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The final front in the South China Sea: Vietnam against China

Sisir Devkota

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A few years back, political tensions in the South China Sea was rife. China was seen as the main aggressor in trying to claim island areas for resource extraction. Now, the political climate in the rich region is changing at the expense of Vietnam’s interest. More so, in the legitimate interest of Vietnam. In the past few years, Chinese diplomacy has managed to take both Malaysia and the Philippines into its plans. Both the nations are on the verge of sanctioning new energy deals with China. On the other hand, Vietnam is resisting. In the midst of Chinese bullying, it is standing alone.

The South China Sea is making news again for a good reason. In what would best describe an economic proxy tool, foreign companies from the USA and Spain are investing on Vietnam’s share of resources, in the sea. China asserts itself with its self-designed nine-dash line, which separates its sphere of influence along the coastal borders, circling all three nations. Because of foreign interests in the region, it is not nations themselves, indulging into a confrontation. Exxon Mobil, which is the world’s largest energy enterprise, has entered into the picture. While Exxon’s initial plans were backed up by America’s political meddling; now, the multinational is facing a crisis that does not seem to escape from the China-Vietnam row.

Legitimately, the blue whale oil block, is a region inside the Vietnamese jurisdiction. As much as the oceanic geography is tricky to comprehend, China is closely monitoring Vietnam’s deal with Exxon, in order to extract natural gas reserves. Scientifically, the resources belong to Vietnam, but there could be possible twists in the favour of China. For instance, oceanic topographies have a history of breeding territorial tussle between coastal nations. Turkey and Greece are yet to settle their own set of similar crisis. The point of the matter is that Vietnam’s gas rich rocks might emanate inside the seabed leading to or from the Chinese territory. The Chinese government is not protesting the Exxon deal, but there is no prize for an obvious guess. They are saving the topographic argument for and if the need arises.

In fact, China is keeping peace under Exxon’s own credit problems. There are reports of the company facing capital crunches to fund similar projects in South America. A couple of years after it signed a deal with the Vietnamese government, the energy giant is looking to exit the troubled high seas. Exxon will also be looking to avoid the kind of embarrassment that PetroVietnam forced upon RepsolSA, a Spanish energy giant. While the Chinese started cruising their military vessels around the area, Vietnam succumbed to pressure and decided to end their extraction plans. Although the exact trade-offs cannot be accrued, the Spanish company incurred losses of more than $200 million after the exit. These events will be playing on the minds of Exxon hierarchy. A similar fate is possible in the face of Chinese intimidation. Exxon is also not sure if the Trump administration would come for a rescue; if things go horribly wrong.

Nevertheless, Vietnam is resisting. With more than $2.5 trillion at stake, China is succeeding in its pursuit to persuade both Malaysia and the Philippines for joint benefits. The Blue Whale project is important to Vietnam, as it would meet energy demands for the next twenty years. Amid its own financial problems and geopolitical standoff, Exxon will also be considering selling the project. The South China Sea is inviting another international standoff in the coming time. This time, the stakes are high. China is on the verge of controlling the waters, on its will.

Global Affairs Analyst based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Founder, Trainer & Researcher at "The Protocol" which facilitates analytical research on current affairs and workshops on Diplomacy and Leadership. Masters of Social Science in Democracy & Global Transformations from the University of Helsinki, Finland. Author for a book chapter titled as "Armed Conflicts in South Asia 2013".

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East Asia

China post-covid situation

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As the first country to be engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic, China is several weeks ahead of many other countries on the “curve” of the virus progression. As such, the changing situation in China is being monitored closely by many other countries. While statistical methods of counting infections and deaths have differed across countries, it is generally agreed that China has the pandemic largely under control at the current stage, with increases in new cases rising at a rate of less than 100 per day (although there was a spike to 108 on Sunday, April 12). Of course there is some concern that asymptomatic cases are not being identified effectively, but the fact that the number of new symptomatic cases is low (therefore the hospitals are not overwhelmed) is acting as a kind of proxy to provide confidence to the wider population that the situation has improved dramatically.

