Masked China plays with soft power in Southern Eastern Europe
When the first shipment of face masks and medical equipment from China arrived in Belgrade, the president of Serbia was kissing the Chinese flag at the airport. Meanwhile, Hungarian and Czech officials have been critical of EU aid in the fight against Covid-19 and have chosen to praise China.
The image of China was damaged by its initially sluggish reaction to the spread of the new coronavirus, along with its attempts to keep silent about an epidemic being on the rise. Beijing, which is now stressing that it has given much effort to protect the rest of the world, cannot fight the criticism any longer. In reality, China – then and now – does not care about the “rest of the world”, and the safety measures implemented in Wuhan came much too late, giving the disease time to spread in the entire province and then be brought abroad by Chinese residents.
This is a scenario we can now see in Russia, where hospitals in Moscow and other large cities have been overcrowded by people suffering from “pneumonia”.
This is an approach shared by authoritarian regimes – to not say anything until the problem reaches critical mass and it is impossible to “shove” it under the carpet.
Now, China is polishing its image in other countries by employing “face mask diplomacy” which is a combination of political agenda and aid deliveries aimed at presenting China as a generous and capable ally. The problem lies in the fact that not all of this “humanitarian” aid is of good quality or, in fact, safe. When the crisis was at its peak and Beijing finally grasped the true scale of the pandemic, it began nationalizing its stocks of facial masks in local factories, despite most of them being already sold or ordered by partner companies all over the globe. Now, when the spread of the virus has been contained the government has begun engaging in charity events.
We should note that for years China has strengthened its political and economic influence in numerous countries in southern Eastern Europe via its global investment projects. After the Covid-19 pandemic began, these Chinese PR stunts have found listening ears in such countries as Serbia and Hungary, where populistic leaders try to maintain good relations with both China and Russia. The deliveries of Chinese face masks and medical equipment were also praised by Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Slovakia. But it was later revealed that a part of the equipment sent by China turned out to be defective. In addition, all deliveries coming from China are classified as aid, but they are in fact regular commercial packages that are being paid for by European nations.
China has notably increased its activity on the political, economic and social playing fields, which can be observed not only in Europe, but also elsewhere around the world. That which was achieved by Beijing with its soft power instruments over the course of 20 years collapsed in a couple of months, and for this reason Chinese communists have launched large-scale campaigns to polish their image – engaging not only diplomatic channels, but also people from Chinese-sponsored institutions.
Face masks will not save the world from Covid-19, but a timely reaction from the Chinese government regarding the spread of the virus would have. Instead, China continues to lie and hide the true damage done by the coronavirus. The numerous lives lost to the virus in the US and Europe are forcing us to be highly skeptical of the data coming out of Beijing concerning the infection and death rates in the country.
Why Europe Must Do More to Support Ukraine
As we speak, the Islamic Republic of Iran, who is only weeks away from obtaining a nuclear weapon, is supplying drones on a systematic basis to Russia, who is deploying these indiscriminate weapons against Ukrainian civilians. In recent days, 500 protesters gathered outside of the European Parliament in Brussels, where they voiced not only their indignation for the world’s silence in the face of Iran’s brutal suppression against its own people, but also their inaction as Iran essentially props up Putin’s war in the Ukraine. By Iran backing up Putin, the Islamic Republic has become a direct threat not only to the State of Israel but also to Ukraine and all of Europe.
As a former Israeli Communication Minister, I say that enough is enough. Over five million people have become internally displaced persons and many more people have fled the Ukraine with little more than the clothing on their back merely because Putin could not accept that the Ukrainians wanted to veer towards the West and away from them. They have savagely treated the Ukrainians merely for wanting to be part of the West, literally leveling entire buildings to the ground and transforming what used to be another European country into something reminiscent of Syria.
Human Rights Watch recently reported, “Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and the ensuing war had a disastrous impact on civilians, civilian property and energy infrastructure, and overshadowed all other human rights concerns in the country. Russian forces committed a litany of violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing and shelling of civilian areas that hit homes and healthcare and educational facilities.”
