“We intend to be kind to everyone. We have many friends. But just as importantly, we aspire to remain ourselves.”–Lee Kuan Yen (1923-2015), Prime Minister of Singapore (1959-1990) (Source: Zajec 2016, 236).
A new global governance
The effects of globalisation are radically challenging our perception of the world. In order to respond effectively to current challenges, we must change our mindset, open up to the world, consider those around us and create a new global governance (Brown 2019; Foucher 2019).
The geopolitical transition is underway. China is not only an economic powerhouse, but also a global geopolitical force. Meant to revitalise the “Silk Roads”, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to control the strategic space in which world trade occurs. Inevitably, BRI is meant to shape future global trade routes, and whoever controls these routes will control the world.
US President Donald Trump is pursuing a policy to protect American interests. His “America first” strategy is challenging global governance as we know it. It is revealing, in various ways, the world’s“ unpaid bills”, especially Europe’s(Foucher, 2019).
The persistent institutional crisis within Europe follows the same logic. Created in the aftermath of the Second World War, the European Union is now divided, mainly about refugee flows, BRI, Chinese investments in Europe, and Brexit, to name a few issues.
It is therefore essential to consider the problem’s origins while avoiding ad hoc or, even worse, simplistic solutions, such as those advocated daily by populists on social networks. Thus, we must reset our mindset and have the audacity and imagination to create a new global governance – one that is fairer, more equitable and more responsive not only to current challenges, but to the needs of all humanity:
- Identities and borders: How can the right to self-determination be respected and ensured without being divisive? How can we respect the sovereignty of states and territories without renouncing the positive effects of globalisation?
- How is it possible to manage Chinese power, power exerted by a country that does not share universal values – the values of the West, especially those of Europe and the United States? How can we integrate this geopolitical force, one which is based on an authoritarian capitalist system and which is expanding not only economically but also geographically? This means a China that is engaging in a conquest of space without making war in the classic sense of the term.
- Beyond borders: How can we integrate these two systems of opposing values into a new structure ensuring global cosmopolitical governance?
French geopolitics can provide us with part of the answer. It was Jacques Ancel (1879-1943) who added a very human concept –the identity of the heart – to geopolitical considerations (Ancel 1938, 97-99; Gauchon 2008,11-12). His concept is based on the need for balance and harmony within a society, country or region.
According to Ancel, “The border is a political isobar, which fixes, for a time, the balance between two pressures: the balance of masses, the balance of forces.” In the same spirit:“A solid nation, one in harmony, exists even without visible borders.”(Ancel 1938,196; foreword by Siegfried in Ancel (1938, VIII).
Geopolitics is the study of the relationships between space and power. It is a multidisciplinary undertaking that encompasses economic, political, cultural, historical and social dimensions. The term “space” refers to land, sea and cyberspace (Banik2016, 19-21).
Ancel’s geopolitics stand in contrast to the German geopolitics of Friedrich Ratzel (1869-1904), which consider states to be “entities determined by people and territory”(Gauchon 2008, 7-9).
Klaus Haushofer (1869-1946) added the notion of “living space and pan-ideas” to this German geopolitical discussion. That is to say, he highlighted the potential solidarity of a people scattered throughout the world in order to justify the expansion ofits living space. Conversely, Ancel placed the human being at the centre of his geopolitical considerations, i.e.man as creator. Thus, “human groups [are what] achieve a harmonious balance, ultimately recognising borders based on a common memory, history and language”. The result is “a nation of the heart in and of itself, non-rational” (Ancel 1938, 106; Gauchon2008, 7-9).
In search of a new balance
The characteristics of globalisation are ambivalent, even contradictory. Thanks to the Internet and digital technology, we are connected with each other to an ever-greater degree. We have access to many sources of information which provide us with seemingly endless facts and figures. The transparency and availability of information might increase, but knowledge and expertise do not necessarily follow suit.
At the same time, the world’s various actors are becoming both more interdependent and more competitive. Nation-states find themselves at odds with the transnational powers resulting from globalisation, such as global companies, economic and political associations and interest groups. All these transnational forces often act beyond the borders, rules and standards set by national laws. This cross-border activity requires greater strategic coordination between the various national and transnational actors (Banik 2016, 17-24).
Yet it is precisely the lack of coordination that causes not only a feeling of loss of control among the public, but also a general feeling of insecurity. Consequently, globalisation engenders an opening to the world, while simultaneously increasing the need to belong to a country or region. It is the need for identity, the need to remain ourselves in the whirlwind of globalisation.
This feeling of insecurity fuels the populist discourse of the far-right parties calling for a return to a Europe of Nations, a return to national thinking. According to this populist, simplistic perspective, the only means to regain control and sovereignty is to restore and strengthen visible borders within and outside the EU.
