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The Battle of the Coronavirus Narratives

Emil Avdaliani

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The coronavirus pandemic is becoming a battle of narratives. Ultimately, the question of whether the virus’s spread was a product of human action or an accident might not matter very much. Whatever its origin, the pandemic has highlighted wide ideological differences between the democratic West and non-democratic China. On a broader level, the democratic West now stands more starkly in opposition to non-democratic Asia.

Opposing ideological visions are a hallmark of great power competition. The ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs from the seventh century, the Byzantines, and, later, the great European colonial powers often cast their foreign policy in ideological terms. The US has a long history of viewing conflicts with opposing powers through an ideological lens. By establishing that a position occupies the moral high ground—by being on “the right side of history”—a government can mobilize industries, focus the attention of political elites, and gather allies to support the cause. America’s powerful military and robust economy were of course critical to defeating the Soviets in the Cold War, but it was ideology that energized the US to push on toward its decisive victory.

Ideology is an inseparable part of any great power competition, and the US-China rivalry is no exception.

There are several components to the growing US-China rivalry. There is a military dimension: expansive Chinese military capabilities, both on land and at sea, are undermining the concept on which US power has depended since WWII. In parallel, China is taking on the US on the technological front, which has long been a pillar of US superiority. China’s recent successes in telecom and computing question the premise of American technological infallibility. The economic side is even more revealing, as China already outstrips the US in many areas and is set to outdo it in the remaining sectors in the coming decade or so.

The last element—a clear ideological separation—was lacking, but is now quickly evolving as a result of coronavirus. US-China competition is now laid bare in all four crucial dimensions: military, technological, economic, and ideological.

The ideological component, which is where the battle of narratives lies, would eventually have taken shape even without the pandemic. Signs of this trend were present before it erupted, with the US taking every opportunity to criticize China on human rights issues, treatment of minorities, and debt-incurring policies toward its Asian neighbors. The problem of China’s treatment of its Uighur minority is a good example of Washington attaching ideological momentum to its growing disagreements with Beijing.

The ideological divide will grow ever more pronounced, especially with the exacerbating factor of coronavirus in the picture. Ultimately, we should expect the ideological competition and mutual mistrust between the two powers to increase to Cold War levels.

Both Beijing and Washington will scramble to lock in support from their allies. The ideological dimension of the conflict will force many states to choose a coronavirus narrative, which will mean choosing a side. This will lead to a further division of Eurasia into blocs headed by Beijing, Washington, or weaker states—like Russia—that will themselves be in league with one of the two powers.

The ideological dimension will also mean the prospects for ironing out existing geopolitical differences will be extremely dim. Any improvement will require either Washington or Beijing to give up geopolitical assets—a highly unlikely scenario.

Much will depend on which side will be able to amass more allies. In this regard the US possesses, and will continue to possess, an overwhelming advantage. The world’s largest democracies, which are also the world’s most prosperous states, are militarily, economically, and, most essentially, ideologically connected to the US. China will struggle to balance the US’s array of allies, and will likely turn to Russia to play a greater role. Moreover, territorial disagreements with many of China’s immediate neighbors will continue to limit its ability to project a new ideological model.

Beijing might find it has to clarify the thinking behind its flagship “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). China promotes it as a new vision of state-to-state relations, but it is also intended to be a mechanism for changing state systems.

So far, despite China’s intense efforts to control the coronavirus narrative, the ideological component favors the US. Though many are quick to point to recent transatlantic ruptures, it should be remembered that the divisions between the EU states and China are far greater. This was evident even before the outbreak of the pandemic. Differences with the US notwithstanding, Germany and France are not going to follow China’s lead, no matter how powerful its economy.

Author’s note: first published in BESA Center

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

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East Asia

Sino-India clash: A crisscross of geo-politics and geo-economics

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Two economic powers of Asia are in a head to head collision over a border clash in the Ladakh sector. It is not the first time when these nuclear powers are in front of each other over the border dispute. In 1962 both of these nations engaged themselves in war over border of Aksai chin. Then in 1967 tensions raised because of Nathu La and Cho La military clashes at the Himalayan border. A similar event took place in the shape of a military standoff in 2017 at Doklam. Such events not only put the regional stability at stake but are also tremendously important for international peace and security. The question here is why the states that have mutual trade of US $100 billion are at daggers drawn? Does India have the capacity of facing a super power like China? The answer is “No”, China’s GDP is more than five times that of India, and it spends four times as much on defense, militarily China is much stronger than India. In such an obnoxious environment when the world is facing a huge crisis in the shape of Covid-19, such disputes depict a much deeper power struggle-where the actors behind the scenes are more than two. Such events in International relations show a crisscross of geo-politics and geo-economics.

