BEIJING - Controversial remarks and visits to disputed border regions by Indian officials are likely to trigger another showdown with China, like last year's Doklam standoff, The Global Times reported, quoting observers.
India has been sending provocative signals to China since the Doklam standoff and undermining the already soured Sino-Indian relationship, Mr Zhao Gancheng, the director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Global Times, a widely-read, state-run Chinese tabloid.
Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a standoff of over two months last year after the Indian side stopped the building of a road by the Chinese army in a plateau which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The plateau called Doklam by Bhutan and Donglang by China is claimed by both. India and Bhutan have traditionally close ties and New Delhi supports Bhutan's claim over it.
On Wednesday (Feb 21), India's former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon said in a conference in New Delhi that China wanted to "split" India and Bhutan over the Doklam standoff for political gains, while asserting the need for an integrated approach in managing the country's borders.
A week earlier, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang protested Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an area disputed between China and India, urging the Indian side not to take actions that could complicate the boundary issue.
As India persists in pushing the bilateral relationship in a negative direction and both sides are enhancing their preparations for a possible confrontation, there is a strong possibility of a conflict between China and India breaking out this year, Mr Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The Indian government is planning to raise 15 new battalions in the country's border force, a move to fortify defences along the strategic frontiers with Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, the Times of India reported in January. US-released satellite images have shown a huge build-up by both China and India in the border region. Asked to explain the build-up, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that in order to patrol the border and improve the local conditions for border garrisons and local residents, China has constructed infrastructure like roads in the Donglang (Doklam) area, and it is China's right to exercise its sovereignty in its own territory.
A Chinese naval contingent has been deployed in the Indian Ocean recently, and now China has three naval fleets and 10 warships in the Indian Ocean, China Central Television reported Wednesday.
Mr Hu described India's actions as "deliberate provocation" in response to Beijing's growing influence in neighbouring South Asian countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka where projects are ongoing under the China's Belt and Road initiative.
Mr Hu said India had made a mistake when it rejected the initiative and now, in order to counter China's influence in the region, India is likely to confront China more often under the "instigation" of the US, Japan and other countries.
India, along with Australia, the US, and Japan, is talking about establishing a joint regional infrastructure scheme as an alternative to China's Belt and Road initiative in an attempt to counter Beijing's spreading influence, the Australian Financial Review reported on Monday, citing a senior US official.
However, India still has influence over South Asia, and China should be careful to not let the deteriorating Sino-Indian relationship sabotage Beijing's construction projects and other forms of cooperation with South Asian countries, Mr Zhao told the Global Times.
He added that there will always be competition between the two as they are both vying for prominence on the global stage. "However, India always prioritises the strategy of challenging China and containing China in Asia," he added.