It is safe to estimate that US President Donald Trump is not diplomatic in his diplomacy, which he often expounds bluntly on Twitter. In one of his latest tweets, Trump offered to mediate or arbitrate between India and China.
India is now experienced in shrugging off his mediation offers. It is definitely new for China, a country that has been on the target of Trump over a range of issues – trade, strategic defence and now coronavirus pandemic. Trump even called it China virus.
Trump may already know that India will not react to his offer. What he might not have considered seriously before tweeting his offer is that China is as unpredictable as he is himself. Now that Trump has the backing of the UN, a look at how China deals in land becomes imperative.
China is the only country that is expanding its territory at the cost of its neighbours in post-World War II time. Russia could be a possible exception for having annexed Crimea. But as inheritor of the USSR, it has lost far bigger territories.
The communist China is still in expansion mode. Its official policies still call for forcible occupation of Taiwan, a country with vibrant economy but little international recognition after it was thrown out of the UN in 1971.
Taiwan is fiercely guarding itself against China since 1949-50, when the Koumitang party rule was toppled by the Communist Party of China, which invaded a defenceless Buddhist territory of Tibet and occupied it militarily.
A decade later, China invaded India, which was in for shock after historic friendship treaty, and occupied territories in Ladakh (Aksai Chin) and some parts in Uttarakhand.
Building pressure on Pakistan, China later forced it to cede territories in northern Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir – now officially part of Union Territory of Ladakh – in return for peace along line of control.
This Chinese policy of territorial expansion has been dubbed by geostrategic experts as “salami slicing”, under which China first announces claim on some territory and then uses force to capture it.
This is how China seized Paracel Islands (1972) and Johnson Reef (1988) from Vietnam, Mischief Reef (1995) and Scarborough Shoal (2012) from Philippines in the South China Sea.
China has also seized territories from Bhutan, a country which is known for consistently topping the happiness index. It is the same policy that prompts China to claim Senkaku Island in the East China Sea. As of now, the island belongs to Japan.
China waged war with erstwhile USSR over a river island between Chinese Manchuria and Russian Siberia. The war ended in stalemate. But after USSR broke up, Russia bought peace by recognizing Chinese control over Zhenbao island in 1991.
Coming back to Trump’s mediation offer, it stems from his own estimation of his statesman skills that paid him good returns in business but little in international diplomacy, including his North Korean adventure.
Having failed to tackle Covid-19 situation up to people’s expectations in the US, Trump thinks India-China mediation can boost his candidature in the presidential election this year. Indian and Chinese Americans are over 2.5 per cent of the US population. His efforts are bound to generate goodwill in the US.
The only problem is China has far too much bad blood running all around. Its border dispute with India is only a small part where Trump is trying to get into.
The US is already into China’s Taiwan and Hong Kong problems. The US is supplying arms to Taiwan to upgrade its defences against an anticipated takeover mission by China later this year.
Trump wants China to back off from the proposed revocation of autonomous status of Hong Kong. China has decided to end “one country, two systems” rule under which it took control of Hong Kong from the UK in late 1990s.
The US has threatened to end special trade and diplomatic status it has granted to Hong Kong if China goes ahead with its plan. This will only intensify the ongoing trade war between China and the US.
There is more, a coronavirus connection. The US has blamed Chinese communist leadership for Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan becoming a global pandemic. Trump has repeatedly called for holding China responsible for it.
Incidentally, it is Australia that emerged as the symbol of anti-China bogey on coronavirus pandemic. Australia demanded an international probe into the origin of coronavirus outbreak. The demand left China fuming.
China has responded by “punishing” Australia, of which it is the largest trade partner. It has banned import of beef from Australia. Beef is a major export item for Australia, which is the second largest exporter. China also imposed an 80 per cent tariff on barley – another major export item – from Australia.
Trump considers Australia a great friend. And, China knows it. Trump calls himself a great friend and admirer of India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. China knows it too. But Trump now-a-days says he does not feel like talking to Chinese President Xi Jinping. You guessed it right, China know that as well. Still, there is an offer from an apparently intemperate diplomat president to what could be called the troubled beast of the east.