According to them, “In areas they occupied, Russian or Russian-affiliated forces committed apparent war crimes, including torture, summary executions, sexual violence, and enforced disappearances. Those who attempted to flee areas of fighting faced terrifying ordeals and numerous obstacles; in some cases, Russian forces forcibly transferred significant numbers of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and subjected many to abusive security screenings.”
For all of these reasons, the sanctions against Russia must be much stronger than the presently are today. After all, it was recently reported that Russia’s diesel exports have reached a record high this month despite the EU sanctions in place. This is because these sanctions, although curtailing Russia’s energy exports, hardly put a halt to them, as China, India, the United Arab Emirates and many other countries still utilize Russian oil.
Recently, Bloomberg News published the top six companies who continue to purchase Russian oil despite the imposition of sanctions by the West. These include the Hong Kong based Noad Axis Ltd., which purchased 521,000 barrels of Russian oil till December; Dubai based Tejarinaft FZCO, which bought 244,000 barrels a day till December; QR trading, which purchased 199,000 barrels a day till December; Hong Kong based Concept Oil Services LTD., which purchased 152,000 barrels per day till December; Hong Kong based Belerix Energy LTD., which purchased 151,000 barrels per day till December; and Coral Energy DMCC, which purchased 121,000 barrels per day till December, although they stopped dealing with Russian oil from January 1.
According to the Times of Israel, Tahir Karaev and Azim Novruzov are standing behind Coral: “What’s really funny, if you can call it funny, is that Mathieu Philippe appears as UBO for some of the vessels they operate after he was kicked out of UML because he was Coral’s man.”
All of this makes a mockery of human rights and the desire for the Ukrainian people to obtain justice, after Russia essentially destroyed their lovely country. The time has come for the world to sanction Putin harder. The time has come to force China, India and other countries to stop trading in Russian oil. The time has come for Putin to face the wrath of the international community due to the crimes against humanity he has committed. The time has come for Putin to become truly persona non-grata in Europe.
If Paris sneezes, will Europe catch cold?
The Austrian Chancellor Metternich once said “Quand Paris s’enrhume, l’Europe prend froid” (“When Paris sneezes, Europe catches cold”). With the French President Emmanuel Macron all set to visit Beijing in early April, can France lead the rapprochement between the European Union and China?
“Une voix européenne”
Set to be accompanied by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the French President plans to “carry a European voice” on his state visit to China, the details of which were revealed by L’Élysée on Friday. On top of his list is the agenda to end the Ukraine War. Macron has called China’s engagement in resolving the Russia-Ukraine conflict that came in the form of a 12 point plan a “good thing“. Beijing’s position paper urges all parties to support Russia and Ukraine in negotiating a way out of the conflict while upholding the UN Charter and values such as respect for territorial sovereignty, abandoning Cold War mentality, non-interference in internal affairs among others.
The French President has further urged China not to militarily aid Moscow, an accusation made by the Western powers that Beijing has consistently denied. He plans to push China to use its influence over Russia so as to prevent the latter from using chemical or nuclear weapons. Macron noted that the War would only come to an end if “Russian aggression was halted, troops withdrawn, and the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine and its people was respected”. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has also expressed a similar willingness and is ready to visit China in April. Luxembourg too resonates the opinion of engaging closely with Beijing.
Both Chinese and Western media reports note that this “competition to book flights to China” among EU leaders stems from their realisation that they “cannot lose China” owing to the latter’s increasing international significance. While many have voiced support for engaging with Beijing, not all are on the same boat.
A House Divided
The European Council meeting earlier this week, which remained focussed on Germany’s tussle with EU leaders on its decision to end the use of traditional combustion engine cars, did discuss China albeit in an inconclusive manner. While France, Germany, Spain and Luxembourg have signalled their intentions to engage with Beijing; Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland have expressed concerns over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent high profile visit to Moscow which is being seen as “cementing of a dangerous alliance”. The concern is not just suspected military aid to Moscow but also the growing threat of a war between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan where Europe finds itself caught in the middle. Apprehensions too remain over increasing economic reliance on China.
While there has been no consensus on how the EU as a bloc must shape its China policy, Macron has clarified– although France values EU’s coordination, it follows an “independent foreign policy” thus highlighting that he would push to negotiate with China, with or without his regional allies.
