13-18, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will now be held in two phase. The first phase will be from May 27-29 and the second one in the last week of June, said Army Spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand.
Tensions had erupted earlier this month when around 250 Indian and Chinese army personnel clashed with iron rods and sticks and even resorted to stone-pelting in the Pangong Tso lake area in Ladakh in which soldiers on both sides sustained injuries.
In a separate incident, nearly 150 Indian and Chinese military personnel were engaged in a face-off near Naku La Pass in the Sikkim sector on May 9. At least 10 soldiers from both sides sustained injuries.
After the violent clashes, both India and China have pumped in additional troops, built fortifications and pitched tents at a few stretches along the LAC in three areas in eastern Ladakh. The Indian Army has also increased its presence in Uttarakhand after reports of Chinese troop build-up on their side of the LAC. UAVs have been deployed for intelligence gathering and surveillance.