Indeed, in China, the public mood moved on from one of fear to one of caution around late February. Since then, while many restrictions remain in place around the country, caution has morphed into mere habit. Having worn a facemask every day for close to three months now, I feel slightly naked in public without one. People are adjusting to the “new normal” and seem to realize that there is a long battle ahead. While they realize it is going to be tough, there is a general sense among the population that China will be able to manage the adaptation process more effectively than most governments around the world.

The government response ramped up quickly after January 23, and restrictions became more and more onerous through February and most of March. Access to residential compounds was banned to people not registered as living within them. Restaurants closed for around 2.5 months, only recently re-opening. Much domestic travel required quarantine upon arrival at destination for 14 days, and a similar policy was introduced for international travel once the pandemic was confirmed as a global problem. Right now, even foreigners with valid visas and working permits are not allowed back into China. The concern now is focused on Chinese nationals returning to China from Europe and America. The draconian measures the government is implementing to take such people directly from airports to quarantine facilities shows how seriously the government is taking these potential “imported” coronavirus cases. Of the 99 new cases reported on April 11 across China, 97 were “imported”, according to Reuters.

Economic impact

Meanwhile, confidence in the government response seems high. Nevertheless, businesspeople realize that many types of business are being seriously hit. Food and beverage, retail, real estate, and travel are the four biggest losers. A lot of people in these sectors have either been furloughed for a period of time or have lost their jobs completely. Migrant workers in the construction sector are hugely impacted. Many of these jobs don’t show up in official government figures, so while there has been a significant uptick in the unemployment rate, it is likely that the real figure is much higher. A lot of lower-earning individuals will be suffering for a prolonged period of time.

Compared with other countries, the support measures that the government has put in place have been relatively limited. The most relevant benefit to businesses has been the partial waiving of the social security contribution made by employers on behalf of staff between the period of February to June. There are other programs in place as well, but most of them require the companies applying to be involved in the effort to combat the virus spread. Loans have also been relatively difficult for many Chinese companies to obtain. The bankruptcy of many companies and major problems for account receivable collection for those that remain standing seems inevitable.

Potential recovery

At the moment certain sectors of the economy are recovering. But not quickly. Malls are open, but sparsely populated. Restaurants are open, but with very few customers. There seems to still be a kind of reluctance among people to go out and enjoy themselves, perhaps worried about opprobrium from the many that are still struggling financially or that they will be accused of potentially spreading the virus. Habits may well have changed permanently. Unsurprisingly, people are reluctant to spend large amounts of money on cars, houses etc. because of the overall uncertainty.

Certain sectors are definitely booming. This will be a worldwide phenomenon, and it in fact may play into the hands of China in the medium term. It is well-known that China is ahead in the “race to 5G”, which is all about “digital” and “remote”. During this pandemic, China probably pulled further ahead. Online teaching and conferencing have boomed. Delivery of goods rather than visiting shops has continued its transition to the mainstream. The economy has taken another step towards modernization.

A lot of the companies that have benefited from that shift will presumably be flush with cash, and keen to invest it overseas going forwards considering the knowledge and technology they have accumulated already in China.

One particular overall impression that I have been left with is that rather than “living”, people in China are choosing to just “exist” for a while. This may be easier for the Chinese population, many of whom remember the tough times before the opening up of the economy in the 1980s and 1990s, compared with the baby-boomers and younger generations in the west who, in the eyes of the Chinese, have been living decadent lives since the 1950s. Nevertheless, this attitude will have severe repercussions for the economy as a whole. To what extent the Chinese government opts to encourage the return of a bit of that decadence that certainly existed in the last several years in China may have a big effect on the medium-term economic impact in the country. The outbreak of pandemic Covid-19 all over the world has disturbed the political, social, economic, religious and financial structures of the whole world. World’s topmost economies such as the US, China, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and many others are at the verge of collapse. Besides, Stock Markets around the world have been pounded and oil prices have fallen off a cliff. In just a week 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment and a week later another 6.6 million people started searching for jobs. Also, many experts on economic and financial matters have warned about the worsening condition of global economic and financial structure. Such as Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of International Monitory Fund (IMF), explained that “a recession at least as bad as during the Global Financial Crisis or worse”. Moreover, Covid-19 is harming the global economy because the world has been experiencing the most difficult economic situation since World War-II. When it comes to the human cost of the Coronavirus pandemic it is immeasurable therefore all countries need to work together with cooperation and coordination to protect the human beings as well as limit the economic damages. For instance, the lockdown has restricted various businesses such as travelling to contain the virus consequently this business is coming to an abrupt halt globally.