Moreover, our current world order contains a sort of ideological contradiction between two systems with opposing values: on one side, the West, the EU and the United States; on the other, China with its authoritarian capitalist system. This is highlighted by a renewal of the cult of personality surrounding “strong men”, such as Trump, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. This resurgence of personality cults reinforces the identity aspect in the relevant political strategies.
Despite the advent of these “strong men”, there is a lack of foresight among the entire political class, or even incompetence on its part, whatever the country of origin, at both the national and international levels. This lack of foresight manifests as the chaos found within international organisations and institutions, which all emerged following the Second World War and which are now struggling to find adequate solutions to current challenges (Banik, 2019). The current political storytelling has become obsolete.
Due to the measurable and undeniable economic success of the authoritarian capitalist system in China, our democratic system is experiencing a crisis of confidence – a crisis that can be found mainly in the EU member states. Thus weakened, Europe is no longer able to respond to current geopolitical and economic challenges and is torn instead between two powers, the United States and China. In the absence of a real, common strategy, the EU is unable to find effective solutions to the issues faced by all actors, such as demographic shifts, increased global urbanisation, worldwide competition for natural resources, technological impacts on the labour market (particularly artificial intelligence), and international terrorism.
Borders and their hallmarks
The process of transnationalisation and deterritorialisation inevitably brings us back to the issues of border, identity and nationality. Nationality is defined as the legal relationship between an individual and a country (Gauchon 2008, 33). It is obvious, even if it is difficult to admit: “Globalisation’s flows do not erase borders, countries, regions, territories or places”(Zajec 2016, 238). On the contrary, the more connected the world is, the more the debate around borders is crucial in any geopolitical discussion. “[N]o natural borders, no closed physical domains that can close states, nations ad aeternum.”(Ancel 1938, 194).
According to Ancel, borders can be described using the “three Ps”: precarious, persistent and permeable. In addition, borderscan be visible or invisible, for example when moving from an urban area to a maritime one. (Ancel 1938, 97-99; foreword by Siegfriedin Ancel, XI).
Arbitrary borders and ‘borders of civilisation’
Ancel mainly differentiates between two types of border. On the one hand, there arethe so-called arbitrary borders, which are tense and strategic, resulting from military claims. The treaties that delineate these borders are temporal and purely based on the national interests of the states involved.
“Borders of civilisation”, on the other hand, are more permanent, since they are based on a memory, history and common language resulting from the balance achieved by a specific group of human beings. Such borders are “nevertheless more complicated, because they are subject to many political and commercial interpretations”. Even if commercial interpretations aim to “pave the way” and not to “enclose” as military interpretations do (Ancel 1938, 102-107), “paving the way” also means, in our current world, a conquest, an expansion, sometimes using military means, into the territory of others.
BRI – a true opening of borders?
The positive effects of globalisation can largely be seen as “paving the way”. Even if BRI is based on a commercial justification, the new Silk Roads are nevertheless closely linked with the idea of geographic and, above all, geopolitical expansion. China’s geopolitical influence is growing, especially in the Eurasian region as a whole, a region which is currently of great strategic import. Thus, BRIis part of China’s security strategy and is developing considerable geostrategic significance.
For years, China has been investing heavily in its military sector. Although the 7.5% increase in 2019 is less than the increase in 2018 (8.1%), the country plans to spend CNY1,190 billion, or €156 billion, to achieve Xi’s goal of having its armed forces “combat ready” (Le Point économique, 2019).
The conquest of space without making war
Having already had a large army, especially in terms of manpower, China has now become a great naval force, a fact Westerners are only beginning to acclimate to, since, for them, China has traditionally been a weak country located very far away.BRI, the revival of the Silk Roads, is the counterpart to Trump’s “America first” policy. The initiative increasingly has military implications: “BRI will likely result in increased overseas access and presence for the People’s Liberation Army”(Ratner, 2018; CNBC Asia Politics, 2018). In addition, the majority of workers on BRI construction sites are Chinese and not members of the local workforce. As a result, the initiative is the manifestation of a “China first” policy, one that primarily pursues Chinese interests. The positive impact on countries in the BRI region is quite limited. Worse yet, these countries are becoming more dependent on China, playing the role of debtor to Beijing’s creditor.
In addition, China has skilfully bundled its civil and military interests under the rubric “security”, a concern that now determines its internal and external strategy. In 2017, the budget of the Ministry of the Interior even exceeded that of the Ministry of Defence by 19% (Strittmatter2019, 35).Preserving external security means safeguarding China’s sovereignty, while preserving internal security means ensuring internal stability and control by the Communist Party of China (CPC). Despite the apparent opening of its external borders, China is increasingly enclosing its population, especially through censorship –its invisible border.
