China-India border clash stokes contrasting domestic responses
By Yew Lun Tian and Sanjeev Miglani
BEIJING / NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The battle between Chinese and Indian troops over a long controversial border this month is treated in New Delhi as the country's worst diplomatic crisis in decades, despite being downplayed by Beijing.
China is already involved in diplomatic battles over a wide range of disputes, from the United States and Australia to Taiwan and Hong Kong to the treatment of the coronavirus outbreak. It is unwilling to get involved on another front - especially one that could bring New Delhi closer to Washington, some analysts say.
The two sides are working to alleviate tensions, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday. Chinese media coverage was sparse.
Beijing's response also shows his interest in de-escalating a crisis across a border section that is less politically important than other territorial priorities, such as claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea, and exacerbating Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
The contrast reflects the differences between two systems of government - India is the largest democracy in the world, while China is ruled by the Communist Party and has strict control over its media - as well as the domestic realities of a dispute that has little political advantage for leaders in any country .
Since the death of 20 Indian soldiers in hand-to-hand combat in the Galwan Valley, the worst casualty casualties on the de facto border with China in more than 50 years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a strict nationalist, has been heatedly demanding a strong response.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is under no such public pressure.
"Indians watch everything China does, but most Chinese only have eyes for international issues related to the United States or Taiwan," said Zhang Jiadong, director of the Center for South Asia Research at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Both governments would prefer to downplay the clash, he said, but information from the remote battlefield that gets into the Indian media is forcing Modi's hand in a way that would not be possible in China.
"The clash happened because troops on both sides have a different understanding of where the actual line of control is," he said.
"This area is a barren hill with no economic or geostrategic value. From the Chinese government's perspective, it is not worth destabilizing bilateral relations," said Zhang.
The border conflict failed to hit the top 50 searches on China's Twitter-like Weibo on Tuesday.
In India, opposition leaders, former generals and diplomats have criticized modes for not protecting the life and territory of the Indians. Many have called for the boycott of Chinese goods. The story is reported in the domestic media from wall to wall.
The perceived threat from China, which humiliated India in a short border war in 1962, overshadowed the COVID crisis in India, in which the number of cases exceeded 400,000 without any signs of a climax.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India was behind Modi, but he had to be responsible.
"We are at a historic crossroads. Our government's decisions and actions will have a serious impact on how future generations perceive us," he said.
Such a language makes it more difficult for Modi to compromise without losing face, analysts say.
Modi rose to power in 2014 and promised to turn India into an economic and military force, but China has continued to pursue its observation. Its economy is five times that of India, three times that of military spending.
Control risks said in a note that the Modi government is likely to take economic measures against China to ease public pressure rather than risk a military conflict with a stronger opponent.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; writing by Tony Munroe; editing by Angus MacSwan)
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