China’s diplomatic offensive

Was Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie's India visit part of an orchestrated diplomatic effort? So it would seem if one were to consider that in the past two weeks, Beijing has dispatched three military delegations in different directions — first one led by PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff Cai Yingting to the US, another by Deputy Chief Ma Xiaotian to Vietnam and thirdly the Defence Minister himself to India, Sri Lanka and Laos.

This vigorous bout of typical Chinese military diplomacy comes in the backdrop of Beijing's tensions with its eastern neighbourhood and an intense domestic political makeover, all so intrinsically linked and feeding off each other that decoding the real message is a challenge in itself.

Take India's case — for at least four years, the Indian side has been pursuing the little matter of a reciprocal visit by the Chinese Defence Minister after Pranab Mukherjee travelled there in 2006. No response. The little matter then became a subject of interest, raising doubts in New Delhi, and finally turned into a full-blown bilateral issue after China insisted on a stapled visa for the Northern Army commander. The military relationship was headed south as India put all interactions on hold.

But today, in matter of a year or so, all are toasting a new chapter in India-China military relations. Beijing has fluctuated, at times swung from one extreme to the other, enforcing that there's more than what meets the eye.

China has Japan terribly worried over the Senkaku Islands, it has South East Asia in panic over its claims in the South China Sea. It's seen as having driven a wedge through the tensile ASEAN fabric, so much so that for the first time in its otherwise reputable history of consensus, the grouping could not stitch up a joint declaration at its summit meet.

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