With Xi Jinping’s rise to power, an indecent, undiplomatic, and uncouth era of foreign policy was unveiled in China. For 10 years now, China has engaged in the filthiest of official commentary — fielding its senior-most diplomats to say things that Beijing cannot muster the courage to put to words itself. These individuals have the total and unwavering backing of the Chinese President. Therefore, the ludicrous statements made by the Chinese ambassador to Sri Lanka regarding India must be seen in the context of them having the complete sanction of the Chinese President himself. India’s Ministry of External Affairs understood this, which is why the response to the ambassador’s assertions was ferocious.
The fact that the Chinese ambassador to Sri Lanka, Qi Zhenhong, was putting to work China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy, necessitated a stern response from India. The ambassador hurled quite a number of unfounded and borderline hilarious accusations against India. He said that Sri Lanka had faced outright “aggression” from its “northern neighbour” — meaning India was using hard power of sorts to intimidate Colombo. China, owing to the symbol of moral uprightness, diplomatic etiquette, and international bonhomie that it thinks it is, called India out pretty hard. Unfortunately for Beijing, it got slammed back into its place even harder.
Next, the Chinese ambassador, or a man who can also be called Xi Jinping’s ‘wolf warrior’, said that China and Sri Lanka “jointly safeguard each other’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity”. What this means is simple: China is placing itself in the Indian Ocean as an ‘ally’ of Sri Lanka. For India, that is very problematic for several reasons. First, the biggest threat the Indian Ocean, and the larger Indo-Pacific face is from China itself. Second, Sri Lanka is in no position to counter China’s claims. The oceanic country has a lot more on its plate right now, and countering China’s deceptive narrative formations hardly tops the list. The responsibility to shatter Chinese claims, therefore, falls on India.
And shatter India did. New Delhi, in response to the brazen remarks of the Chinese diplomat, told Beijing that what Colombo needs now is “support, not unwanted pressure or unnecessary controversies” to serve another country’s agenda. The statement by India was perhaps the most hard-hitting against China in a very long time. The High Commission of India in Sri Lanka said, “We have noted the remarks of the Chinese Ambassador. His violation of basic diplomatic etiquette may be a personal trait or reflecting a larger national attitude.” This was a clear declaration by India that it knew Qi Zhenhong was a mere pawn, and that his anti-India statements were, in fact, concocted in Beijing and had the sanction of the CCP’s top leadership.
The fact that India also said that “Sri Lanka needs support, not unwanted pressure or unnecessary controversies to serve another country’s agenda” must have specifically hurt Beijing. So far, China has refused to help Sri Lanka in a meaningful manner. On the question of restructuring Sri Lanka’s pending loans, China has maintained a cunning silence. So, while Beijing claims to champion Sri Lanka’s cause, it is refusing to actually help Colombo tide over the massive economic crisis the country faces. Chinese debts, meanwhile, have played a major role in Sri Lanka’s economy falling into an abyss.
Speaking of loans, India attacked China’s ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy as well. The Indian High Commission’s statement read, “The Ambassador’s imputing a geopolitical context to the visit of a purported scientific research vessel is a giveaway.” It added, “Opaqueness and debt-driven agendas are now a major challenge, especially for smaller nations. Recent developments are a caution.”
This year, Sri Lanka is supposed to make payments worth $7 billion to the Chinese. Evidently, that seems impossible for a country struggling to provide its people with food, electricity, fuel, and medicines. China, which is refusing to provide any debt remedy to Sri Lanka, or for that matter, financial aid of any sort, should know that its image in India and the democratic world is beyond redemption. China can pretend to be Sri Lanka’s best friend, but Colombo also knows how deceiving Chinese statements of support and camaraderie can be.
Since January this year, India has committed close to $4 billion to Sri Lanka, and is also working to ramp up its investments in the oceanic country. In comparison, China’s “humanitarian aid” to Colombo has barely exceeded the $76 billion mark — an insignificant amount when compared to the kind of help India is extending to Colombo. It is entirely possible that Beijing is annoyed with the kind of aid Sri Lanka has been receiving from India. China’s hilarious attempt to paint India as a hostile entity in the region that does not have the best interests of Sri Lanka at heart proves so. For China, the fear of losing Sri Lanka as a potential vassal state is real and palpable. With Sri Lanka gone, China’s dreams of dominating the Indian Ocean will get dashed too.
China’s attack on India, therefore, stems from frustration at its own failure to co-opt Sri Lanka to the degree it would have ideally wanted. China’s spy ship was initially refused permission to dock at the Hambantota port, despite the Chinese practically owning the facility. Sri Lanka eventually gave in, but China never expected to face any resistance to its plans of parading its naval ships in and around Sri Lankan waters. That it did, and the arrival of the Yuan Wang 5 spy vessel caught international headlines and did more damage to China’s nefarious plans than Beijing would have ever imagined.
In India, China has met its match. China has been the big bad bully in the world of diplomacy for several years now. Xi Jinping’s wolf-warrior diplomats have pounced on entire countries without mercy. Last week, they tried the same with India, but failed miserably. China was told in unequivocal terms that India will give it back as good as it gets. The MEA’s statement, in fact, no less than declared, “India, we assure him, is very different.” A stern response to China’s diplomatic hooliganism was the need of the hour. Beijing now knows that aggressive statements against India will be countered with even harsher words, which will put the Chinese leadership to shame on a global scale.
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