New Delhi: India has finally acted to show China that there are limits to its bullying and intimidating tactics. Within hours of the Dalai Lama setting foot in Arunachal Pradesh, China issued a tough statement that it would respond to this with its own “necessary measures”. The Chinese official who spoke of the “measures” naturally did not elaborate. But to those who keep a close watch on China and know its signalling patterns, the Rubicon has been crossed. China will strive to “teach a lesson to India”, which is how it described the object of the 1962 war. Either it will provoke short-duration hostility against India at a time and place of its choosing, or it will employ proxies like Pakistan to do the same. It will also seek to foment rebellion in Indian territory, a forewarning of which has come from the terrorist group, ULFA, which weighed in on the Dalai Lama’s religious tour of the North East culminating in a highly significant visit to Tawang.

China has dramatically stepped up its opposition to India since the inauguration of the American President, Donald Trump, who is due to meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, for a contentious summit hours ahead. China greatly apprehends an India-US axis joined by Japan, Australia and South Korea although this is nowhere close to fruition. India is equally at sea with the new US administration as the rest of the world and India is too large and prudent to build partnerships on quicksand. Nevertheless, it is in no mood to assuage the fears of China, which has grown implacably more ambitious and expansionistic in the duration of the highly negligent and laidback prior terms of Barack Obama: making a grab of large bodies of international waters, encircling India, and propping up adversaries like Pakistan.

Irrespective of how Indo-US relations shape, there is a strategic disconnect between India and China which Indian memories of the 1962 war can only harden and widen in the coming years. India believes there can be no restriction on the number of powers that can emerge in a region, provided the emergence is peaceful, and benefits the region. If the emerging powers are democratic, that is even better from India’s point of view, because authentic democracies (unlike closet dictatorships such as Pakistan and Russia) do not wage war against one another, and prefer a relationship based on peace and sharing.

Not being a democracy, China wants to dominate the Eastern Hemisphere. While committed to peace, India will not tolerate dominance of Asia by a single Great Power, least of all a totalitarian state like China. This is at the heart of the great divide between India and China. Unless China is Taiwanized, this divide will grow into profound disagreement and distrust which may even lead to war. China has to step back and curtail its ambitions. That it cannot do, being a Confucian state. On the other hand, India cannot back down, because backing down means strategic subservience. Indian public opinion will not tolerate it even for a moment.

This final showdown with China was building up during the terms of previous Indian governments, and it was inevitable that it would come to a head sooner or later. And so it has. The flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959 and the grant of asylum to him by the Jawaharlal Nehru government commenced the long war with China. As the land where Buddhism was founded, there was no question of turning the Dalai Lama back. He has remained a model guest since, much revered, and looked up to as a veritable living saint by millions of Indians of all faiths and persuasions. That his visit to Arunachal Pradesh should invite war-like threats from China seems preordained. But India is prepared. More to the point, Indian public opinion supports the government for not backing away in the face of Chinese threats.

China, in any case, has commenced the proxy war against India, and it goes beyond the terrorism of its ally, Pakistan, whose bloodletting it supports with denial. The ULFA’s warning to the Dalai Lama suggests China may stoke further separatism in Assam and resurrect the dead insurgencies of the rest of the North East. Kashmir will make a comeback in Chinese calculations with all its security implications.

The Chinese will also stoke general dissent within the country. While the attack on African students in parts of the country is condemnable, the rather strident tone taken by African envoys based here points to Chinese instigation. The African ambassador who took the lead in calling Indians racists and xenophobic is pro-Chinese, supports China on the South China Sea dispute, and represents a country which is firmly in the Chinese orbit. A Chinese hand may be detected in the troubles in JNU and in Jadavpur University. The government is not aware of these angles. It should act on them. It should also commence monitoring academics, strategic writers and think-tanks closely associated with China and funded by it. Pro-Chinese journalists also have to be brought under the scanner.

China is determined to contain India’s rise. India cannot retreat now under any condition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi approached China as a friend and prospective partner at the beginning of his term. China has proved incapable of friendship and neighbourliness. The gloves are off, and so be it.