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COVID19 and conspiracy theories: A Chinese virus or a bio-weapon?

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United States’ president Donald Trump thinks that COVID19 is a `Chinese virus’. Conspiracy theories are making rounds that the virus was compounded in a Wuhan laboratory. Several American politicians, such as Senator Tom Cotton, suggested that the coronavirus is a bioweapon leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Trump is convinced that US economy is suffering for China’s lies about events in Wuhan, with connivance by the World Health Organization. He stalled WHO’s funding to teach it a lesson. With an eye on November re-election, Trump assured voters that his rival, Democratic nominee, Joe Biden is weak on China. And, his son Hunter was involved in cloudy dealings with Beijing.

Americans are receptive to Trump’s tirades. When he suggested taking disinfectants as cure for COVID19, many Americans did so. A Pew Research poll found that two-thirds of U.S. voters had an unfavorable view of China compared to 47 per cent two years back. Wuhan’s lockdown was viewed as “draconian” and “undemocratic” step taken by the “despotic Orient”.  The truth remains that a nation’s ability to contain the coronavirus depends on numerous factors: Climate, demographics, location, wealth, leadership, medical stockpiles, healthcare system, and so on.

WHO’s view: The WHO terms the conspiracy theories as “infodemic” that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous”. On Feb 19, 27 public health scientists from the United States, Europe, and Asia wrote in The Lancet medical journal: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin.”

They affirmed: “Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.” On Feb 20, the Wuhan Institute of Virology declared that such rumours had severely disrupted its anti-coronavirus emergency efforts. This was the very lab that sequenced the coronavirus on Jan 2 before submitting the virus’ genome to the WHO on Jan 11.

On February 28, the WHO-China Joint Mission on Covid-19 cautioned that much of the world is not ready to “implement the measures that have been employed to contain Covid-19 in China”, which are “the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimise transmission chains in humans. In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history.”

China’s view: China-bashing syndrome is a means to divert attention and scrapegoat someone else for their own failures. The coronavirus pandemic has led to some of the greatest outrages in the entire Trump administration. `Hospitals short on personal protective equipment and ventilators because the federal government has stolen stockpiles. People are going hungry while the government gives billions to corporations. `Elections are being threatened by the virus, and politicians are blocking vote-by-mail’ (Common Dreams Home Page).

 China extended assistance to over 120 countries and international organizations over the raging pandemic, many of which helped China in the thick of its epidemic fight. Aid packages were sent without political preconditions.

Chinese masks were labeled substandard. Actually, these masks were intended for non-medical use. Local purchasers in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium have clarified that `low quality’ masks were commercially purchased for non-medical use. And, they were not included on official Chinese aid.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself a microbiologist, said her country was “very pleased” about China’s help. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also expressed his gratitude to the Chinese people for their assistance.

Fall-out of Trump’s pugnacity:  Continued China criticism could increase volatility in bond, stock and currency markets across Asia. Trump may increase import taxes just when China is experiencing Coronavirus-driven 6.8% contraction in gross domestic product. Trump’s volatile actions may reduce GDP not only in China but also in, South Korea and Singapore and down through the economic food chain to Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. If Trump imposed 25% penalties on imports of cars and auto parts, it would badly affect Thailand. The fallout for supply chains would hit growth from the Philippines to India.

After Huawei, Trump could ban more mainland Chinese companies including those in artificial intelligence, energy, micro processing, robotics and self-driving vehicle spaces.

China’s armoury: China could devalue its currency. It could disavow the phase one trade deal which guaranteed billions in purchases from farmers in states Trump must win come November election. Beijing could threaten to dump its $1.1 trillion of U.S. government bonds, greatly increasing Washington’s debt-servicing costs. It could prohibit sales of U.S. cars and trucks. It could impose an Airbus-only policy in Asia’s biggest economy, banning the U.S.’s Boeing from its aerospace market. Besides, it could halt exports of the rare-earth materials Silicon Valley needs to make batteries, memory chips and smartphones. China could tell Apple, CNN, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Starbucks, Tesla and others to leave China within ten days.  

Smear campaign: The US Senate Republican campaign arm distributed a memo to Grand Old Party (Republicans) candidates, advising them to address the coronavirus crisis by aggressively attacking China. The 57-page memo, dated April 17, was authored by the political consulting firm of Brett O’Donnell, a veteran Republican strategist who has advised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton.

