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East Asia

Predicting the course of US-China relations in the post Covid-19 era

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Authors: Ayush Banerjee and Dhritiman Banerjee*

The coronavirus pandemic is a natural threat to the geopolitical order. And it is needless to state that this majorly affects the currently international paradigm in a manner that the world has not seen before. Although there have been a few instances where pandemics have shaken the mortality rates, no pandemic has spread this amount of sheer panic among the public at large. This is largely due to the growing interconnectedness and the advent of the cyberspace. Just as the internet has influenced the lives of the most privileged public, data has been influential in academics and politics alike. However, this argument has its own set of problems that continue to affect public-politic relations in ways more than one.

In the same regard, one of the most strained and keenly debated relations in international politics is that between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China. In the context of the virus itself, the virus originated in Wuhan, a province in China while the most number of fatalities have resulted in the United States of America. This idea fuelled with the new world media at the public level created an atmosphere of tension on such platforms. On Twitter notably, there were several instances of a tweet naming Covid-19 as ‘Chinese Virus’ spread like wildfire. This sparked a major controversy even at the diplomatic level. Even Donald Trump momentarily subscribed to the idea and deliberately worded his speech to use the phrase ‘Chinese/China virus’ to refer to Covid-19 at least 20 times between March 16th and March 30th 2020. The US Secretary of State- Mike Pompeo went on to accuse China of its lack of transparency, even scrapping a joint G7 statement after its members refused to refer to the virus as the ‘Wuhan virus.’ China has remained apologetic ever since. Hence, it can be rightly inferred that the relationship shared between China and USA have strained ever since the Covid-19 outbreak.

However to predict how the outbreak might jeopardise the current paradigm of world politics we must look no further than the Phase One Trade deal signed between the two countries. This deal previously ended an 18-month long trade war between USA and China. Through this deal, China committed to purchasing $200 billion additional foreign goods and services in the sectors of agriculture, energy and manufacturing. However, it is evident that in the post-Covid19 era, it will be rather implausible for China to adhere to the terms of the deal due to reasons more than one. The IMF estimated the reality of an unprecedented economic slowdown in which China is expected to grow at only 1.2% this year. Several reports suggest that investors are planning to pull out their investments from Chinese industries to fit in with the Western bandwagon.

The outbreak turned pandemic coupled with the authoritarian nature of China’s response to the entire situation has had a detrimental effect on their domestic economy creating various tremors in the anticipation of demand for various products and services. For instance, the 12 most Covid-19 affected countries account for over 40% of the Chinese exports. Nations like India and Italy that also make that list of twelve may voluntarily pull out of importing to China as they are set to gain from deferring of investments. These nations are also top suppliers of intermediate goods for the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy is quite dependent on external demand stimuli from the US and most western European states such as the United Kingdom. Therefore, until the point in time the US and EU economies completely recover from this pandemic, Chinese policymakers are bound to hold back domestic stimulus efforts as it will only have little effect if the global economy is in shambles.

The Chinese economy has crippled down considerably due to the ongoing trade war that has led to a disproportionate ratio of debt to the annual Gross Domestic Product. This ratio reached an overwhelming 248.8% by the end of March 2019 and it has only increased ever since. China has also been forced to restructure the debts of the Belt and Road initiative (erstwhile OBOR). This restructuring meant that the capital owed to China as loans by the contributing states have been readjusted to affect the projected collection considerably. As Covid-19 nearly decimates the economy of most developing nations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for these states to pay their loan back to China within the stipulated timeframes. Thus adding to the stress on the Chinese economy at large.

There has already begun a region-specific boycott of Chinese goods and industries, especially in conservative parts of USA, among the southern districts. Instances of racial abuse against ethnic Chinese communities have been on an unfortunate rise. These are all deterministic factors of public consciousness, if not, public opinion for the future that lies ahead of us. This reaction has already seen international spillovers and investors have become more anxious about investing in Chinese companies.