The term “harmony” has acquired a special meaning since Xi came to power. He has been the CPC’s “president for life” since 2018. All civil, military and administrative power rests with him and he is pursuing a strategy to protect China’s internal and external interests. As a result, China is extending its borders without making war or conquering territory in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, itis conquering geostrategic space by expanding its geopolitical influence. In China, it seems there is no longer a state, there is only the Communist Party.
In keeping with Jacques Ancel’s analysis, especially from the perspective of the “three Ps”– the persistence, precariousness and permeability of borders – developments such as“America first”, China’s Social Credit System, its Corporate Social Credit System(Le Monde 2019), BRI and Brexit are all challenging the very concept of borders.
Faced by two superpowers, China and the United States, the EU is experiencing a full-blown identity crisis and finds itself confronted with a major strategic dilemma. “A solid nation in harmony exists even without visible borders” (Ancel 1938, 196; foreword by Siegfriedin Ancel, VIII). Neither solid nor in harmony, the EU is being dragged into a false discussion on border reinforcement. The visible strengthening of borders does not address the root of the problem.
The solution can be found instead in strengthening the solidity of and identity within the European population. The only basis for a stronger and more harmonious Europe is to ensure that the different identities within the Union are perceived positively and that the shared– and not common – interests of its member states are protected and promoted.
China has introduced a new ideology derived from the notion of “harmony”, which is the key factor in its all-important internal and external strategy. As noted, the aim of BRI is not only to build up a huge network of commercial infrastructure in order to “develop wealth in the region and preserve peace, friendship and trust and understanding between different peoples”, as the CPC has expressed it. BRI is also an integral part of the Party’s plan for preserving national unity and internal stability. Harmony is China’s “leitmotiv”, its mantra while it pursues a policy of expansion, of conquest, geographically and geopolitically, without resorting to armed force.
Although less elegant, Donald Trump’s policy maintains the same logic: the return to national sovereignty, to protecting and defending national interests. The US government has renounced many policy and trade agreements in order to better protect its interest and to expand its sphere of influence. Stability and preserving unity, identity and sovereignty are the top priorities.
Thus, the balance of power, the field of engagement between the countries and actors is changing. Two systems with opposing values are facing off in a race for global leadership. The EU finds itself squarely in the centre of this field of engagement.
The EU: a political union of shared interests
The European Union has three major problems: First, it lacks a real strategy or vision; second, the European institutions do not function in a truly democratic manner; third, the different national identities within the EU are misperceived and, subsequently, hard to manage. It is precisely this unsuccessful management of European identities that fuels the discourse on strengthening borders as the sole remedy for the Union’s difficulties.
The EU is not a national power like the United States, China and Russia, but a “forward-thinking” geopolitical actor that must find its own way as globalisation progresses. Without a new political narrative, Europe must inevitably lose influence on the international scene. Only close cooperation between EU member states and the promotion of shared interests can ensure that Europe will become a power to reckon with on the geopolitical stage, on par with China and the United States.
First and foremost, the emotional charge must be removed from the discourse on borders and national identities. Europe must ensure a space exists where people can live in freedom, a space where we can live our different European identities. Were this to be realised, it would not be a threat to Brussels but, on the contrary, a complementary force ensuring the right to self-determination.
In addition, the European institutions must be democratised. What is needed is a European Parliament that reflects the voice of Europeans and that, after elections, forms a truly European government, an assembly of specialists and experts that transcends party politics. The EU must stop being divided along party lines. Were that the case, the EU would become the main driver for improving the democratic system.
Democracy should never be called into question, but democratic structures must be adapted on an ongoing basis. A harmonious Europe is the only way to ensure a secure space – one surrounded by borders –that defends its shared political, economic and geopolitical interests. This is how the EU could take the lead in creating a new type of global governance. In view of the weaknesses of nation-states such as China and the United States, Europe is in a favourable position to lead the way in building a new system of cosmopolitical governance – a cosmopolitical system with “borders of civilisation” which might be visible, arbitrary or even invisible, but which, above all, would not divide but provide the framework needed to consolidate the required cosmopolitical standards.
Conclusion: new “storytelling” for the EU
As noted, Ancel emphasises the human notion in his geopolitical approach. The important thing is to recognise and calmly accept the feeling of belonging to a country, to a region –accept, that is, the very natural need for identity. Such an identity ensures the political unity that would sustain the evolution towards a new Europe and, subsequently, towards a new global governance. A European identity must be cultivated, in addition to the various national identities. This European identity, moreover, can help define the objective interests shared by most member states.