The memo provides detailed instructions, including short and expanded versions, for candidates to memorize and use in public. It contains three main assaults: That China caused the virus “by covering it up”, that Democrats are “soft on China” and that Republicans will “push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic”, Politico summarized.

Compensation claims: Some organizations and have filed “compensation claims” against China for not doing enough to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, and allowing it to become a pandemic.

Their claims are of three types.

First, the lawsuits have been filed against the Chinese government in foreign courts. For example, a Florida-based law firm, on behalf of Florida residents, has filed a case in a southern Florida court against the Chinese government, accusing it of failing to curb the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, and letting it become a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people and caused huge economic damage. Another US state, Missouri, sued the Chinese government over its handling of the virus, seeking damages for what it described as deliberate deception and insufficient action to check the outbreak.

In an interview with Fox Television, a Republican congressmen from Indiana said China should pay the cost for the damage the pandemic has caused to the United States, and listed ways in which China can be made to pay the damages, including forcing it to write off most of the US’ debts. Also, an Australian parliament member proposed taking back land owned by Chinese companies in Australia as compensation for China “transmitting” the virus.

And third, a few organizations and individuals have appealed to international agencies to hold China “accountable” for the pandemic and force it to pay “compensation”. For example, some NGOs in India have filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council, demanding that China be made to pay “compensation” to the international community for the losses the pandemic has caused.

Besides, an American lawyer has filed a “case” in the International Criminal Court accusing China of “intentionally developing” the novel coronavirus as a “deadly biological weapon”, claiming the failure of the Chinese government and military “to prevent the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s personnel from becoming infected with the bioweapon and then carrying the virus out into the surrounding community and proliferation into the United States”. Since this is tantamount to a “crime against humanity”, the lawyer claims, the ICC should probe the issue.

China’s view of claims: China regards them as `ludicrous’. It contends China as a `nation has complete sovereign immunity’. According to the “no jurisdiction” principle between sovereign states derived from the principle of “sovereign equality”, the court of one state does not exercise jurisdiction over another state, which is called “sovereign immunity”.

China claims to adhere to absolute sovereign immunity which rejects any jurisdiction from foreign courts. Even according to the US’ relative sovereign immunity, which allows for a commercial activity exception to sovereign immunity, China’s outbreak prevention and control work is governmental behavior rather than a commercial activity, and therefore also enjoys sovereign immunity.

The ICC is an international organization established under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to investigate and try four categories of international crimes-genocide, crime against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

According to the Rome Statute, the ICC’s investigation procedure can be initiated in three ways: by the prosecutors themselves, by the United Nations Security Council, and by a signatory state other methods, including the submission of materials by individuals or organizations, do not directly trigger an investigation. There can be an exception, though, but only if an ICC prosecutor believes the materials submitted are solid enough to initiate an investigation. The absurdity of the US lawyer’s claim suggests this possibility is very slim.

China contends `UN Human Rights Council is not an “international court” but an intergovernmental body affiliated to the UN and made up of 47 member states elected by the UN General Assembly, assigned to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe, and make recommendations to address human rights violations. The UNHRC mainly deals with inter-state interactions, and although, according to a 2007 resolution, individuals, groups and NGOs can appeal in case of consistent and serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the plea must meet certain strict conditions to initiate an investigation, which the Indian NGOs’ complaint doesn’t.

As for writing off US debts and seizing the land legally owned by Chinese companies in Australia, they would be illegal acts, not least because the claim illogically and forcibly attempts to link the novel coronavirus with a completely unrelated issue in an attempt to violate the contractual and property rights of the Chinese government and companies.

Also, there are three conditions for a state to be held legally liable for an act: the act should be attributable to the state, the state should be at fault, and the state should have violated its international obligations.

There is no proof virus originated in Wuhan. Origin of the novel coronavirus is yet to be scientifically verified, and the fact that the epidemic was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei province, alone does not necessarily mean it originated in China.

Besides, in international law, the actions attributable to a state only include the actions of state organs and those of institutions or individuals authorized to exercise government power. The actions of other persons or entities cannot be attributed to the state. The unintentional transmission of a disease by an infected person to others is not an act committed on behalf of his or her country, so his/her behavior cannot be attributed to a government.

