New York: The United States is watching the India-China situation in Ladakh where troops from the two nations clashed this week, but does not have “a lot of visibility”, according to a senior State Department official dealing with Beijing.
“What we’re doing, we’re obviously watching the India-China border dispute very closely,” David Stilwell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific, said on Thursday while briefing reporters on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with Chinese Communist Party politburo member Yang Jiechi in Hawaii
“This activity is similar to activity we’ve seen in the past on border disputes with the PRC (Peoples Republic of China).
“The actions that we’ve seen out of the PRC of late – and you all know this as you watch the beat… have been not really constructive as we look at India, the South China Sea, Hong Kong issues, and just go around the perimeter,” Stilwell said.
He did not reply directly to a question from a reporter whether Washington had communicated any warnings about Beijing’s actions, “especially regarding India”, and if China had tried to draw “red lines for the US”.
He said that the US did not have an official position on China’s motives behind heightening tensions recently. “I’m not going to offer an official US Government position on that, but there are some – numerous explanations out there for that,” he said referring to media reports.
According to several articles, Stilwell said: “One explanation for creating multiple fronts like this is an assessment in Beijing that the world is distracted and is focused entirely on survival, right, recovering from the corona pandemic, which then possibly is seen as an opportunity to take advantage of distraction.”
Stilwell, a former Air Force Brigadier General and adviser on Asia to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, saw a pattern in China’s actions against India.
He pointed to the 2015 conflict on the eve of China’s President Xi Jinping visit to India when he said “the PLA invaded this contested area deeper and longer, with more people, than ever before historically”.
More than 200 Chinese troops had entered Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in the Chumar sector of eastern Ladakh in an attempt to construct a road leading to a face-off between the two sides’ forces.
“Whether that was a negotiating tactic or a – just a punch in the nose to demonstrate their superiority, I don’t know. But then we saw the Doklam issue down near Bhutan, where we saw similar concerns,” he added.
In 2017, there was a standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in Doklam when Chinese personnel intruded into Bhutan’s territory to build a road.
Stilwell said of Chinese intent: “I wish I knew. Again, we don’t have a lot of visibility and we don’t have a lot of open dialogue with our Chinese counterparts.”
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said he was monitoring the situation along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh where 20 Indian military personnel were killed in a conflict with Chinese troops.
“We extend our deepest condolences,” she said. Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the situation along the India-China frontier in a phone call on June 2, she added.
Besides the intrusions in Ladakh leading to a clash this month, China has been opening up several fronts while the world is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis caused by a virus originating in that country.
There have been several incidents in the South China sea involving Vietnam and Malaysia, and Beijing has laid claims to Indonesian waters.
China is also moving to further curb Hong Kong’s autonomy by imposing a national security law.
In the middle of these developments, Trump signed a law for sanctions against Chinese officials abusing the human rights of Uyghur Muslim minority.
Beijing has threatened to “resolutely take countermeasures” for the US action. The tensions over trade and confrontations have increased with Trump accusing China of spreading the coronavirus by not alerting the world to it and taking action to stop its global contagion.