Keeping in a view the staggering situation G-20 nations called an emergency meeting to discuss worsening conditions and prepare a strategy to combat Covid-19 as losses could be reduced. The spread of the epidemic is picking up speed and causing more economic damages. It is stated by the U.S. official from federal reserves that American unemployment would be 30% and its economy would shrink by half. As for as the jobs of common people are concerned, there is also a real threat of losing their jobs because with business shutting down that shows that companies will be unable to pay to workers resultantly they have to lay off them. While when it comes to the stock market, it is severely damaged by Covid-19 such as the stock market of the United States is down about thirty percent. By looking over the existing condition of several businesses, most of the investors are removing its money from multiple businesses in this regard $83 billion has already removed from emerging markets since the outbreak of Covid-19. So, the impact of Covid-19 is severe on the economic structure of the world because people are not spending money resultantly businesses are not getting revenue therefore most of the businesses are shutting up shops.

It also observed that the economic recovery from this fatal disease is only possible by 2021 because it has left severe impacts on the global economy and the countries face multiple difficulties to bring it back in a stable condition. Most of the nations are going through recession and collapse of their economic structure that points out the staggering conditions for them in this regard almost 80 countries have already requested International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial help. Such as Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan also requested IMF to help Islamabad to fight against Novel Coronavirus. Furthermore, there is uncertainty and unpredictability concerning the spread of Coronavirus. So, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stated that global growth could be cut in half to 1.5% in 2020 if the virus continues to spread. Most of the economists have already predicted about the recession to happen because there is no surety and still no one knows that how for this pandemic fall and how long the impact would be is still difficult to predict. Besides, Bernard M. Wolf, professor, Economics Schulich School of Business, said that “it is catastrophic and we have never seen anything like this, we have a huge portion of the economy and people under lockdown that’s going to have a huge impact on what can be produced and not produced”.

As Covid-19 has already become a reason for closing the multiple businesses and closure of supermarkets which seems empty nowadays. Therefore, many economists have fear and predicted that the pandemic could lead to inflation. For instance, Bloomberg Economics warns that “full-year GDP growth could fall to zero in a worst-case pandemic scenario”. There are various sectors and economies that seem most vulnerable because of this pandemic, such as, both the demand and supply have been affected by the virus, as a result of depressed activity Foreign Direct Investment flows could fall between 5 to 15 percent. Besides, the most affected sectors have become vulnerable such as tourism and travel-related industries, hotels, restaurants, sports events, consumer electronics, financial markets, transportation, and overload of health systems. Diane Swonk, Chief Economist at the Advisory Firm Grant Thornton, explained that “various nations have multinational companies that operate in the world because the economy is global. For instance, China has touchpoints into every other economy in the world, they are part of the global supply chain. So one should shut down production in the U.S. by shutting down production in China”. Besides, Kristalina Georgieva in a press release suggested that four things need to be done to fight against Covid-19 and avoid or minimize losses. Firstly, continue with essential containment measures and support for the health system. Secondly, shield affected people and firms with large timely targeted fiscal and financial sector measures. Thirdly, reduce stress to the financial system and avoid con tangent. Fourthly, must plan for recovery and must minimize the potential scaring effects of the crisis through policy action. Concerning the serious and worsening conditions all over the world, nations need cooperation and coordination among themselves including the help and mature as well as sensible behaviour of people to effectively fight against Coronavirus. Otherwise, because of the globalized and connected world, wrong actions and policies taken by any state will leave a severe impact on other countries as well. This is not the time of political point-scoring and fight with each other rather it is high time for states to cooperate, coordinate, and help each other to defeat this fatal pandemic first for saving the global economic and financial structure.