Abrogation of article 370 and 35A was not a normal phenomenon in world politics. It could not have been made possible without the support of super power like US. The massive rise of China in South Asia and its efforts to become a world power through its strategies like OBOR and CPEC is clearly not acceptable for US. US at any cost want to maintain its hegemony and as usual it has to use a foreign actor to pursue its interests-Hilary Clinton once said that; power of US lie not within but outside its territory. The strong ties and staunch mutual co-operation between US and India show that Indians In their actions are backed by US. Economies of US and Europe depend on the decline of China. Chinese on the other hand are getting more stronger due to their overwhelming economic co-operation with the developing countries. The only way left for US to counter China is to inflict a crisis situation in the Asian region which could have a direct effect on Chinese economy.

The recent episode of Ladakh clash seems an attempt to jeopardize the deterrence stability of South Asia. US along with its western allies are trying to stop the rise of China in the region. According to an IMF report, estimated growth rate of China for 2021 is 9.9% as compared to it US is estimated to have a growth rate of 4.9%. It clearly shows a sharp decline of US. They are now trying to mess things up using India. They also have a strong hold at South China Sea, which they would use to stumble Chinese trade. Indians are fully aware of the potential which Chinese posses in case of an armed conflict. They are also acquainted with the massive economic co-operation with the Chinese. But they are also anxious about China’s threat to its territorial integrity and its hegemonic design. They also have resentments with progress of Pakistan through projects like CPEC. This show down has its strings in the hands of US which intends to empower emerging India and weaken rising China. US with this strategy is killing two birds with one stone, on one hand they are trying to stimulate an economic imbalance for China and at the same time they are trying to divert Indian market towards US, like they did in case of S-400 deal between India and Russia.

Chinese follow the policy of minimum violence but they have all the might to give a sturdy response in case of any aggression against them. They have surpassed US on many grounds and they see themselves as super power of the world till 2030. India should realize the malicious intentions of US. Ex-President of America George Bush once said that; we are not complacent enough to counter “Indian and Chinese” economy. William Clay said; “This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests”. India should realize that a stable South Asia is in its favor. US have always used a state to pursue its interests and once they achieve their goal they never turn back for any support. Instability and failure of deterrence in the east has always proved to be beneficial for the west. Americans have always used the power of “$” to drive policies of South Asian states which in longer run proved damaging for Asians themselves. A peaceful solution of the Sino-Indian border tension with an immediate effect is necessary in the current circumstances; otherwise the results could be lethal.

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East Asia

The China Syndrome: The Rising And The Existing Power

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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China is a large country.  It has a large population, a productive population.  It has the largest Gross Domestic Product of any country in the world including the US on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.  It was $27.307 trillion.  A nominal GDP basis does not reflect the actual buying power of the currency.  China’s nominal GDP of $14,140 trillion is much less than the US, which is $21.44 trillion, both nominal and PPP as the dollar is the benchmark.  Since 1871, the US has been the world’s largest economy without question.  Now there is a question although the real question might be, so what?

Britain used to be the world’s foremost power.  No longer, yet Britain remains wealthy and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future, as will Europe and North America.  A couple of hundred years earlier to that the great powers were:  China, India, Persia and the Ottoman Empire.  The world changes. 

Among the problems President Trump has with China is its friendship with Iran.  Why that is a problem with Donald Trump is not some nefarious plan Iran has concocted to harm the US but the impression he has generated of he himself being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Benjamin Netanyahu and his LIkud party.

Thus Mr. Trump’s dead-on-arrival peace plan, to all appearances, had its birth on the drawing boards of the LIkud.  Iran happens to be Netanyahu’s nemesis and surprise surprise is also Trump’s.  A perfectly reasonable nuclear agreement bearing the imprimatur of the UN and the major European powers has been jettisoned by Trump in favor of saber rattling.  Europe is not cheeringly on board in this solo venture.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu feels free to start annexing the West Bank — at least the choice parts — and using it to shore up political support while he goes on trial for corruption.  He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be so besmirched in the country’s history.

The implacable Xi Jinping and the stubborn Donald Trump happen both to be making their respective countries great again.  Donald Trump claims he has succeeded using a metric known to him alone:  China’s effort is more prosaic.  Between 2014 and 2018 it put to sea more ships for its navy than the British, German, Spanish and Indian navies combined.  And it has embarked on a campaign for tighter control of its coastal waters.  The ship-building program betrays a clear intent to project power beyond coastal waters to the open seas in a challenge to the U.S., the present policeman maintaining open sea lanes.  China prefers complete independence. 

Then there is China’s bid to be a prominent player in the world of high-tech industry, a role that can influence future economic power.  Huawei and its 5G capability is one example.  But the Trump Commerce Department has issued new rules designed to choke off Huawei’s access to chips and semi-conductors that it needs to manufacture 5G cellphones and infrastructure.  These are made made mostly in Taiwan and South Korea, and the new export rules issued May 19, 2020 forbid chipmakers from using US machines and software to make and sell chips to Huawei.  It closes a loophole allowing such sales as long as the manufacture was outside US territory.  While Huawei plans alternatives, its customers in Europe and globally are likely to be affected by higher prices and delays.

The cold battle goes on.