Since SARS-CoV-2 is a new coronavirus, how can people know everything about it when it’s still mutating? And by taking rapid and strict measures, China has largely contained the pandemic at home. By contrast, the US and some European governments did not take effective measures for almost two months to prevent the spread of the virus in their respective countries. And they can’t blame China for their own failure. Therefore, their lawsuits are good neither in law nor facts.

Inference: The world should join hands to develop vaccines, plasmas, and drugs to beat the virus. It is time to cooperate not dissipate energies on blame game.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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Russia points to evidence exposing Kiev’s intentions to use biological weapons

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Documents uncovered in the special military operation in Ukraine corroborate the evidence exposing the Kiev regime’s intentions to use biological weapons, Head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Research Center for Chemical and Biological Threats Dmitry Poklonsky said in the run-up to the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. “In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” he said – informs TASS.

“We have obtained reports of investigations into a collection of microorganisms that indicate the accumulation of pathogens in unsubstantiated amounts. There are documents confirming the intentions to acquire unmanned delivery vehicles that could be used for employing biological weapons. Considering the non-transparent nature of this work and the absence of any substantiated responses from the United States and Ukraine, we, of course, regard the documents obtained as proof that Article 1.4 of the Convention was violated,” the defense official said.

The documents obtained in the special military operation in Ukraine, including reports by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense, corroborate that the nature of work carried out there frequently ran counter to pressing healthcare problems, he stressed.

“In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” Poklonsky pointed out.

Neither Washington nor Kiev deny the fact of the existence of biological labs in Ukraine bankrolled by the Pentagon, he pointed out.

“It was confirmed by the 2005 agreement between the US Department of Defense and the Ukrainian Health Ministry. Far more questions arise from the nature of the studies being carried out in these biological laboratories and how this work complies with the Convention’s requirements,” the chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Chemical and Biological Threats said.

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Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)- The Pandora’s Box of Security Issues

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The world, functioning in its numerous forms and dimensions, is primarily perceived and misperceived by individuals through the faculty of the human Mind. A factor that creates a significant difference vis-a-vis human beings and other species is the complex cognitive ability possessed by humans. The mind is fundamentally an expression of thoughts circulated and imbibed through various means of communication. Deconstructing it further, thoughts portray the information consumed by an individual. In other words, this complex combination of the human mind, thoughts, and information shapes and reshapes our psychology.

Psychological war, in this context, can be perceived as a strategically orchestrated arrangement of information derived from variables like history, polity, religion, culture, literature, and philosophy broadly to channel propaganda with the prime objective of influencing and manipulating the behavior of the enemy to further one own interest. The term Psychological war is believed to be coined by a British Historian and military analyst, J.F.C Fuller, in 1920. One can observe that psychological war as an instrument of strategic importance is not of recent origin. Instead, the evolution of this tactic can be traced long back in history since the emergence of the State. It is considered one of the fundamental tools of statecraft and quite often has been put into the application as an instrument of state policy. Drawing a logical parallel, it can be advocated that psychological war has a close resemblance with the ancient notion of the allegory of the cave when applied in the present context.

Relevance of Psychological War

Napoleon Bonaparte once said “There are two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the mind.”  With the gradual progress of human intelligentsia, the world is and will be shaped and reshaped through the use of technology. The hyperconnected nature of a modern globalized world broadly portrays the image of a collective human consciousness deeply engrossed in the overwhelming nature of technology that reverberates with every emerging aspect of human life. When viewed from the prism of the State as a governing body in the international forum, technology will be the emerging axis of geopolitics since no state and its citizen can exist in silos devoid of the influence of other states. This is primarily due to the free flow of data. In this context, due to the free flow of data, the power of propaganda as a significant dimension of psychological war would prove to be an effective instrument used by the State to further its national interest.

In this contextual framework, the role of conscious manufacturing of narratives under the larger ambit of the idea of psychological war must be given due consideration. In his famous book,The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs  How Nations and Intelligence Agency Construct Narratives, Vikram Sood unfolds the idea of how narratives are created, propagated, sustained, and refined in domestic countries and abroad to further the national interest. He emphasizes not only the power of information but also the power of disinformation to de-track and mislead the collective consciousness of the nation. Therefore, it is of critical significance for a nation to enhance its understanding of psychological war, considering it a major security issue.