Globalisation is forcing us to think and act in terms of geo-economics (Overholt 2018). Safeguarding economic interests has become imperative. The EU must build a political union of shared interests and must create strategic alliances as a result. The important thing is to build these alliances in the spirit of cooperation and not, as is the case in today’s world, in the spirit of competition. Facing today’s challenges is only possible in a spirit of cooperation and tolerance, especially since the ultimate goal is not only to improve our democratic processes, but to move humanity forward as well. According to Ancel, a border is “a political isobar, which fixes, for a time, the balance between two pressures: the balance of masses, the balance of forces”(Ancel 1938, 195). In this spirit, we must change our global governance and, above all, our political narratives.
A new “storytelling”is required since today’s political practices and narrative strategies have lost their significance. The balance of power has changed radically. Neither the West nor China will alter its political system. It is therefore necessary to integrate China into the new global governance, even if it clearly does not adhere to our values.
Shared interests and common cosmopolitical standards must be defined in order to ensure social justice (Nida Rümelin 2017, 70, 178-180) and greater equity, particularly in the distribution of natural resources, in order to effectively combat global poverty. Globalisation requires the establishment of more regulations, standards, laws and coordination between national and transnational forces.
The real problem does not stem from the issue of borders. Borders will always exist, even in the globalised world. “There are no problems with borders. There are only problems with nations.” (Ancel 1938, 196). It is important to tolerate and accept different national identities and lifestyles and, above all, to recognise that we all live in a world which requires more and not fewer regulations and laws.
Moreover, only the existence of a true European identity can ensure the necessary political unity for evolving towards a solid, harmonious Europe. By acting boldly, this new Europe can take the lead in establishing a new cosmopolitical governance. What is needed is a politically united Europe that asserts its shared objective interests and values by creating a space providing freedom and tolerance. Consequently, we must revitalise an idea advanced by Jacques Ancel: “We do not change borders except by force; we change our minds” (Ancel 1938; foreword by Lomnica in Ancel 1938, 2).
Let us change our way of thinking
Note: This is a translation of an article originally written in French. The original will be published by L’Harmattan, Paris, in spring 2020.
China’s road freight problem and its solutions
Shifting freight off China’s roads could be key to tackling air pollution in the 14th Five Year Plan period (2021-25), according to an annual report by the environment ministry.
Motorised vehicles have become a key driver of pollution; a single diesel truck creates as much pollution in China as 200 private cars. Diesel-powered goods vehicles are in fact responsible for 60% of the nitrogen oxides and 85% of the particulate matter pollution released on China’s roads, despite making up only 8% of all vehicles. These vehicles are thus a central target for pollution control measures.
Polluting road freight
National average levels of PM2.5 – the most dangerous particulate matter pollution for human health – dropped 27% between 2015 and 2019, according to the latest report from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. But nitrogen dioxide levels fell only 9%, while ozone actually rose 11%. The transportation sector is China’s third largest source of nitrogen oxides, second only to coal-fired power stations and industry. It is also the second largest source of ozone, after industry, accounting for 20% of the total.
Between 2013 and 2018, the number of heavy-duty diesel vehicles on Chinese roads increased an average of 4% per year.
Li Ganjie, head of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), said at a recent meeting on national environmental protection work that “the reliance on road freight remains unchanged,” a fact he described as a weak point in the MEE’s work to manage the environment.
According to the MEE’s “2018 China Vehicle Environmental Management Annual Report”, the nature of pollution in many Chinese cities is changing. What was once simply a product of coal-burning is now a more complex mix coming from coal, vehicles and secondary pollutants. Data released by the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress in mid-January shows that mobile pollution sources, not coal-burning and industry, are now the main cause of PM2.5 in the city, accounting for 45% of annual emissions.
Tackling diesel vehicle emissions is not easy. At the China Blue Sky Observers Forum in December last year, Ni Hong, a researcher at the MEE’s Vehicle Emissions Monitoring Centre, said that the majority of these vehicles are owned by their drivers, some of whom adulterate their fuel to lower cost. Vehicles may also avoid environmental checks, be driven above the speed limit, overloaded or in breach of emissions standards. The authorities do not have the capacity to carry out full checks, or to ensure that issues are resolved.
Another approach would be to rely less on roads to carry freight around the country and more on the alternatives.
Costs associated with shifting to rail or water
It is cleaner to move freight by rail, rivers, canals and coastal shipping than by road. Commonly accepted industry figures show rail uses one-seventh of the energy needed to move the same goods by road, and produces one-thirteenth of the nitrogen oxides and PM2.5. Transportation by water, meanwhile, uses one-fourteenth of the energy and produces one-fifteenth of the pollution.
But the bulk of China’s freight still travels by road. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that in the past decade the proportion of road freight has fluctuated around the 76% mark, while water transport has increased a little in the last five years and rail freight is actually decreasing. Road freight accounts for too much long-distance transport of commodities such as coal, ores, and iron and steel. Progress in moving these bulk goods off the roads is slow.