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East Asia

From Patriotism to Humanity: China Leading the Fight of the COVID-19

Sabah Aslam

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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has not only impacted human and social life in terms of disease and infection but also created a controversy in the international media and social network to the point that some western media fell into the trap of racism and xenophobia showing an unusual and an inhuman reactions, instead of solidarity and unity exhibition.

Since China is the first country infected with this virus, so it has already started its fight, the government as a leader has put a clear and effective strategy with successful measures of treatment, protection and prevention. In order to maintain the situation the government dedicated all kind of resources and today’s statics shows an increasing of the confirmed infections and death cases and a considered decrease of healed people’s number.

As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization’ Chief TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus has defended his earlier praise of China’s response to the outbreak and mentioned that all the member of the WHO has praised China for what it did by taking action in the epicenter, helped to prevent cases of being exported to other provinces in china and the rest of the world. This formal statement just confirmed the truth to the world about China’s reliability and the sacrifices made to safeguard the world.

All Chinese government’s management and measures wouldn’t be successful without the great response of the society. As a matter of fact we need to acknowledge the high level of patriotism of the Chinese citizens. No matter their social status;the military, police, engineers, workers, doctors and nurses, business and company owners, celebrities, civilians and ordinary people, students and volunteers, young-middle-old generations, all this people responded to the call of duty applied and followed meticulously all the recommended measures by the government, indeed by their own free will, they sacrificed wealth, made many donations, provided help and assistance donated free masks , free supplies, goods, food and even provided free services, and differently some people made a priceless contribution such the doctors, fully dedicated, working on clock on the front line risking and even sacrificing their lives to save other people’s lives.

Meantime, in the other side of the globe the coronavirus kept spreading, the virus is traveling the world it has no boundaries and it’s affecting the economy, the social life and the public health, it becomes a public enemy, presenting a threat especially for the African communities, in fact many of them they do not have neither the financial means nor a good health security. But since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Africa CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) took many actions and followed the Chinese in term of union and solidarity.

Indeed Africa CDC collaborated with the World Health Organization to train in-coming analysts in event-based surveillance. Also The Africa CDC has been working with member states to build infection prevention and control capacities in healthcare facilities and with the airline sector to support screening of travelers.

These prevention measures may help control the COVID-19, but African leaders still need to pay attention and follow suit to avoid an outbreak and not reproduce the Italian or Iranian scenarios. Recently, World Health Organization chief TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus warned about the efficiency of the prevention measures and said mediocre preparations could have fatal consequences. He also said the real struggle lies in management of the situation in case of an outbreak.

Generally, Africa doesn’t have a high level of public health. Many diseases and viruses have appeared on the continent, such as HIV, Ebola and tuberculosis. In order to fight and eliminate this threat, a number of African governments have increased expenditures allocated to health and started cooperation for health development with the Chinese government.

China promised to continue to scale up assistance to African countries by creating a health care intuitive allowing the African countries to achieve independent and sustainable development. The plan also contain a long-term strategy of health development, exchange of scientists and new research and technical support for strengthening health-related capacities under the International Health Regulations. China aim to improve African medical and health service and hospital management to provide a better services to the African people by training medical staff, public health workers and administrative personnel. Besides China promised to upgrade its medical and health aid programs for Africa, particularly flagship projects such as the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cooperation’s plan shows the Chinese-African comity, the friendship and the mutual respect and we can clearly see that China is determined to the contribution in the development of the African nations. The actual epidemic situation of the COVID19 in Africa needs more attention and prevention, the collaboration precisely with china will be a wise action considering the Chinese experience of management, logistics, and organization to maintain the situation in case of outbreak and bringing out the best of the Sino-African alliance.

Despite that China is still fighting this epidemic in its own territory, the government express his readiness to help the other infected countries, recently the Chinese Foreign Ministry expresses sincere thanks for the support and assistance provided by many countries such South Korea and Japan, adding that China is ready to improve and strengthen the mechanism of responding to health and epidemic emergencies and promote the exchange of epidemiological information, exchange of experiences, prevention and control, to implement cooperation In the areas of diagnosis, treatment, research programs, and the development of medicines and vaccines.

China is acting heroically; in the middle of its own fight against the virus the PRC still showing gratitude and good will to help others countries. Till now Africa still has the chance to prevent and learn the Chinese experience, sadly some Africans countries still didn’t take serious prevention measures but China can provide the help and the assistance.

During the outbreak of the COVID-19 we all have seen the Chinese citizen showing patriotism and helping to maintain the situation, meanwhile the Chinese government have shown the same to the world, the lockdown was a strategy to stop the virus from spreading globally, if the Chinese government didn’t take the decision to lockdown cities and stop flights and traffics, experts confirmed that the COVID-19 could infect much more of global population, in fact it was a noble and human act, full of altruism and unselfish, all the matter was the human life.

Now China jumps to the next step which is helping the affected countries and proposing ways of preventions, sharing the genetic code for the virus with researchers around the world and providing medical trials information, treatment, and research programs for the development of medicines.

It’s time for solidarity and support and to have hope. This is a matter of life or death, and China can fight against the outbreak with the rest of the world to the safety…. to restore faith in humanity.

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