The cost and the expense of war are also major concerns for the State. In this regard, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval establishes the viewpoint that wars are gradually becoming ineffective in achieving political and military objectives and that they are also highly expensive and are gradually becoming unaffordable. He further puts forward the idea of the 4th generation warfare where the operational target of the objective would be civil society. A fair understanding of the 4th generation warfare is of critical importance due to the fact that the modus operandi to target civil society would primarily be through the perpetual use of psychological war. The cost of psychological war, when compared with other forms of war, is abysmally low and also highly effective in manipulating the behaviour of the State. The cost-effectiveness helps it be more sustainable, which can be continued for an extended period of time.

Materialisation of Psychological War

China

Psychological war is applied by many States as an instrument of state policy. China, in this regard, can be considered a prominent player that has materialized this idea. In the strategic book on statecraft, The Art Of War, Sun Tzu states that “All warfare is based on deception.” China has consciously tried to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of psychological war. The Dhoklam issue in 2017 substantiates how the Chinese government used psychological war as an instrument of state policy to further its national interest.

Pakistan

The hostile approach of Pakistan towards India is not of recent origin. Instead, it is a phenomenon that can be traced back in history during the early germination of the idea of Pakistan when the Muslin League was formed in 1906. After the materialization of this idea by a painful partition of India in 1947, Kashmir became the bone of contention right after Pakistan’s inception as a nation-state. Pakistan, over the years, has become cognizant of the conventional asymmetry between the two nations. Therefore, it has operationalized the path of psychological war in the Kashmir region with a more pinpointed approach of using Twitter as an operational instrument to create misperceptions at a low cost to achieve its objectives.

Psychological War and the Indian Perspective

Taking a momentary glance at the historical evolution of India as a civilizational State, it can be rightly stated that understanding the nature of the mind has been a perpetual theme in the philosophical construct of India. The use of psychological war is not a new phenomenon. The references to it can be prominently found in Indian mythology. In this regard, the epic story of The Mahabharatha is a prominent example.

In one of the instances, Krishna applied this idea of psychological war by disclosing a fact to Karna, which hitherto was kept secret and hidden from him. Krishna, just before the war, unfolded the fact to Karna that he is the eldest son of Kunti, his father is the Sun God, and the Pandavas his brothers. This very fact and the timing of the disclosure of this fact put Karna in a deep psychological trauma that depletes his mental strength. It was at this moment that Krishna offered Karna to join the battle from the side of Pandavas. A similar instance of psychological war used by India was found during The Bangladesh liberation war.

In the context of psychological war, Arthashstra is also a relevant text. It mentions the art of Kutayuddha. In Sanskrit, the word Kuta implies the application of deception, the creation of misperception, and misleading the enemy state; Yudh means war. Kautilya is a staunch advocate of establishing a network of espionage to initiate intelligence and counterintelligence measures as a major security initiative for a state. Therefore, it can be rightly perceived that India has a history of psychological war, which it has implemented to maintain security and stability.

Conclusion

Taking an analogical perspective, if the mechanism of psychological war is like a gun, then information is the potential bullets that are fired from it to target the enemy. The flow of Information can be considered the most important factor that makes psychological war lethal, precise, and effective. Therefore, there exists an urgent need for the establishment of an ‘Information Operations Command’ to tackle the issue of psychological war that is rapidly maturing and enhancing in its nature and methodology, fusing with the 5th generation warfare. 

Another area of critical importance in this regard is the pressing need for a ‘National Security Doctrine.’ A national security doctrine is primarily a broad vision of a nation in the domain of its security from an inclusive perspective. Strong inter-agency coordination and refined analysis of security issues are needed.

Psychological war, as a rapidly evolving tool of statecraft in the security domain, acts as a linchpin vis-a-vis the 4th and 5th generation warfare where civil society and citizens are targeted with a perfect blend of technology and information. This makes it a war that doesn’t have a start or an end date. It is fought every minute, and progress can be achieved, even though at a minuscule level, but on a daily basis. Therefore, India as a major player in international politics with two hostile neighbors on its eastern and western border, must hold into perspective the scope, significance, and emerging dynamics of psychological war to keep herself abreast with other states at the international level on the security front.

