Authors: Yang Yizhong & Paul Wang
Since the coronavirus outbreak was officially announced several weeks ago, it has stirred many concerns and uncertainties within China and around the world. For example, there are quite a few criticisms and discrimination about human rights violation, political inefficiency and economic policy of China due to this virus crisis throughout the country. However, it is self-evident that China is not alone in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, also called “The COVID-19”. As Sivanka Dhanapala, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in China, put it “Let me say straight away, this is a time for solidarity, for international solidarity. Now it’s important, really important, that we need international solidarity and cooperation to share and to pool resources where they are most needed and to make sure vulnerable people get the help that they need. It needs to come together, as an international community, in fighting the virus.”
Under such circumstances, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke at the 56th Munich Security Conference on 15 February, reiterating the Chinese resolve, confidence and goal which could be put into the official line: “Under the strong leadership of China, the 1.4 billion people are united as one in fighting the sudden outbreak of a novel virus; and the final goal is only: to win this non-conventional war.” In light of so dangerous uncertainties ahead, it is necessary to understand China’s strategy, capability and approaches as well.
Obviously, the leading elite and the people of China have demonstrated firm resolve in dealing with the epidemic. The high speed and massive scale of China’s response are rarely seen in the world. More accurately, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged medical staff from the Chinese armed forces to move towards Wuhan and the other virus-hit cities to protect the locals and called for enhanced coordination between local authorities and the military. Until this point, a total of over 4,000 medical staff from the Chinese armed forces have been dispatched to this area. As a result, all relevant parties have taken effective measures to stop the spread of the virus, including requiring the Chinese military to bear the responsibility to make sure of the prevention and control of the outbreak of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus. For sure, their efforts are consistently supported by medical and pharmaceutical researchers who have been working day and night, isolated the first virus strain and developed the test reagent in less than seven days. Hailed as heroes in harm’s way, over 20,000 healthcare workers in 100 plus medical teams converged in Hubei, the hardest hit province, from across the nation to support epidemic control. Exemplifying professional dedication, all medical workers are saving and protecting lives around the clock despite the risk of infection and exhaustion from overwork. Here overseas Chinese around the globe have continued rushing to make donations in cash and all kinds to help combat the virus outbreak.
Meanwhile, China has timely released the latest information about situation of the disease and called for deepened international cooperation, such as working closely with WHO, inviting international experts to join our ranks, and providing assistance and facilitation to foreign nationals in China. To date, confirmed cases outside China account for less than one percent of the world’s total. It means China has effectively curbed the spread of the outbreak beyond our borders. For that, China has made extraordinary efforts and a heavy sacrifice as well. That said, China is not fighting alone. The international community has given China valuable moral and material support. For example, Russia, Belarus and the ROK swiftly delivered badly needed medical supplies to Wuhan through chartered flights. Pakistan sent its Chinese brothers virtually all the masks in its stock. At the peak of the outbreak, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia paid a special visit to Beijing to offer his staunch support for China. The leaders of some countries, such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Italy, also conveyed their warm messages in support of China’s epidemic response.
Here is self-evident to mention that Japan, as the most wealthy neighbour of China and also having the long-time historical and territorial disputes with China, has sent huge assistance supplies to China, attached with ancient Chinese poetic lines: “Fear not the want of armour, for mine is also yours to wear”, conveying a touching message of empathy from an ancient Chinese poem. In other parts of the world, Americans from all walks of life donated medical items and supplies; not to mention the emergency aid supplies to China from EU countries. Individually speaking, Philippe Klein, a French doctor working in Wuhan, did not hesitate to stay and fought alongside the Chinese colleagues. He revealed that he kept a bottle of champagne to be popped open for celebrating the end of the epidemic. It was also reported that a Zimbabwean student who lived in Wuhan for three years, chose to stay and signed up to be a volunteer. As the Chinese are a grateful nation, they will remember and hold dear every act of support. What are discussed here aim to remind all that we live in a time when traditional and non-traditional security issues are entwined, and when local issues easily become global and vice versa. No country can prosper in isolation or meet all challenges on its own, as our interests are closely inter-connected in the age of globalization. Now for virus respects no borders, it requires a collective response from the international community.
In sum, it is true that now in China Xi wields near-absolute political power over the ruling party and the Marxist-directed state. Arguably, only an socialist regime could have pursued the draconian methods that China has in trying to control the virus since January. Yet, time will tell how effective these measures ultimately prove to be. What is certain, however, is that the crisis, once resolved, will not change the goal that China is going to achieve in the near future.
