Alice Wells, outgoing US Secretary for South and Central Asia, said on Wednesday that border disputes of China — be along the north-eastern borders of India from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh or the South China Sea — are a “reminder of the threat by China”. The strong statement by Wells follows several instances of Chinese incursions by land and air, one of which led to a skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops recently.
After the clash, security agencies are now apprehensive about the large presence of Chinese troops and vehicles at the Demchok sector of Ladakh region, normally used only for patrolling purposes. Close to 1,000 heavy vehicles were seen, according to officials, across Demchok along with the presence of about 5,000 Chinese personnel including troops from the PLA.
The “provocations and disturbing behaviour by China poses questions about how China seeks to use its growing power,” Wells added.
On 9 May, Indian and Chinese soldiers were engaged in physical fights on the banks of the high-altitude Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh and also in north Sikkim. The clash resulted in injuries on both sides.
Wells, citing ASEAN and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries, Japan and Australia, said that China’s behaviour was causing other nations to come together for the post-Second World War economic order.
In 2017, India and China were involved in a 73-day standoff in Doklam. Relations between the two nations have been largely peaceful since then.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had boycotted China’s OBOR or ‘One Belt One Road‘ project in 2018. The US, via Wells, extended its support to India’s stand in 2019, questioning the transparency and economic rationale behind OBOR.
Wells has known pro-India credentials. Last year, she had said that the purpose of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was furtherance of China’s ambition in south Asia. It aspires to be a key player in the region, she had said.
Wells had said that Pakistan was not going to get anything from this agreement; it would benefit Beijing alone whereas the US could offer a better model to Pakistan.
Wells, whose tenure as the principal deputy assistant secretary of the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs will end this month, stressed that China was not simply investing in the expensive CPEC, but also aiming at buying out Pakistan by giving it huge loans.
The strategy that China has adopted in the CPEC would increase unemployment in Pakistan, Wells had said. She said the way only Chinese workers were working in the project, it would generate terrible unemployment in Pakistan. Pakistan was unaware of this intention, Wells had opined.
In the South China Sea, China is eyeing the mineral-rich island chains of Paracels and Spratlys. Beijing competes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei for control over the ocean areas and two island chains.
In recent times, the US and China have been at loggerheads, first over trade and now over the coronavirus outbreak.