China and India have also physically clashed over the last few years
This was no random map but the official “standard” map of China released by the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources and reported by the government mouthpiece, state-run China Daily.
This official map of China now encompasses the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the disputed Aksai Chin region of Kashmir. The main area of dispute between China and India is along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayas.
This may not be such a big deal if not for China’s aggression in all disputed regions.
The military manoeuvres of China’s People’s Liberation Army around Taiwan – as well as militarising islands in the South China Sea – are well-known.
But China and India have also physically clashed over the last few years, the last time in December.
The inclusion of Indian territory follows a move in April by China to rename 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh. But will India’s “strong protest” over the new map be enough, especially as the country gears up for an election next year?
The dispute of course is further complicated by China’s close relationship with India’s arch-rival Pakistan. India has been particularly alarmed by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the nearby Gwadar Port, with the potential for a Chinese military base there.
India has also been alarmed by the Chinese presence in nearby Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka – part of what has been termed China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy, seen as potentially designed to encircle India.
India – known for its independent foreign policy stance – may now begin to realise, as Japan and South Korea have, that the CCP means business, and this demands a change to its non-aligned posture.
India is not alone. Malaysia has also lodged a complaint after the new Chinese map also encompassed parts of its maritime area off Borneo, while the Philippines also complained after the map took in some of its maritime zones.
The Philippines – which sits south of Taiwan – now hosts more US troops following a recent change of government, and is finding itself repeatedly clashing with China over the South China Sea.
This all comes as the Biden administration just approved $80m in military aid to Taiwan under a programme usually reserved for sovereign states.
Only recently the US approved a possible $500m sale of equipment including infrared search and track systems for F-16 jets to Taiwan.
All in all, the new China map suggests a CCP that is not backing down in its territorial ambitions, just as leader Xi Jinping last weekend doubled down on the party’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, treatment many Western governments view as genocidal.
As China’s economy splutters – officially still growing in single-digits but, in reality, who knows – the CCP may seek foreign conflicts as a way to deflect attention from problems at home and solve its youth unemployment crisis as well.
Of course, a war might be the last thing Xi Jinping needs. That said, there is likely a window of opportunity for Taiwan, while the CCP is unwilling to enact the necessary reforms to help its economy, reforms which would put more money and power in the hands of the people and private sector.
The map also coincides with a recent documentary aired in China which talked up the prospect of a war over Taiwan. If Beijing is managing expectations among its people that war is not coming, this is an odd way of going about it.
Indeed, China may need Taiwan to unlock its access to the Pacific, but the resource-rich South China Sea is also critical for Beijing, opening up a gateway to the Indian Ocean, while any encroachments into India would help China undermine New Delhi and secure access to resource-rich lands.
The question now is what will India and its neighbours will do beyond strong words.
Already beefing up its military, New Delhi may have Pakistan front-and-centre of its mind, but Pakistan’s staunch ally China cannot be out of the thoughts of Indian policymakers either.
With this new map, neither they – nor policymakers elsewhere in Asia – should be under any illusion as to what the CCP’s true ambitions really are.