It has long been assumed within the upper reaches of the CCP that Laos and Cambodia had become vassal states of the PRC, and would do the bidding of Beijing whenever openly or covertly asked to do so. Such an opinion ignores the fact that both Laos and Cambodia have a rich civilisational heritage. The Laotians and the Cambodians are a proud people, aware of the immense depth of their cultural and historical heritage, and would never allow themselves to once again come under the control of a foreign power. With each passing generation, such self-confidence and self-assurance has grown, and has made nonsense of the CCP’s belief that the two countries have become the catspaw of the PRC within ASEAN. It was another self-goal that caused the then leadership of India to decline the invitation to be a part of ASEAN, but with Modi’s Act East reinforcing Narasimha Rao’s Look East, the relationship between India and ASEAN has strengthened substantially over the past six years in particular. The two joined hands in opposing an absurd, even delusional map that was passed off as an official document of the CCP-controlled PRC government.
The map shows vast areas of sea and land as being part of the PRC, when in reality the spaces referred to are part of Indian and ASEAN territory. There had been a loud buzz by disinformation channels about Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, that he was under the influence of Communist China. Anyone who has had the privilege of meeting Anwar would immediately understand that he is a Malaysian patriot to the very depths of his being. It was therefore not a surprise when Malaysia very soon joined India in pointing out that the so-called official map put out by Beijing was a work of fiction, and indeed an insult to the countries whose sea and land spaces were sought to be presented as belonging to the PRC. The valiant Vietnamese, who showed their mettle under Ho Chi Minh in defeating France and the US in succession, followed suit, as did Indonesia under Joko Widodo, another patriot who would not for a moment entertain any thought of surrendering the tiniest fraction of Indonesian interests at the altar of a foreign power, no matter how powerful and bent on expansion that power, the PRC under Xi Jinping, is. Under the country’s new Head of State, Bongbong Marcos, Manila has shown a spine that was absent during the time of the Duterte presidency.
The ASEAN leaders would have understood and excused Prime Minister Narendra Modi had he absented himself from the September 6-7 Summit, given that he was the current President of the G20 and would in days be hosting the leaders of that influential grouping and other invitees at Delhi. But that was not Modi’s style. Instead, he showed the immense reservoir of respect that he has for ASEAN by coming to Jakarta for the summit, and almost immediately afterwards, immersing himself in the task of hosting the 2023 G20 Summit. In contrast, Xi Jinping could not be bothered to make the trip to either Jakarta or Delhi, and he will not be missed. His only achievement has been to ensure a cavalcade of vehicles each time he moves around a city within the PRC that is bigger by several times than the relatively modest cavalcade of the Founder of the PRC, Chairman Mao, during 1949-76.
Each meeting attended by Xi exhibits a level of pomp and show that far exceeds even those that were attended by Emperors of China in times past. The absence of Xi at Jakarta and Delhi shows in a clear manner his mindset towards the Global South, to which India and ASEAN belong. Under the Modi Presidency, the 2023 G20 Summit has put the welfare of the Global South at the heart of its concerns, but to Xi it appears that the Global South is simply an irrelevance, otherwise he would have followed the example of Prime Minister Modi and come to Jakarta and Delhi, instead of remaining in Beijing in the splendour that has become second nature to him. Several times, those who have deep respect for the people and civilisational traditions of China warned during visits that the aggressive expansionism of Xi would turn much of the world against the PRC and its ways. By standing up and standing together against the expansionist mindset exhibited in the absurd (to paraphrase EAM Jaishankar) “official” maps brought out by the CCP just before the ASEAN and G20 Summits, India and ASEAN have shown that they will not be intimidated in the slightest by such cartographic sleight of hand. Such determination is a good augury for the retrieval of the land and sea spaces of the Indo-Pacific by the countries to which they belong, and to a future free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
Source: Sunday Guardian Live