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Hong Kong Developments: India’s Tactical Punch To China

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Hong Kong’s National Security Legislation: A Brief Overview

A new wide-ranging Security Law was passed by China for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020 outstripping it of its autonomy, and giving Beijing exceptional power over Hong Kong’s affairs. In the wake of growing resentment against China all over the world, owing to the pandemic and the mystery surrounding its origins in Wuhan and the bitterness against Xi Jinping’s aggressive leadership, the Hong Kong move is going to further tarnish the Dragon’s domestic and global image. With China using its destabilising power over Hong Kong by ensuring that the city has a stern law against rebellion against Beijing’s authority, policies and actions, the National Security Legislation for Hong Kong is highly problematic. The government in Beijing has repressed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and contravened on its promised semi-autonomous status with the National People’s Congress (NCP), unilaterally introducing a new legislation that criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign and external forces. It curtails the freedom enjoyed by people in Hong Kong, restraining freedom of speech and the right to protest.

On December 19, 1984, the governments of the UK and China reached an agreement on Hong Kong. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was registered with the UN on June 12, 1985. It is a legally-binding international treaty that ensured that Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedom and independent judiciary, rule of law and rights would see no alteration for the next 50 years. The British handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, under a unique agreement, the ‘Basic Law’, the ‘One country, Two systems’ framework. This was done to safeguard certain liberties for the prosperity and development of Hong Kong and needed to uphold its stability and culture: the freedom of speech and assembly, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights that people in China did not have. The same agreement gave the people of Hong Kong the right to enact their own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

China as a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration has flouted its promise, ignoring the need for constructive political dialogue and bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, by approving the new legislation that was enacted on June 30, 2020. The National security Legislation will, in time, be inserted in the Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The anti-government demonstrations by the unhappy Hong Kong population against Beijing have been a source of discontent and embarrassment for Xi Jinping and a major “security threat” to the Dragon. The anti-Beijing protests with broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement have been gaining greater impetus than before in Hong Kong since June 2019. Xi Jinping is set to thrash this with this new legislation that is seen, more or less, as a vengeance regarding the withdrawal of Beijing’s contentious extradition bill of the previous year.

“The key provisions of the Security Legislation include that:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Companies can be fined if convicted under the law
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction
  • This office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China – but Beijing has said it will only have that power over a “tiny number” of cases
  • In addition, Hong Kong will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, raising fears about judicial autonomy
  • Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted, not any Hong Kong judicial or policy body. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority
  • Some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents and people “from outside [Hong Kong]… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong”.[i]

The Hong Kong population faces a huge blow to their civil liberties and freedoms with the enactment of this law, histrionically changing life in the region. It is clearly without any accountability and transparency, being kept as a secret from the government of Hong Kong and the public, till its enactment. There have been instances of its abuse since it has come into being, using it to clampdown on peaceful and legitimate protests and stiffens control over media, social networking, education, and the social organisations operating in the region, giving undue and extensive authority to the Chinese investigating authority to search properties, prohibit and restrict movement and travel, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, freeze or confiscate assets, and engage in intercepting communications without a court directive. The new draconian law has set up another new body in the government of Hong Kong, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, with a delegate from the Chinese central government to “advise” and oversee it. This body is not subject to any checks and balances, besides being not accountable to any other structure of the government, bypassing legislative scrutiny. The government in Beijing is setting up the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong with the staff and the office not falling under the city’s jurisdiction, hereby ensuring that their actions cannot be reviewed by the Hong Kong local courts. The personnel of the office have complete immunity and cannot be subject to inspection, examination or custody by local law and administration in Hong Kong.

This legislation will have a huge effect on the business and financial community as well as tarnish Hong Kong’s image as a global financial hub integrating in with China. With the enragement building against China in the pandemic period, Hong Kong will drastically suffer due to this legislative imposition. It is bound to have a hugely negative impact on the educational and social systems with heavy economic and political toll for the region.

India’s Diplomatic Move against China

China is facing an image deficit, global pushback and loss of allies in a world grappling with the unprecedented, havoc wreathing COVID-19 pandemic. With this backdrop, the controversial security legislation for Hong Kong that redefines the relationship between the people of Hong Kong and mainland China has been met with great criticism from the pro-democracy parts of the world like the US, Japan, Australia and the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration, the UK, among others. There has been great pushback against Xi Jinping’s policies that seek to flout the international norms and code of conduct and significantly, India has shed its silence and raised concern against the outrageous Chinese actions that seek to mould the world led by an order dictated by it. 