Speaking at the forum, Xu Honglei, a senior researcher at the Ministry of Transport, said this is down to distorted pricing. There is fierce price competition in the road freight sector, with varying degrees of unhealthy competition, low prices and overloading. Meanwhile, market reforms of the rail sector are proceeding slowly, with transportation costs not coming down. “When moving bulk goods a distance of less than 800km, door-to-door prices for rail are usually higher than for road,” he said. “And road freight haulers offer a single price, while rail freight includes various miscellaneous fees.”
In a 2018-2020 plan for restructuring the transportation sector, the State Council called for “deeper market reforms of rail freight prices, a complete and flexible freight pricing system, and the use of the market to allocate resources,” in order to increase the amount of freight moved by rail. But so far, rail freight market reforms have had very little effect.
Zhao Jian, director of Beijing Jiaotong University’s China Urbanisation Research Centre, recently wrote in Caixin that when taking administrative measures to move freight from road to rail, the government needs to improve efficiency and speed in order to meet market needs. That means looking at how the railways are managed, and carrying out more extensive reforms.
Zhao Jian wrote that rail freight in China remains, in great degree, a monopoly. The China State Railway Group keeps overall control of all railway assets and finances nationwide, with 18 regional railway bureaus managing local freight operations. Zhao thinks this renders railway freight companies unable to respond to market demands. Regional railway bureaus cannot earn income directly, as payments must pass through the China State Railway Group. Nor can they set their own prices or purchase or dispose of assets, and they have no incentive to reduce costs. As each bureau covers too small an area, and rail freight in China usually travels over 700km, they are often unable to guarantee shipments will arrive on time, respond to rapidly changing market demands, or adopt modern logistics systems – and so they lose a great deal of business.
At the forum in December, Xu Honglei also pointed out that rail, road and water freight networks are not interconnected with infrastructure allowing goods to move between them. Meanwhile, dedicated railway lines to serve ports, logistics zones and large industrial and mining firms are underdeveloped; they suffer from poor quality links to the rest of the network.
Peng Chuansheng of the China Waterborne Transport Research Institute at the Ministry of Transport told China Dialogue that unless customers have their own docks, trucks are still needed to shift water freight from docks to factories. “It might work out cheaper for the company to just use road freight,” he said.
Improving rail and water freight
Experts say faster market reforms and better infrastructure and transportation links are needed to allow rail and water freight to reduce costs and make use of their competitive advantages.
Zhao Jian thinks the best way to boost the vitality of rail freight firms is to break the railway monopoly. In his Caixin article, he suggested restructuring the 18 railway bureaus into three larger regional rail companies, with the China State Railways Group to be a holding company, responsible for managing capital. The three new companies would have control within their regions and be able to set prices and acquire or dispose of assets, become market actors in their own right. He told China Dialogue that this approach could be trialled by expanding some railway bureaus to cover wider areas. The Harbin and Shenyang bureaus could be restructured into a single bureau covering north-east China, for example. This would reduce the barriers preventing rail freight from making use of its advantages.
Commenting on the lack of freight infrastructure, Xu Honglei said at the forum that work to build railway main and dedicated lines should continue, rail services to businesses and logistics zones should be improved, and links at freight hubs improved. On water freight, Peng Chuansheng said the government should encourage companies to have their own docks, giving them a direct link with ports.
There is no doubt that some transportation of bulk goods could be shifted from road to rail and water. However, road still has an advantage in parcel freight, and China’s express delivery sector is growing rapidly. Data from the postal authorities show 50 million express deliveries were made in 2018, up 26.6% on the previous year. These rapid deliveries of smaller items must still be made by road. Peng Chuansheng said industrial restructuring and changes in the energy mix will mean goods being moved will be smaller and lighter, but more valuable, requiring faster deliveries and better services. Rail and water freight cannot yet provide these.
The rapid growth of parcel deliveries by road reminds us that while changing the freight transportation mix is important, reducing emissions from road freight remains an urgent task.
From our partner chinadialogue.net
BRI to Health Silk Route: How COVID-19 is Changing Global Strategic Equations?
The beginning of 2020 brought a wild card entry into global strategic equations in the form of Coronavirus Pandemic, with Wuhan being the initial epicentre in December 2019. China will continue to be accused to have done global damage by hiding crucial timely information from rest of the world to be able to respond to COVID-19. China has gone through full cycle of initially hiding it, being late in quarantining affected people, not being able to prevent community transfers causing exponential rise in affected cases in the beginning, taking harsh measures to control it after peaking, bringing down the affected cases, declaring victory over pandemic, reopening lockdowns and boosting ‘COVID-19 Economy’ over ‘Health Silk Route’. The trends in January and February suggested a sheer drop in Comprehensive National Power (CNP) of China with combined effect of US-China trade war, failing BRI and COVID-19. The last week of March 2020 saw the epicenters of COVID-19 shifting westwards with US, Europe and UK emerging to be worst affected, entering stage three of the pandemic cycle and China posing itself to be helping the world to combat the pandemic, trending a comparative steep rise in its CNP, by pushing down everyone else. Rest of the world continues to be engaged in protecting its citizens in their critical phase of their pandemic cycle, rightly looking at saving its citizens with every possible means as first priority, even if it amounts to taking Chinese help, leaving out the blame game for later occasion.