Paris et Pékin
Beijing is not only France’s 7th largest customer and 2nd largest supplier (with a 9% market share in France) but also presents an opportunity for the French President who idealises Former leader General Charles de Gaulle to challenge what the French call hyperpuissance or unchallenged “hyperpower” of the United States. For Macron, relating himself to General de Gaulle is equivalent to “claiming to own a piece of the true cross”. Afterall, it was the General who defied Western allies to establish ambassadorial relations with Beijing in 1964, a period of simmering Cold War tensions that brought Paris seething criticism. Though Macron has no serious qualms with Washington, he does seek a voice that crafts his role as a major leader on the international stage.
On the domestic front, Monsieur le Président finds himself in trouble. The highly unpopular Pension Reform Bill that raises retirement age from 62 to 64 was passed without a Parliamentary vote, resulting in nationwide protests. Opponents suggest other measures such as increasing taxes for the rich and the corporates, a move refuted by Macron for the possibile harm it might bring to the financial system. Amidst a scenario where things have gotten as serious as nationwide halts in services and a no-confidence motion against the President, enhanced ties that bring more investments from China can help, an opportunity Macron will try hard to clinch. But the political environment certainly makes things difficult.
Worsening ties and a Confident China
The “Balloongate” controversy was yet to cool off when a new crisis in Sino-US relations erupted in the form of calls to ban the TikTok app over alleged illegal data collection which many in the US Congress suspect land in the Chinese Communist Party’s records. Parallely can be seen a change in Chinese attitudes towards Washington.
Amidst the recent session of the National People’s Congress, President Xi criticised “Washington-led attempts” to “contain, encircle and suppress” China which pose “serious challenges to Beijing’s development” (“以美国为首的西方国家对我实施了全方位的遏制、围堵、打压，给我国发展带来前所未有的严峻挑战。”), a rare moment when the Chinese leadership has clearly named the United States in its criticism.
A policy shift too seems to be on the cards. Xi’s new 24 Character Foreign Policy, which Dr. Hemant Adlakha believes, marks “China’s new foreign policy mantra in the ‘New Era’ ” acting as its “ideological map to attain national rejuvenation by 2049”, has replaced Deng Xiaoping’s 24 Character Strategy focussed on never seeking leadership and assuming a low profile. The characters “沉着冷静；保持定力；稳中求进；积极作为；团结一致；敢于斗争 ” which translate as “Be calm; Keep determined; Seek progress and stability; Be proactive and go for achievements; Unite under the Communist Party; Dare to fight” clearly demonstrate a more pronounced international role that China envisages for itself.
China’s confidence is further elevated by its success in brokering peace between staunch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. With the handshake that brought the Sunni Arab Kingdom and the Shiite Persian theocracy together, Beijing has not only garnered accolades from nations across the region but has also succeeded in pulling American allies such as Riyadh to its side to some extent. Xi’s Moscow visit shows how he is determined to craft Beijing as an alternative negotiator to Washington, no matter how much criticism comes his way.
How much can France influence the EU?
As the political climate between US and China heatens, those trying to balance between the two would find the alley narrowing. But considering the stakes, Macron will try. The question however arises, how much of an influence could France exert on the EU?
Being the only Permanent seat holder of the United Nations Security Council post-Brexit, France certainly has a heavy weightage when it comes to policy making in the European Union. Macron too is a leader with a vision. His “grand plan” includes uniting the regional body as a strong political, economic and social bloc by shedding off the influence of the United States. However, there have being many tussles and Paris has found itself at loggerheads with many in the bloc including Turkey and Germany.
Macron has also raised eyebrows over his stance on Russia. After attempts to charm Putin failed, the French President assumed an ambiguous position which included criticising the war but not commiting to defend Ukraine. As expected, it did not fare well with the allies in Europe.
The air has finally cleared and a “defeat Russia but don’t crush it” stance has appeared. Monsieur le Président certainly wants to chart a pragmatic path that inflicts minimum harm and that’s what would be a priority when he lands in Beijing to talk about the war. Would he receive the support of EU allies? Seems difficult, given his past misjudgements and the regional organisation’s recent tussles with Beijing ranging from trade negotiations to the issue of human rights violation.
