After losing face among Europeans who rejected Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi’s (王毅) “warning” to Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil for leading a high-profile delegation to Taiwan in August, China again endured a major embarrassment in India when efforts by its diplomats in New Delhi to stop Indian media from describing Taiwan as a “country” or President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as its “president” were ridiculed nationwide.
The Chinese embassy in New Delhi last week e-mailed more than 300 outlets, calling on them to observe this protocol.
Indian papers ignored the demand and carried advertisements highlighting the friendship and cooperation between India and Taiwan to mark Double Ten National Day celebrations on Saturday last week.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs also reminded the Chinese embassy that India’s press is free and it can write what “it sees fit.”
Chinese diplomats fear that such snubs could embolden other countries not to kowtow to China, particularly with the growing resentment against it following the havoc caused by COVID-19 to lives and economies.
Chinese diplomats in India were rankled, particularly, by a message posted on Twitter from Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), who, while thanking Indians for their support and good wishes on Taiwan’s national day celebrations, had a clear piece of advice for China: “Get Lost!”
“#India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist #China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship. #Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST,” Wu wrote on Wednesday last week.
Wu’s message prompted thousands of retweets. Hashtags related to the national day were also trending inside and outside India, at least, during the first half of the day.
Double Ten National Day advertisements paid for by Taiwan’s government in Indian papers carried a photograph of Tsai and hailed India, a fellow democracy, as a natural partner of Taiwan.
Notwithstanding its official “one China” position, the Indian government continues to upgrade and strengthen its ties with Taiwan.
The defiant Indian media — the country has one of the world’s highest number of free news outlets — ignored the “advice” of the Chinese diplomats, who, as some journalists said, were left with “a lot of egg on their faces.”
Reacting to the Chinese embassy’s e-mail, Nitin Gokhale, the editor of a defense and security Web site, said that the Chinese government was behaving like a “street goon and not like an aspiring super power.”
“It threatens us,” Gokhale was quoted as saying.
The matter did not end there. Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party’s New Delhi branch, on Friday last week posted on Twitter pictures of signs bearing Taiwan’s national flags put up on a sidewalk near the Chinese embassy.
An embassy’s spokesperson said that the “one China” principle has been the Indian government’s “long-standing position,” and that Beijing firmly opposed any move to create “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan.”
The embassy’s attempted intervention further angered an Indian public already nursing strong resentment over China’s standoff at its border in the Himalayan region. Indians took to social media to criticize the embassy’s interference.
A number of political organizations had been holding anti-China rallies, burning Chinese flags and pictures of Chinese president Xi Jinping (習近平), since the India-China standoff.
New Delhi has no formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, but the nations have close business and cultural ties.
As the war of words between Chinese diplomats and the Indian media continued, China’s attempt to interfere with the media went viral, catching the attention of viewers worldwide, with social media users having a field day commenting — mostly negatively — about China’s behavior.
The ruckus created by the embassy was also reported by some media outlets in Europe and North America.
“Apparently, they [Chinese diplomats] don’t have any clue, or simply tend to ignore, how democracies and the free media function,” said Ramesh Pandit, a New York-based medical researcher of Indian origin. “Thanks to the intervention of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, some 1.35 billion Indians in India and many foreign viewers now know about Taiwan’s vibrant democracy and its thriving economy.”
“Indians are angry and resentful of communist China, not only because of the harm caused to human lives and economies around the world by China’s handling of COVID-19, but also because of the ongoing standoff with India on the borders of the Indian state of Ladakh,” Pandit said.
China’s international image has already been battered by the series of conflicts and violent outbursts it has unleashed worldwide — from Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang to the South China Sea, to the Himalayan standoff — and the crude manner of covering up the COVID-19 outbreak, which started in Wuhan, China.
Many US observers of South Asia were appalled by the conduct of the embassy in New Delhi and its attempts to muzzle India’s free press, which understandably rejected what was in effect the embassy’s diktat.
China’s aggressive posturing under its “wolf warrior” diplomacy is backfiring and causing embarrassment for its envoys overseas, while also further denting the already battered image of the Chinese Communist Party and Xi.
By continuously threatening or even committing aggression in various parts of the world, China increasingly faces the prospect of being viewed as an international pariah, despite its economic appeal.
China could also encounter further pressure and restrictions in trade and business. Its heavy dependence on export markets makes it vulnerable to any restrictions imposed in these markets.
The restrictions imposed by the US on Chinese steel and aluminum shipments and its ban on telecommunication companies are a grim reminder of China’s vulnerability.
India has also imposed bans on certain Chinese telecommunications products, including TikTok and others, and barred Chinese companies from bidding for lucrative Indian infrastructure projects. Other countries, including France and the UK, are also becoming increasingly wary of China’s intentions.
In a close-knit global economy, any country’s exclusion from major markets can quickly translate into an economic downslide for the exporting country, necessitating the reorganization of supply chains. Indeed, it could prove to be China’s Achilles’ heel.
Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist with writing experience on foreign affairs, diplomacy, global economics and international trade.
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