India played rather tactically, breaking its silence on Hong Kong for the first time ever, raising China’s new security legislation for Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. This diplomatic move by India is likely a consequence of the deteriorating Sino-Indian engagement and the recent border clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh. India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Rajiv Chander expressed India’s optimism that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.” Without naming the India’s hostile neighbour, Mr.Chander argued that New Delhi is engaged in “a close watch on recent developments” in Hong Kong due to the presence of the large Indian diaspora in the region. With a number of bilateral agreements and MoUs signed between Hong Kong and India, the former is host to a number of Indian companies, various professionals in sectors like IT, banking, as a centre for conferences and exhibitions and vice versa with New Delhi having huge stakes in the region in question. The India-Hong Kong relationship has a number of facets from academic collaboration, bilateral trade and investments to tourism and cultural links.

This raising up of the issue of Hong Kong, China’s Achilles Heel, comes as a surprise and is a strategic move as New Delhi in the past, remained a mute and calculated spectator of the developments in the region. As China has been overtly as well as covertly involved in the domestic issues in India stimulating unrest in various parts of the country, even raising the Kashmir issue at UN Security Council after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, it was imperative for New Delhi to take a firm stand against the regional bully by reviewing its approach and studied silence on Chinese matters. It landed a strategic knockback to Beijing in the aftermath of Chinese aggression in the Sino-Indian border and its belligerent approach in the South Asian region. The Sino-Indian relationship has undergone a significant technological and diplomatic tailspin, with India banning a number of Chinese applications, making it clear to Beijing to restrain from commenting on India’s internal matters and the Hong Kong reaction is another changing diplomatic stance of India, showing its firm resolve against the dictatorial and hegemonic ambitions of China. These events show New Delhi’s revised approach to the tyrant state in the aftermath of its pugnacious advances.

While India, in the past, had been unwilling to give visas to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and even denied meeting the activists at G-20 summit last year for a petition to pressurise Beijing, the recent events at Galwan Valley have rocked the basic foundational structure of the relationship between these two neighbours.

With China acting out of line and raking up issues pertaining to India’s domestic issues and further, expanding and deepening its ruthless activities in creating troubled waters for India, both regionally and globally, New Delhi’s tactical punch is a welcome move in times of emerging uncertainties about China’s unruly and anarchic misdoings. This is an opportune moment for India, hence, to support the countries against a hegemonic China that seeks to advance a world in a mould that suits its needs and designs.


HONG KONG DEVELOPMENTS: INDIA’S TACTICAL PUNCH TO CHINA

Hong Kong’s National Security Legislation: A Brief Overview

A new wide-ranging Security Law was passed by China for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020 outstripping it of its autonomy, and giving Beijing exceptional power over Hong Kong’s affairs. In the wake of growing resentment against China all over the world, owing to the pandemic and the mystery surrounding its origins in Wuhan and the bitterness against Xi Jinping’s aggressive leadership, the Hong Kong move is going to further tarnish the Dragon’s domestic and global image. With China using its destabilising power over Hong Kong by ensuring that the city has a stern law against rebellion against Beijing’s authority, policies and actions, the National Security Legislation for Hong Kong is highly problematic. The government in Beijing has repressed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and contravened on its promised semi-autonomous status with the National People’s Congress (NCP), unilaterally introducing a new legislation that criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign and external forces. It curtails the freedom enjoyed by people in Hong Kong, restraining freedom of speech and the right to protest.

On December 19, 1984, the governments of the UK and China reached an agreement on Hong Kong. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was registered with the UN on June 12, 1985. It is a legally-binding international treaty that ensured that Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedom and independent judiciary, rule of law and rights would see no alteration for the next 50 years.The British handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, under a unique agreement, the ‘Basic Law’, the‘One country, Two systems’ framework. This was done to safeguard certain liberties for the prosperity and development of Hong Kong and needed to uphold its stability and culture: the freedom of speech and assembly, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights that people in China did not have. The same agreement gave the people of Hong Kong the right to enact their own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

China as a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration has flouted its promise, ignoring the need for constructive political dialogue and bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, by approving the new legislation that was enacted on June 30, 2020. The National security Legislation will, in time, be inserted in the Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The anti-government demonstrations by the unhappy Hong Kong population against Beijing have been a source of discontent and embarrassment for Xi Jinping and a major “security threat” to the Dragon. The anti-Beijing protests with broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement have been gaining greater impetus than before in Hong Kong since June 2019. Xi Jinping is set to thrash this with this new legislationthat is seen, more or less, as a vengeance regarding the withdrawal ofBeijing’s contentious extradition bill of the previous year.