How successful Macron gets in making EU negotiate with China also depends on how successful Beijing gets in getting Moscow on board, which after all is more difficult than dealing with Tehran and Riyadh. While Russia seems agreeable to China’s plan of ending the war, Putin has bigger ambitions and far lower stakes in launching an all-out war with Washington and allies than Beijing does. The deepening “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for new era” between China and Russia remains unclear and so is how much dependence on Beijing would dictate any change in Putin’s plans. Even if China’s actions embolden Russia as claimed, Beijing knows it is in its favour to tone down Moscow’s belligerence considering the economic costs and military harm that Washington is capable of lashing. Macron too is unsure about how tightly he would like to embrace China. For now, better ties is what he eyes. The question arises – If Paris sneezes in favour of resetting ties with Beijing, would the rest of Europe catch the cold? Only time will tell.
Powerful Protest in Geneva Indicates India’s Human Rights Abuses
On March 3, 2022, a unique protest was held in front of the UN Headquarters in Geneva. This peaceful protest was made by placing standees, 4D view tents, posters and banners bearing details of Indian human rights abuses. The protest depicted pictorial messages regarding the treatment of women in India, child marriages, Indian Christian persecution, religious extremism, state of minorities, state-sponsored terror attacks on minorities, treatment of Dalits, and burning of Christian churches and religious preachers.
The protest was organized by several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists. The aim of this protest was to highlight the human rights abuses that are taking place in India and to draw attention to the plight of the victims of these abuses.
One of the most significant issues highlighted in this protest was the treatment of women in India. India has a poor record when it comes to women’s rights, with high rates of sexual violence, domestic violence, and child marriages. According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 88 rape cases reported every day in India in 2019. The protest aimed to draw attention to this issue and to put pressure on the Indian government to take action to protect women’s rights.
Another issue highlighted in the protest was Indian Christian persecution and religious extremism. India is a secular country with a diverse population, but there have been numerous incidents of violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims. The protest aimed to draw attention to the growing intolerance and extremism in India and to call on the Indian government to take action to protect religious minorities.
The protest also highlighted the treatment of Dalits, who are considered to be the lowest caste in India’s caste system. Dalits face discrimination and violence on a daily basis, and their rights are often ignored by the Indian government. The protest aimed to draw attention to this issue and to call on the Indian government to take action to protect the rights of Dalits.
Another issue highlighted in the protest was the burning of Christian churches and religious preachers. There have been numerous incidents of violence against Christians in India, including the burning of churches and attacks on religious preachers. The protest aimed to draw attention to these incidents and to call on the Indian government to take action to protect the rights of religious minorities.
The protest in front of the UN Headquarters in Geneva was a significant event, as it drew attention to the human rights abuses taking place in India. The Indian government has been facing criticism from human rights organizations for its poor record on human rights, and this protest added to the pressure on the government to take action to protect the rights of all its citizens.
Reports suggest that there has been an increase in incidents of Christian persecution and religious extremism in India in recent years. There has been an increase in attacks on Christians and their places of worship in India. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), there were 366 incidents of violence against Christians in 2019, including 40 incidents of violence against churches. Christians in India are often accused of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity. However, Christian leaders deny the allegations and claim that they are baseless.
Moreover, human rights organizations and activists have accused the Indian government of being involved in state-sponsored terror attacks on minorities, including Christians. The government has denied the allegations. Some Indian states have enacted anti-conversion laws, which make it illegal to convert someone to a different religion through force, fraud or inducement. Critics say the laws are often used to target Christians and other religious minorities. Religious minorities in India, including Christians, face discrimination in various aspects of life, including education and employment. Some reports suggest that Christians are often denied access to government benefits and services.
Overall, the issue of Christian persecution and religious extremism in India is a complex and sensitive one, with various factors contributing to the problem. It is important for the Indian government and society to address the issue and work towards creating a more tolerant and inclusive societyTop of Form
Bottom of Form
Indian claims to have a rich culture and history, but its obsession with Pakistan has brought criticism in international diplomatic circles. It is time for the Indian government to take action to protect the rights of all its citizens, regardless of their caste, religion, or gender. The protest in front of the UN Headquarters in Geneva was a reminder that the world is watching, and the Indian government must take action to address the human rights abuses taking place in the country.
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