As China holds that as human society has entered the age of globalization, it is necessary to transcend the old concept of East-West divergence and the North-South divide, to see our shared planet as a community for all. In so doing, China argues for all nations go beyond the ideological gap and accommodate historical and cultural differences. During the crisis moment, it is sensible to see that repeated relationships can nurture co-operative restraint and reciprocity. Yet, the COVID-19 epidemic has inspired cover stories across the world. Some focused on the virus, others described the life changed by the quarantine measures, but among them, Time magazine predicted that disease could “Derail the China Dream,” and Bloomberg Businessweek warned that there is a “Fragile China” that we need to “Handle with care.” However, the China collapse theory is doomed to fail as China and its people have showed much of the strength and creativity in the epidemic time and again.
In this contest, IMF chief Georgieva said recently, it was “too early” to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation. If the disease is “contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound”, in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said. To be fair, China has done a good job so far in responding to the epidemic. Obviously, President Xi’s management of the coronavirus crisis at home, and of politically totemic projects such as 5G expansion abroad, assumes a critical new significance.
Time to play the Taiwan card
At a time when the dragon is breathing fire, India must explore alternative tactics, perhaps establishment of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan can be a landmark step
The standoff on the Ladakh border between the Indian Army and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) continues amid failing talks and casus belli measures being unleashed by the Chinese regime. While the union government and the armed forces make it clear that they will do whatever it takes to protect India’s sovereignty and integrity, precious little has been done on the foreign policy front. While India and its democratic allies which comprise the Quad security grouping declare their intent to form the ‘Asian NATO’, the Quad continues to suffer from indecisiveness which was pretty much evident when the Quad did not even issue a joint statement to condemn China at the foreign ministers meeting held last year, only America publicly called out China.
In such a situation, it is imperative that India explore alternate diplomatic and militaristic routes to tame the dragon.
Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan after recognizing should be vigorously pursuing by South Block. Indo-Taiwan ties date back to the early 1950s when Chiang Kai Shek, the ex Chinese president and former head of state fled to the island of Formosa following the victory of Mao Zedong in the long drawn out Chinese civil war called on Nehru to establish and further ties with Formosa, however Nehru believing that Chiang was nothing but a “peanut” decided to ignore his call, choosing instead to concentrate on building ties with People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Seven decades on, plethora of changes has taken place on the foreign affairs front, while both China and India have developed considerably both militarily and economically the dragon has surpassed elephant to become an economic powerhouse in its own might. It has now embraced aggressiveness to enforce its 5th century vision of the ‘Middle Kingdom’. In such a situation providing legitimacy to the existence of Taiwan is a necessary first step.
Paradigm shift in policy
Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan will bring about a paradigm shift vis-à-vis India’s foreign policy. It will enforce the idea that liberal democracy is the last word in the battle of ideologies as Francis Fukuyama had visualized in his landmark book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ and that there is no alternative to human rights and liberties, not even the Chinese model of ‘authoritarian development’. It will be the boldest step that any global leader has taken, not even the mighty US which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan has taken this step.
Recognizing Taiwan will entail a lot of benefits for the mandarins of India’s foreign policy regime- firstly, Taiwan is a robust democracy with a booming economy, it will prove to be an alternative to China albeit in a relatively less proportion, secondly, India can bolster the legitimacy as the leader of the democratic world at a time when the democratic institutions in the US-often regarded as the cradle of democracy has been undermined.
Thirdly, India can get the support of another powerful ally in its attempt to carve out a new supply chain alliance which India-Japan-Australia formalized recently. Fourthly, recognizing Taiwan will make it clear to China that India means some serious business and if the need arises then India will not back down from sending dedicated naval and air assets in the disputed South China Sea region to enforce freedom of navigation principle in the resource rich region. Lastly, the Quad security grouping will be institutionalized which in the near future can even be extended to include new members, it will be the first time that India will be a part of any dedicated military and economic alliance which will deter the aggression of the Chinese war machine in the strategic Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific Region.
However the recognition may invite severe ramifications for India. China will be infuriated and can choose to ratchet up tensions with India. India must be extremely careful while dealing with China as China is our second largest bilateral trade partner and a key export partner of India with regard to raw materials and goods. According to a FICCI report, India imports more than 40% of several important goods like the API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), television, chemicals, chips, textiles and many more.
The dragon will as a possible retaliatory measure can activate its propaganda machinery to wage psychological warfare with India. It can also activate its terror financing networks which for years remained a chronic internal security for India in the northeast of the country. China will also collaborate with its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan to try and deter India by intensifying terrorism in the Kashmir valley and elsewhere. Further, China can use its potent disinformation empire to try and peddle fake news about the credibility of India’s indigenous vaccines at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel of a pandemic stricken world has appeared.
