In 1962, China and India fought a brief war in the Aksai-Chin region, a mountainous territory along their shared border. China eventually drove the Indians behind the so-called Line of Actual Control (LAC), where the still-contested borderline remains today.
The LAC has been a sore spot in the two nations’ relationship, one China has repeatedly probed over the decades in ways characteristic of Beijing’s geopolitical opportunistic streak—poke here, harass there, slowly expand the sphere of communist influence.
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China’s latest incursion, which came over the past week, is the most bald-faced example of this opportunism yet. It was clearly instigated by India’s crippling encounter with the novel coronavirus, a terrible ordeal that the People’s Liberation Army apparently sees as a prime opportunity.
India is far from China’s only victim. Beijing has also taken advantage of the crisis to enact a new national security law for Hong Kong, one that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday will end the city’s independence. It is pressing its claims in the South China Sea, prompting protests after a Chinese ship rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat. And China has refused to forgive loans to hard-hit developing nations, a move calculated to tighten its neocolonial grasp on Africa.
Some refuse to see the pattern: the media, with their vacuous fetish for international cooperation; isolationists, like those at the Quincy Institute who think the shifting balance of power in the Pacific is reason enough to retreat entirely; and those, like Obama ambassador to China Max Baucus, who are simply in Beijing’s pocket. All argue that, somehow, we can play nice with a bullying regime for which a pandemic has served as an opportunity to make power grabs.
And while President Donald Trump has generally been a steely eyed realist when it comes to China—a welcome departure from Obama’s airy idealism—he has been slow to push back on Beijing here, offering only to “mediate” China’s invasion of India.
That’s no way to treat an ally—China crossed the line, and Trump needs to tell the the Chinese to back down.
There are other ways for Trump to stand up to the Beijing bully. He could go ahead on a direct response to the Hong Kong law, and sign the overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation now on his desk that would sanction Chinese officials for their Uyghur prison camps. Several members of the Congressional China Task Force tell the Washington Free Beacon they’d like to see Trump back other aggressive legislation, including sanctions on those who repress Hong Kong.
Otherwise, Beijing will take any sign of weakness as another opportunity to expand its authoritarian reach. As Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) put it to the Free Beacon, “the situation in Hong Kong is a glimpse at what the world will look like if China’s global ambitions are realized.”
Standing up to China, we remind the president, matters not just for the global order, but for his reelection. Majorities in both parties dislike China—for its thuggery, its prison camps, and for causing the coronavirus pandemic. Taking a stand against these injustices is not just what China’s victims need—but what voters are demanding.
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