What does Global shift in Epicenters of COVID-19 Indicate?
By March 30, 2020, 22:07 GMT, the coronavirus COVID-19 has affected200 countries and territories around the world and two international conveyances. The worldometer indicates over 7.8 lakh cases of coronavirus with over 37,000 deaths and over 1.6 lakh recoveries. The WHO puts the death rate continues to be low but the biggest danger being faced by the mankind is its exponential rise due to community transfers. USA has emerged to be the largest epicenter of COVID-19 having more than 19 percent of global confirmed cases with nearing three thousand deaths, earmarking $2.2trillion allocation for combating the pandemic. Europe led by Italy (with over one lakh cases and 11,500 deaths overtaking China in number of cases) closely followed by Spain, Germany, France, Iran and UK. The biggest jolt suffered is the number of deaths on March 30, 2020 counting 913, 812, 418, 385, 247 in Spain, Italy, France US and UK respectively. All these are cases of taking the pandemic lightly initially resulting into quick entry into third stage of community transfer. Now most countries in the world are struggling for capacity building to take the challenge of peak period, which is yet to come. This lock down/quarantining patients/suspects has brought global economic/commercial productivity to almost a grinding halt.
China was quick to declare that it has conquered the disease with reporting 75,700 recovered cases, only31 fresh cases, four fresh deaths and only 2466 active cases.(March 30, 2020, 22:07 GMT)as reported by the National Health Commission (NHC) of China. Considering Chinese credibility, these figures cannot be taken at its face value, because some media reports of sudden silencing of much more mobiles connections, restrictions on reporting COVID-19 cases do create a doubt as to what exactly is happening in China. The community lock downs, and stringent measures of social distancing helped China in flattening the trend. If we add the unreported cases the potential of second cycle of pandemic in China cannot be ruled out. Chinese effort of shifting soft power balance is also evident from alleged effective use of its influence and media to propagate conspiracy theory against US and later trying to shift the blame to Italy using paid media, think tanks and institutions. The world however will continue to accuse China for this pandemic, with many legal notices already filed against it globally.
China cannot deny that by its own admission, the coronavirus broke out in China late last year whereas Wuhan was locked down on January 23.The US efforts to evacuate its people at that point of time were seen as ‘triggering panic reaction’ by Beijing, which had already over-delayed global response by then. China tried to shift the narrative to the belligerent superpower wrangling between Beijing and Washington great power competition, viewing each other through a lens of conspiracy theories, hostility, trading stinging barbs on everything from the origin of the virus, permitting medical experts to visit Wuhan to who should be blamed for the pandemic. China and US were already at lowest trust level over issues, such as the trade war, South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, hence the same narrative was used by China to confuse the world and shift global anger away from it. With evidences destroyed, denying access to global bodies, the script of global pandemic was already written. China has a reason to be keen to repair its damaged global reputation caused due to mishandling of the crisis in the initial stage, with exploding infections around the world in last two months, possible loss of face, ensuing disrespect of other countries; hence it behaved so assertively in the diplomatic repairs including ‘Mask Diplomacy’. The slow reaction and reluctance to lock down by US might show that the US-China competition is moving China’s way, but the Chinese follies of making the world suffer by their late reporting may not put Xi Jinping in comfortable position either, although it’s too early to predict.
Trade War to Mask diplomacy and Health Silk Route
The CNP of a country is a combination of hard and soft power and includes sum of economic, military, technological, human resource, diplomatic and other levers of power. China claiming to have successfully encountered COVID-19, has kickstarted its industry after being the cause of paralysis of industrial power of everyone else, with focus on largest emerging demand of medical equipment related to combating COVID-19. After IMF Chief’s revelation that the global economy has entered recession, which could possibly be worst of its kind, China got a new lifeline to its economic revival with a competitive advantage in comparison to others.Chinese economy seems to be benefitting from others peril, with factories commencing work at 66 percent efficiency including foreign companies like Apple, domestic flights commencing in most areas, life limping back to normal and upsurge in demand with more people in markets. China after exporting the pandemic globally, is now making best of COVID19 economic model by switching from failing BRI to COVID19 related production. It is also disposing COVID related equipment surplus to mute expected accusations of risking humanity.China has thus tried to benefit itself not only in comparative economic terms, but also shift the equation in soft power, by projecting itself as better resource provider in this crisis.China is also trying to economically benefit from the monopolistic opportunity from the crisis by focusing its manufacturing base on production of testing kits, personal protection kits, ventilators and other crucial medical equipment. China, therefore leads the global supply chain with other major manufacturers paralyzed due to the pandemic, although like BRI, its reliability is suspected, due to the fact that five countries have reported supply of defective equipment.