Keeping all the dangers in mind, the Modi government must keep national interests in mind. Despite all the risks, it must work with all the like- minded countries to take own the mighty dragon responsible for unleashing a deadly virus which has wrecked havoc on humanity. For the sake of the free world, India must take the hard step which will reinforce India’s position in cementing its place as the leader of the free world.
Pro-Communism warping Hong Kong
The latest turmoil in the Covid-ridden strata of mainland China is not servile to any pandemic, however, the issue has been one of the most queer and rare kinds, enough to be classified as one of the endemic issues in the global affairs. The tension at helm is the chaos following the announcement of a “New Security Law” by the Chinese regime which is being eyed as one of the monumental events of this decade; slicing off a sliver of attention from the deadly Corona virus that continues to exponentiate around the world in its second wave and sporadic variants.
The law that set out by the Chinese lawmakers back on 22nd May 2020, threatens the liberties of subversion and sedition enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong under a constitution. Simplistically named “Basic Law”, it aims to tame the country scaffolded by the “One country, Two systems” framework since the power handover by the former colony to China back in 1997. This act came around amidst strained economic relations between the two superpowers of the world; China and USA, each passing the baton in the blame game of who sustains the blood-crown of the catastrophe impending on the world courtesy of the lethal virus that engulfs every periphery in each continent on the globe. The matters seem complex at sight and a glimpse to the historical timeline of how riddled the relations were could hint at how strained they could reach.
The colony, known as ‘Hong Kong’ today, had been the battle ground, figuratively, to the major competitors of the 20th century: The Great Britain and China. The British dominated the colony for more than 150 years, tracing back to the late 19th century; leasing the territory for the span to morph it into the modernised metropolis marking it as the hub we know today. In 1997, an agreement was reached via an accord, ‘The Sino-British Joint Declaration‘ between the two sides. The treaty allowed Hong Kong a semi-autonomous status, that is, relaying self-sufficiency in all the national domains except in defence and foreign affairs. The allotted autonomy arches under the sovereignty of China until year 2047, henceforward melding into the mainland China as harkened by the Chinese hegemony over decades.
Despite of the granted protection of Hong Kong’s own legislation, borders and freedom of speech, the liberties have been trampled on by the Chinese government over the last couple of decades. A similar law abolishing the right to sedition was initiated in 2003 yet mass protests calling out up and about 50,000 citizens impeded the efforts that went futile and drastically ended up being shunned for good. The Communist party under the wings of Chinese president Xi Jinping have expounded further in tightening their talons on the city since 2012 as efforts were made to corrode the educational system of the country via meddling with the curriculum, biasing the foundation to hail Chinese communism. These acts were proactive reactions to the advances of the United States forging relations with the city. China even tried to manipulate the elections in 2014, tampering with the selection their Chief Executive leading to a 3-month long protest known as the ‘Umbrella movement’ and ultimate downfall of Hong Kong’s autonomous political system.
The security law falls in tandem to the events of 2019; the legislation allowing the convicts from Hong Kong to be extradited in China causing a rave of fear of a massive tactical crackdown of the Anti-communist activists of Hong Kong, sighting it just as ruse to underwhelm the right of sedition of the people of Hong Kong. The Law passed by the parliament notions to only one thing; The ultimate end to Hong Kong. The lawmakers in China, hailing from the National People’s Congress (NPC), sight this move as extricating a threat to the national security and stability of the country while many of the pro-activists in Hong Kong deem the law as betrayal, accusing China of walking back on its promise of high-degree autonomy and freedom of speech, marking it as the final straw, the last struggle before the country could override the laws in the city and indirectly, transition from the entity holding the right to veto the laws to now gripping the law altogether.
Despite of the speculated protests to spark like the history dictates, many of the sage minds predict either a relatively dormant demonstrations or none at all, having a tint of finality in the statement shote the protests are “high stake in risk and repression”. The recent arrest of the leading activists of Hong Kong standing up to voice their disdain to the separatist efforts of China further solidify the notion. Despite of a global condemnation to the new law, the efforts of China resume to subdue any opposition in Honk Kong no matter how sparse. Foreseeing no way out for Hong Kong this time; the Covid-19 paralysis the United States in its own crisis and the legislature inclining towards the Chinese pressure, a complete erasure of Hong Kong is sighted and could not be restrained- for better or for worse.
The Belligerent Chinese Diplomacy and Its Failure
The Chinese media has recently reported of Xi Jinping writing a letter to George Schultz the former chairman of Starbucks, the US coffee giant. In the letter, he has requested Schultz to play a positive role in advancing the US-China relations. While head of a major state writing letter to big corporate heads is not a common but not an unusual development either, this letter from Jinping should be seen in a relevant context. It indicates a certain amount of desperation and difficulty of China in its dealings with the US.
