Chinese president Xi Jinping's rhetoric about "regional war" shortly after his return from India could be a sign of his frustration over his apparent failure in persuading Prime Minister Narendra Modi to go slow on his relations with Japan, say western diplomats.
He had asked People's Liberation Army (PLA) commanders to "sharpen their ability to win a regional war in the age of information technology" on Sunday amid standoff with India along the de facto border between the two countries in Ladakh.
"Japan's move towards militarization and Modi's arrival as a strongman happened at the same time. Friendship between him and Japan's (prime minister Shinzo) Abe is the worst thing that can happen to China," a Beijing-based western diplomat said. "Xi is ready to put military pressure on India to keep it away from Japan.''
He said China is getting desperate to prove its supremacy in the region. "Look at the near collision between a Chinese fighter and a US warplane last month," he said.
"China is hugely worried about developing Japan-India relations. This can strengthen Japan's hands and seriously harm China's influence in the world."
Another diplomat echoed him saying China would "both woo, threaten or do whatever it feels necessary to keep India from joining hands with Japan''. He said China is determined to "be a regional bully'' and India-Japan combine could destroy this.
Beijing has a long history of rivalry with Tokyo and considers it a serious threat to its rise.
Some experts have suggested Xi has used similar language in his past interactions with PLA officers and the latest statement should be seen in this light. But others believe Xi consciously cited "regional war" while speaking to PLA commanders as it coincided with the stand-off with Indian forces.
China has territorial disputes with many countries including Japan and India. China is worried Japan could join hands with its rivals to form a joint front.
Sources said Xi spoke about the "regional war" to win over the commanders as he is trying to reinforce his authority over the military. -TOI