Why is the World Silent?
The fact that Coronavirus was detected, and it spread exponentially in Wuhan, China may find difficult to prevent the accusations from the world, angered by sufferings caused due to pandemic. It is however understandable that not many have started blaming China, due to their domestic compulsion and priorities to check the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases, instead of involving in blame game for the time being. Most countries are also expecting Chinese assistance in their fight against the pandemic, as China is seen to have controlled the same, having gone through the peak of infection and successfully controlled it. Most countries also hope that a suspected creator of the virus is in best position to find antidote and help in combating it. Countries also do not want to disturb the supply chain of medical equipment from China at this juncture. The outcome of G20 virtual Summit was also on the same lines, wherein the G20 leaders issued a statement at the end of the summit calling for a coordinated global response to fight the coronavirus pandemic and adopting measures to protect the global economy, minimize disruptions in trade and take steps to enhance global coordination. The G20 leaders pledged to inject $5 trillion into the global economy to reduce the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. I do feel that this issue of holding China accountable will not be dead, but re-appear sometime in future. There are already few lawsuits already filed against China for the same and some more may be in the offing.
On a practical note, it is understandable that the world cannot fight this pandemic without global cooperation, which includes China. It owes responsibility to act first and help others with capacity to fight the Coronavirus, after letting the genie out of bottle, more so when the US has to focus inwards due to looming domestic crisis of COVID-19. It’s also in China’s interests to act to repair and restore its global image. Curbing media will not suppress global criticism. If technologically advanced countries canutilize their capacities, especially on joint research and development of vaccine, and strengthening the global value chain of supplies of medical equipment, it will help the humanity.
Credibility of UN Organizations?
The pandemic has also exposed the Chinese influence in global bodies claiming to be neutral and serving for humanity. WHO knew about the outbreak of coronavirus in January 2020 and declared it as pandemic only on March11,2020, losing precious time for the world to respond, presumably under pressure from China? In an interview on the question of helping Taiwan, the WHO officer fumbled and did not reply, under pressure of ‘One China Policy’. How can WHO claim to serve humanity leaving out Taiwanese population? In recent G20 virtual Summit chaired by Saudi Arabia, the group has been too generous to WHO in agreeing to extend support to strengthen its mandate in the fight against pandemic including delivery of diagnostic tools, treatments, medical supplies and vaccines, because their services are urgently needed at this juncture, but it needs to be held accountable once the crisis is over.
United Nation Security Council (UNSC) has not found it relevant to discuss about it and even have virtual consultation on this pandemic, because China is a P5 country, chairs UNSC for March 2020 and the monthly Chair decides the agenda. It never felt the need to investigate when Wuhan was under lock down and writings of the potential pandemic were on the wall even earlier. UNSC certainly requires restructuring because in the current system China or any P5 country in its place, with its veto power can get away easily, even after putting humanity to risk. The suspicion over COVID-19 being a product of Chinese biological weapon research in Wuhan, could have been settled if China would have allowed investigation by world bodies.It is too late to put the trust back now, after accusations of China having destroyed the evidences and continuing to change the narrative besides other diversionary tactics.
Will it lead to Changed World Order?
Thinking positively, even if the world is able to fight this pandemic successfully, the global strategic equation will never remain the same. Coronavirus pandemic has exposed weaknesses of China, US and world organizations to the humanity. While China can be accused of lack of transparency in handling the COVID-19 initially, the US can be accused of taking it lightly and reacting late enough, not to be able to help countries, which do not have requisite capacities to fight it. The idea of putting national interest over survival of humanity, and appearing to be inward looking, will lower the confidence of world community in US as well as China. The western countries led by US have been used to fighting the strategic competition by controlling trade and financial system as well as power of alliance, but unpredictable events like this pandemic, climate change, elements of non-contact warfare can change the entire equation. US may also realize that it was a mistake to propagate China as global manufacturing hub, and it now faces a grave challenge from this manufacturing giant with key digital technologies. China can also not be on a comfortable ground, because the autocratic model cannot work for eternity, as the magnitude of external and internal dissent/public anger cannot be estimated now. While China may feel to be recovering and compliment itself to have fought it better than democratic countries, but the success of South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong nullifies that claim. It also remains to be seen in future that China has pushed many countries against itself or otherwise. The world will also realize its mistake of putting all eggs in Chinese basket and hopefully a reverse flow may occur post pandemic. The credibility of UN is at stake, which is increasingly been seen as political tool of P5. In my opinion unless it undergoes a drastic reformation, especially the UNSC, there will be many countries ignoring its relevance and resolutions. With a threat of second cycle of COVID-19, no one can be sure that who is better placed in the future strategic equation.