“The key provisions of the Security Legislation include that:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Companies can be fined if convicted under the law
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction
  • This office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China – but Beijing has said it will only have that power over a “tiny number” of cases
  • In addition, Hong Kong will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, raising fears about judicial autonomy
  • Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted, not any Hong Kong judicial or policy body. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority
  • Some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents and people “from outside [Hong Kong]… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong”.[i]”

The Hong Kong population faces a huge blow to their civil liberties and freedoms with the enactment of this law, histrionically changing life in the region. It is clearly without any accountability and transparency, being kept as a secret from the government of Hong Kong and the public, till its enactment. There have been instances of its abuse since it has come into being, using it to clampdown on peaceful and legitimate protests and stiffens control over media, social networking, education, and the social organisations operating in the region, giving undue and extensive authority to the Chinese investigating authority to search properties, prohibit and restrict movement and travel, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, freeze or confiscate assets, and engage in intercepting communications without a court directive. The new draconian law has set up another new body in the government of Hong Kong, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, with a delegate from the Chinese central government to “advise” and oversee it. This body is not subject to any checks and balances, besides being not accountable to any other structure of the government, bypassing legislative scrutiny. The government in Beijing is setting up the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong with thestaff and the office not falling under the city’s jurisdiction, hereby ensuring that their actions cannot be reviewed by the Hong Kong local courts. The personnel of the office have complete immunity and cannot be subject to inspection, examination or custody by local law and administration in Hong Kong.

This legislation will have a huge effect on the business and financial community as well as tarnish Hong Kong’s image as a global financial hub integrating in with China. With the enragement building against China in the pandemic period, Hong Kong will drastically suffer due to this legislative imposition. It is bound to have a hugely negative impact on the educational and social systems with heavy economic and political toll for the region.

India’s Diplomatic Move against China

China is facing an image deficit, global pushback and loss of allies in a world grappling with the unprecedented, havoc wreathing COVID-19 pandemic. With this backdrop, the controversial security legislation for Hong Kong that redefines the relationship between the people of Hong Kong and mainland China has been met with great criticism from the pro-democracy parts of the world like the US, Japan, Australia and the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration, the UK, among others.There has been great pushback against Xi Jinping’s policies that seek to flout the international norms and code of conduct and significantly, India has shed its silence and raised concern against the outrageous Chinese actions that seek to mould the world led by an order dictated by it. 

India played rather tactically, breaking its silence on Hong Kong for the first time ever, raising China’s new security legislation for Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. This diplomatic move by India is likely a consequence of the deteriorating Sino-Indian engagement and the recent border clashes in GalwanValley in Ladakh. India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Rajiv Chanderexpressed India’s optimism that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.” Without naming theIndia’s hostile neighbour, Mr.Chanderargued that New Delhi is engaged in “a close watch on recent developments” in Hong Kong due to the presence of the large Indian diaspora in the region. With a number of bilateral agreements and MoUs signed between Hong Kong and India, the former is host to a number of Indian companies, various professionals in sectors like IT, banking, as a centre for conferences and exhibitions and vice versa with New Delhi having huge stakes in the region in question. The India-Hong Kong relationship has a number of facets from academic collaboration, bilateral trade and investments to tourism and cultural links.

This raising up of the issue of Hong Kong, China’s Achilles Heel, comes as a surprise and is a strategic move as New Delhi in the past, remained a mute and calculated spectator of the developments in the region. As China has been overtly as well as covertly involved in the domestic issues in India stimulating unrest in various parts of the country, even raising the Kashmir issue at UN Security Council after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, it was imperative for New Delhi to take a firm stand against the regional bully by reviewing its approach and studied silence on Chinese matters. It landed a strategic knockback to Beijing in the aftermath of Chinese aggression in the Sino-Indian border and its belligerent approach in the South Asian region. The Sino-Indian relationship has undergone a significant technological and diplomatic tailspin, with India banning a number of Chinese applications, making it clear to Beijing to restrain from commenting on India’s internal matters and the Hong Kong reaction is another changing diplomatic stance of India, showing its firm resolve against the dictatorial and hegemonic ambitions of China. These events show New Delhi’s revised approach to the tyrant state in the aftermath of its pugnacious advances.