It suggests that after months of aggressive posturing and verbal duels against Trump, the State Department and Pentagon, China is now cosying up to the new Joe Biden administration. Further, it also means the recent Chinese aggressive posturing, wolf diplomacy has failed to bring in the desired results and that the Xi Jinping-led CCP is under more pressure now to soft-pedal the recent acrimonious ties between the two.
The year 2020 had been a very disappointing and calamitous year for the world. And Corona pandemic could well be cited as the most important reason. While the world as a whole has struggled to fight this unknown enemy individually as well as collectively, one country that has been in the limelight, for all the wrong reasons, been China.
Foreign policy and diplomacy is all about protecting and promoting the perceived national interests of a country. While achieving its objectives, the country tries to create and maintain a favourable image in the international community. The Chinese diplomatic endeavour since the ascension of Xi Jinping has been starkly opposite. From the most likely origin of Corona virus, to rebuking leaders, diplomats and media of other countries, China has been trying to create a new diplomatic norm, a new normal where none of the countries would dare criticising China, through political discourse, media or any other way while silently acceding to its territorial expansionary designs.
There have been unusually vitriolic reactions by Chinese diplomats against seemingly innocuous comments or actions by governments, politicians, diplomats or media in various countries. A very rational request by the Australian government to initiate investigations by the international community into the genesis of Corona virus, made China so furious that apart from making crude undiplomatic comments, it even created a virtual political, diplomatic and trade war against the country. Critical comment by certain politicians in Brazil and Japan, led Chinese diplomats to publicly issue personalised attacks against them.
The Chinese ambassador to Sweden has went on to lambast the country’s media in most rustic manner. No wonder, in the last two years, he has been summoned to the Swedish foreign ministry an unprecedented 40 times and there have been demands from native politicians for his expulsion. In India, a country that is being seen as the closest political and military rival by China but is scared of admitting it publicly, the diplomats have kept on reminding the government and media not to play the so-called Tibet card or must adhere to One-China policy by not getting close to Taiwan, have repeatedly been ignored by the government as well as the media.
No wonder, a recent Pew Research study has revealed that globally China has lost a huge amount of goodwill. A significantly very high majority of natives in nine of the advanced economies like the US, UK, Germany, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Netherlands think negatively of China. Australia (81%), UK (74%), Sweden (85%), Netherlands (73%) show a very high increase in the negative perception against China, very recently and that has affected their politico-commercial relations too.
With the US, the Trump administration acting aggressively in the backdrop of the November Presidential elections, the Chinese actions of challenging the lone superpower has not helped the country anyway. On the contrary, US has become more supportive of Taiwan, politically as well as militarily, making it even more difficult or virtually impossible to China to even think of occupying the territory forcibly in near future. India that had maintained a cautious approach towards Taiwan till recently, have started enhancing political and commercial relations with the country.
In Asia, its aggressive military designs against India’s northern borders has had a very rude awakening for China. Used to a timid Indian approach since 1950s under Nehru, it never expected the aggressive Indian response that even put its own military positions in Moldo and other strategic positions vulnerable. To further undermine political and military calculations, its adversaries in South China seas like Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines today are in advance negotiations with India to secure sophisticated missiles and armaments.
A very significant strategic development in the form of QUAD has taken the preliminary shape and that whenever gets in a concrete form, could well portend an ominous future for China, politically and militarily. The belligerent Chinese behaviour, especially since the onset of Corona virus has brought India, Australia, the US and Japan very close. With talks of Vietnam, Philippines and others in south-east Asia joining it later, the future of a QUAD could well be a security nightmare for China.
In the economic realm, India has reacted sharply too. Being a huge market for Chinese cheap goods and scores of apps till recently, India has not only banished hundreds of apps but has also been working on a mechanism to regulate, control and even stop imports in a number of segments from China. A big share of enormous infrastructural contracts in telecommunications, roads, ports, airports and railways in India too, have become difficult for Chinese companies. And taking a leaf out of India, the US and other countries too, are making it difficult for Chinese organisations to secure big contracts in their respective countries.
Over the next few years, China is going to lose a huge chunk of its popular and big market in India while territorially too, it has failed to make any significant gains. Strategically what China wished to see was countries like Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam, US all having disputes with it dealing individually rather than getting together and forming a coordinated and collective political, economic and strategic response against it. And the very opposite has happened. There have been greater and collective political, military and economic coordination amongst all these countries today and most of the strategies are aimed against one country, China.
All these developments including Xi’s letter to Schultz, indicate one point very certainly that Chinese belligerence has backfired hugely. It needs to reorient its diplomacy and political behaviour significantly and if it fails to do so, its position in the emerging post-Covid geopolitical order could be anything but that of an emerging superpower.
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