What is the role of India?
India has the second largest population in the world next to China, which claims to have got over its peak period of pandemic. Indian efforts have been appreciated so far. WHO and the global community feels that densely populated countries like India will determine “the future of this pandemic”?The latest epicenters are US and Europe, yet the world is anxious about Indian fight against COVID-19, because of extremely high population density, possible administrative difficulties in tackling the pandemic and logistics attached with the lockdown. India, as a developing country, besides combating pandemic, faces a bigger challenge feeding, administering, managing migrating population, implementing social distancing and healthcare for a large number of people including unorganized sector workers, in view of its limited infrastructure. While there is no need to panic with over 1250 cases identified and 32 deaths so far, but its capacity to isolate communities is the biggest challenge in the world, which cannot be combatted without public participation. The low figures of reported cases so far, are subject to testing rate and India is yet to improve its recovery cases which are relatively low (Below 10% against global average of 20%). The death rate is low so far, but the main challenge lies ahead, as the curve has not flattened as yet. India needs to ensure not to enter into community spread (next stage) of COVID19outbreak.Indians need to follow all instructions from the Government and health specialists to ensure that it remains low. Although a lot is being done by the government and other agencies, the public and private sectors have to jointly boost its handling capacity in the golden period of two weeks, otherwise speed of infection will overtake speed of capacity building of the country to handle it. Each person has to play his/her role, as COVID-19 cannot be combated without people’s participation.
China is doing. Are you?
It is certain now that the COVID-19 pandemic has winded the whole globe. What started from just one city, has now shadowed the whole world. As the words penned down the cases increase in the world. However, there is a country whose defiance against the Covid-19 pandemic has been successful.
Despite the fact that the virus’s epicenter was Wuhan, China still managed to control it while the rest of the world still crippling to get hold of the loosen cords of the Covid-19.Thoughthe rest of the world is still in a quarrel with the pandemic, life in China is cautiously returning to normalcy. Even in Wuhan, the city worst hit by the pandemic, infection-free zones are feeling the resurgence of life. All of this has not been achieved overnight for this whole of the country faced excruciating measures including a major blow to its economy. Whole country unified against the pandemic. Purchasing managers index (PMI) which measures the economic activity based on orders company place to suppliers in a country. For the Chinese industry, the index reported 35.7 for the month of February which is the lowest since the index was created. To clarify further, the figures below 50 imply a recession.
China is not only combating Covid-19at home but abroad as well in the form of sending aid even though it has faced a fall in its economy. Italy, Iran, Serbia, Pakistan and many more are on the list that is getting direct assistance from Beijing.
While China is playing a responsible global role in the fight against this pandemic, Washington seems to be gambling with the lives of people of its own. Lately, Washington post revealed that intel reports from January and February clearly warned about the pandemic. While deaths in the US are nearing to 500, Trump administration seems to be engaged in playing its political cards on the deck of the corona. Blaming China and tightening the sanctions seems to the top priority rather than engaging resources on fighting the pandemic. Recently CNN reported that Trump rolled out 33 false claims in the first two weeks of the month of March regarding the corona crisis. It reported that overall trump made 71 false claims in past two weeks. Out of these 71, 33 were related to coronavirus. This clearly shows the gravity regarding the situation of the pandemic, in the Oval.
World is face to face with global non-traditional threat while Donald Trump seems to be solidifying his election campaign as cost of blaming China. Trump calling Covid-19 as China’s virus seems to be true because what the evolving scenario depicts seems that Washington has withdrawn from its global role and China is the only one concerned globally with this pandemic. Despite taking global initiatives for cure, Oval seems to be doing parochial politics over the global pandemic which clearly shows how ignorant is the Trump administration towards the global health crisis. Furthermore, Trump even tried to buy exclusive rights from a medical company in Germany on the antidote of Covid-19 in order to capitalize on the remedy. By tightening sanctions on Tehran and not letting It to do the due course to save lives what oval seems to be doing is bringing more agony to global misery.
As the xenophobic and racist attitude of Washington continues globe is being driven into more dark realms. Furthermore, Oval’s mouthpieces at Fox News and other media outlets have adopted the same manner as their masters are doing and repeatedly have claimed that China should apologize. On the other hand, the world is all praise for China, including the President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, on how has China fought the novel virus and has successfully reduced the number of new cases of the disease to zero.
It is high time to appreciate China by putting political difference aside and learn from their experiences as they are the one with most experienced and have successfully battled. Whatever has caused this pandemic China has been successful in curtailing it and countries which are finding themselves paralyzed by this disease shall use assistance from China to overcome this global malady.
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