While India, in the past, had been unwilling to give visas to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and even deniedmeeting the activists at G-20 summit last year for a petition to pressurise Beijing, the recent events at Galwan Valley have rocked the basic foundational structure of the relationship between these two neighbours.

With China acting out of line and raking up issues pertaining to India’s domestic issues and further, expanding and deepening its ruthless activities in creating troubled waters for India, both regionally and globally, New Delhi’s tactical punch is a welcome move in times of emerging uncertainties about China’s unruly and anarchic misdoings. This is an opportune moment for India, hence, to support the countries against a hegemonic China that seeks to advance a world in a mould that suits its needs and designs.

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East Asia

Changing equations of US-China relations and Taiwan Factor

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The relations among the two permanent members of security council have improved since the Nixon surprise visit to China in 1972 and ending the 22-year long isolation of Mainland China, although the reasons may have been many, the immediate result was consolidating the Sino-Soviet split and weakening the USSR geopolitically as well as strategically. By the next decade, China went through sweeping reforms and under Deng Xiaoping opened-up to the world. The pragmatic Deng Xiaoping’s two statements best encapsulate this period, “Poverty is not socialism, to be rich is glorious” and “Hide your capacities and bide your time”, here we can understand that he was sure that without opening-up economically and becoming an economic powerhouse, the People’s Republic of China will not be able to fulfill its objectives and while in pursuit of it, the best option is to stay humble and keep working. However, since the 2000s the policy shifted towards the peaceful rise of China, and after the 2008 financial crisis which hit western economies disproportionately, provided the opportunity for China to begin creating its sphere of influence. The accession of Premier Xi Jinping brought to fore the ambitions of China and in his inaugural address, he even talked about the China Dream. The Chinese employed the strategy of coercive economic assistance and provided pompous loans to countries in ASEAN, East Asia, South Asia, and even Eastern Europe (the 17+1 dialogue is a good example). The tools for this diplomacy are the Belt & Road Initiative and Debt diplomacy. With governments finding it difficult to get credit lines from the USA backed IMF and World Bank because they are not in a position to comply with the policy decisions which these organizations prescribe, the Chinese provide a solution that is too good to deny. Chinese say we do not care about what type of governments you have and we are ourselves an authoritarian regime, thus, it is not necessary to follow the politico-economic model prescribed by the liberal west to be successful. Although it may be music to the ears of many countries, China asks for something bigger in return; they ask for a great deal of deference and compliance as well as they, in the long run, take control of areas of strategic importance; a good example is Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.

All the while the USA is continuously ceding space, moving inward, and creating opportunities for China to take advantage, unintentionally of course. Right from the 2008 financial crisis, the USA was embroiled with internal strife & division which culminated in the election of Donald Trump. The Trump slogan of Making America Great Again moved the US towards isolationism & made the Chinese more resolute to implement BRI and practice Debt diplomacy with greater vigor and aggression. However, although China is trying to carve out its sphere of influence (earlier covertly and now more & more overtly), USA will not likely let it happen while trying to contain China and for that, it has been supporting the claims of other party countries in South & East China seas, frequent military drills and exercises with allies, Malabar Exercise with India and Japan in the Indian Ocean, moving military assets in the South China Sea as well as tackling Chinese challenge on trade & technology front.

We know that the conflict between the two countries is on multiple fronts and as China has become more assertive amid the Pandemic, opening up border disputes with Japan in the East China Sea, ASEAN nations in the South China Sea, Taiwan in the straits and India in the Himalayas. This geo-political tango initiated by China can spiral from conflict into a confrontation. And what feeds into it is the absence of any channel of communication except the top between China and USA which if existed could have held track 1.5 or track 2 talks to reach a Modus Vivendi between these two nations. And what feeds into this fire is both the Xi and Trump administrations ceding to a discourse hyper-nationalist, which had led to further depletion for any diplomatic flexibility.