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Growing India Israel Relations: A Threat to Sovereignty of Gulf States

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India has developed remarkable ties with the Gulf nations, particularly the GCC, over the past few decades. The significant trade between GCC nations and India and Israel are the main cause.  This gradualist approach and efforts on part of India is to include Israel in a broader Middle East policy. Under the Namenda Modi administration, since 2017 Israel is “special and normal” because India has avoided the negative repercussions and no longer have fears opened relations with the Jewish state.  

However, the point of concern is that India and Israel’s growing ties must not result in a coalition against Muslims. Modi and Netanyahu have many good reasons to rejoice over their thawing ties. But the gulf countries must discredit them if they use that proximity to advance a common narrative of extreme nationalism, exclusion, and labeling Muslims as the enemy.

Since October 25th, 2022, news reports have been making the rounds in the media revealing India’s involvement in global terrorism. Eight former Indian Navy officers have recently been detained in Qatar on suspicion of espionage and terrorism supported by the Indian government. These spy-officers were arrested in August 2022 for their involvement in international terrorism, espionage, and spying while working in Qatar for a private company and providing training and other services to the Qatari Emiri Navy.

Purnendu Tiwari, a retired (Naval commander) who received the Pravasi Samman 2019 (Highest Indian Award Abroad), was the brains behind the transfer of data from a major Gulf Muslim nation to Israel and India. It has been reported in the media that these Indian officers had access to sensitive information while working with Qatar’s enemies and the Defense, Security, and other government agencies. This is not the first time; India has been involved in espionage operations that violate foreign governments’ sovereignty, though it continues to deny it. International terrorism perpetrated by India has also frequently targeted Pakistan in the past. One such instance is the Kalbushan Yadav case.

The relationship between India and Israel is frequently described as a result of a natural convergence of ideologies between their respective ruling BJP and Liked parties. The BJP’s Hindutva and right-wing Zionism are two ethno-nationalist political movements that naturally discriminate against other races and religions because they are based on the majority populations they serve. In comparison to earlier, more liberal iterations of Hindutva and Zionism, both parties have become more racist. Therefore, by all means, India’s continued close strategic, economic, and security ties with Israel are more ideological than pragmatic.

India should make an effort to protect itself ideologically from the threat of Hindutva becoming the state’s guiding principle and a vehicle for incitement both domestically and abroad. Its exclusivist and discriminatory belief that India is only the property of Hindus is dangerous, especially at a time when Muslim minorities are increasingly being lynched in the name of cow vigilantism.

Today, the Gulf is an integral part of India’s ‘extended neighborhood’, both by way of geographical proximity and as an area of expanded interests and growing Indian influence. However, as a result of escalating anti-Muslim sentiment and the Hindutva movement’s flawed ideology, the BJP, government is arguably facing its most difficult diplomatic challenge in its nine years in office. A few years ago in 2020, Muslim nations were outraged by Nupur Sharma’s (a BJP official) insulting comments made during a TV debate about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Islamic-majority nations voiced their opposition through tweets, official statements, and by summoning Indian diplomats. The BJP was compelled to take action against the party officials for posting a screenshot of offensive tweet.

Subsequently, Princess Hend al-Qassimi of the UAE then made a rare public statement in response to the rising Islamophobia among Indians, saying in a tweet, “I miss the peaceful India.” She did this after she specifically called out a tweet from an Indian resident of the UAE as being “openly racist and discriminatory,” reminding her followers that the penalty for hate speech could be a fine or even expulsion. These statements come after the Islamic world, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, urged India to act quickly to defend the rights of its Muslim minority and expressed concern about how the BJP treats Indian Muslims.

This suggests that the relationships New Delhi has worked so hard to build over the past few years drawing on the efforts of the previous administration is now seriously in jeopardy. India’s diplomatic achievement is starting to fall apart due to domestic developments that target its 200 million Muslims. The flagrant mistreatment of India’s Muslim communities now jeopardizes New Delhi’s carefully crafted Middle Eastern diplomacy, particularly with regard to the Gulf States.

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