The tit for tat can only go so long without getting out of hand. We can observe, everywhere China is in confrontation, the USA is backing the aggrieved party. However, in the case of Taiwan, we can see direct confrontation among the two powers, China claims Taiwan to be its territory under One China policy and on the other hand, the USA feels it is its responsibility to honor the defense agreement with Taiwan and with the democratization, the two countries have come further close.

Taiwan factor & shrinking space for maneuverability

President of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) Tsai Ing-wen in her inaugural address laid out her articulation of Taiwan’s cross-strait policy – peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue. This policy statement in the wake of Hong-Kong’s new security law, confirms that Taiwan will in no way compromise with its democratic set-up which it had earned after a long 38 years of struggle against the authoritarian state.

The success of Taiwan in dealing with COVID-19 (creating a Taiwan model), its warnings to the World & WHO which were never heard and its philanthropist actions for many countries have earned a lot of goodwill and international praise. The world is now waking up to the fact that being a strait away from PRC and facing the brunt of its coercive tactics to amalgamate Taiwan with PRC, Taiwan is very experienced in the Modus operandi of CCP and can help the like-minded countries deal with the asymmetric warfare which is practiced in real-time via disinformation campaigns on social media. Taiwan can with other like-minded democracies establish a framework to counter cognitive warfare (of which disinformation is a part) by providing a proactive & accurate narrative against influence operations that are attempting to undermine democracy by trying to nudge outcomes that will affect the political process.

The Taiwanese foreign policy revolves around 4 tenants which are, maintaining status-quo with PRC, gaining goodwill among world democracies and likeminded countries, increasing defensive capabilities, and economic strength.

However, managing the four tenants with increasing animosity between China and the USA is a challenge in itself. The current shift in the Trump administration’s approach towards distinguishing the Chinese Communist Party from the Chinese people by remembering the May 4th movement and the roots of democracy, the USA is trying to counter cognitive warfare by delegitimizing CCP on mainland China (as perceived by the CCP ideologues). In addition to this, because of Taiwan, CCP is reconciling with the fact that its approach towards Taiwan has failed, and what once China considered asymmetry of interests for Taiwan to be inclined towards China, has been shifting (with the latest pew polls showing record-low support for increasing ties with CCP). All of this mixed with China’s psych of perpetual vulnerability may soon lead to China trying to alter status-quo militarily.

This tells us that space for Taiwan to maneuver has been shrinking with every passing day. In the context of the greater Indo-pacific geopolitical theatre, Taiwan has a lot to offer be it for the USA or other middle powers who would like to maintain the status quo towards free and open International waters for trade and commerce. The current world order, being unstable and challenged with non-traditional security issues (an example being COVID-19 pandemic) as well as the assertive rise of China with a proportional rise in its vulnerabilities requires a new perspective. Taiwan being a Subject Matter Expert in these issues with a unique perspective that comes from facing vulnerability because of global isolation can become an asset to the USA as well as middle powers in developing stratagem which can be successful in saving the multi-polar world order. Taiwan understands this and should move practically ahead while calculating in real-time the permutations and combinations of possibilities and take every step likewise.

The world ahead & way forward

The whole world is looking at the American elections which are 6 months away, and the policy till then would be to contain Chinese aggression. Even China would take steps calculating the impacts and will focus on the elections. The middle powers (Japan, U.K, France, Germany, India, South Korea, etc.) should work out a strategy (less dependent on the USA) to focus on maintaining the status-quo (multipolarity).

The combination of Chinese overconfidence (overt expression of its vulnerabilities) coupled with its perception of Taiwan’s under importance in the USA’s foreign policy doctrine can lead to serious conflict and which could easily spiral in this season of Nationalism.

The situation between China and the USA will deteriorate, but to which extent and what speed will depend on the shifts in Chinese aggressiveness here onwards and the American elections in November’20. Taiwanese citizens can play an important role and so do the middle-power countries if the people and government cherish and pursue to maintain its vibrant democracy and the middle powers help the Taiwanese people in this pursuit. Hopefully, it may deter the two nations from further escalations and it may very well be the only chance to contain Chinese ambitions with minimizing the Damage to Humankind.

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