According to Deepanshu Mohan, the world may experience radical shifts in the global political economy post-Covid19 based on two factors namely, the relative degree of economic recovery in the affected nations and the existing domestic political scenarios in such nations. He further states that in the post-Covid19 era, protectionist trade policies are likely to increase in the developed nations who in the name of ‘supply security’ may disentangle trade relations with China which will inversely affect the current geopolitical world order. Donald Trump could also make the pandemic a focal point in the 2020 election campaign and therefore aim to capitalise on the anti-China fervour in the US and thus strain relations even further. There lies evidence for this as well. Trump recently presented his anguish towards China being categorised as a ‘developing’ state under the World Trade Organisation list and due to the low contributions of China to the World Health Organisation. Although this may seemingly appear appropriate accusations, this is far from the whole truth. The USA, themselves have cut major proportions of its funding capacity towards the United Nations especially concerning peacekeeping and security operations.

Minxin Pei, on the other hand, stated that the Covid-19 outbreak has led the average American to view the Chinese political system with chronic scepticism as Americans blamed the repressive Chinese political system for the pandemic with the Harris poll indicating widespread American dissatisfaction with the alleged Chinese cover-up of the virus. This poll also showed overwhelming support for US punitive measures on China and the removal of US investments and businesses from China. These developments could lock the two countries into a cycle of escalation that could trigger another potential international diplomatic conflict leading to numerous security issues and economic degradation. USA and China remain the two largest economies in the world. Hence, it can be inferred that this fallout of diplomatic and economic ties between the two states might amount to significant damage in the entire global political order and the globalised system of economies and markets. In the US itself, the number of jobs created since the recession in 2008 has been washed away in two weeks.

The trade war between the two economic giants had already shaken the world before the outbreak. And the prevalent fault lines will only widen in the post-Covid19 era just as a global economic slowdown is expected. Thus, it is imperative for the world economy that this US-China relation remains amicable and stable. However, the available narratives indicate a significant detour from the ideal stability that USA and China should normatively maintain to protect the global economy from crumbling down like biscuits. The USA has resorted to legislations that are actively anti-China in terms of financial relations and international trade while China has strengthened its protectionist response system both politically and economically during this outbreak.

The Covid-19 outbreak has not acted as an impediment to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea region either. China has recently renamed 44 features in the disputed region, a decision that is considered illegal under international law. This has been time and again criticised by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. With increasing US-China missile competition a reality in the region post the abrogation of the INF treaty, the post-Covid19 era will likely see more prominent conflicts in the South and the East China Sea regions which is a strategically important waterway for both the countries alongside other nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Philippines and India.

*Dhritiman Banerjee is an undergraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He has recently published for the Millenniumpost, a Kolkata based newspaper as well as contributed to publications like the Geopolitics and South Asia Monitor. His interests lie in International Relations in general and Strategic Studies in particular.

Ayush Banerjee is a postgraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur university, Kolkata, India. He has worked under the UN Online Volunteering banner for research related projects in organizations like the CAMAAY, GLOWA, UNICEF Nigeria, IDMC, UNITAR etc. His interests lie in contemporary politics, diplomacy and non-traditional security.

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East Asia

High time for India to Reconsider the One-China Policy

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Sino-Indian bilateral relations have seen major challenges in the recent years, beginning with the Doklam crisis to the current pandemic situation. The sugar-coated rhetoric of Beijing proved to be mere duplicity after tensions erupted along the Line of Actual Control where soldiers of both the states clashed in mid-2020, resulting in the martyrdom of several Indian jawans including a commanding officer. The other side also saw several casualties, though Beijing has kept the actual count under wraps. More recently, China suspended the state-run Sichuan Airlines cargo planes carrying medical supplies to India for 15 days citing the deteriorating situation in India due to COVID-19. This was after the Chinese government promised all the necessary help for India to battle the pandemic. 

The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been maintaining an aggressive posture with India even while making calls for ‘maintaining peace’. Its support for all-weather friend Pakistan has attained new peaks when it proclaimed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a territory claimed by India, despite New Delhi’s staunch opposition. It is in the light of all these events that the calls of the strategic community in India to review the recognition of One China policy has gained some attention. 

India’s Sensitivity versus China’s Duplicity  

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) claims itself as the only representative of the Chinese nation including the territories of Tibet and Taiwan among others. Any country having formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as Republic of China shall be seen by China as challenging its sovereignty. The same parameter applies to any country recognizing Tibet or similar ‘autonomous regions’ under the Chinese control. This is known as the ‘One China Principle’ or ‘One China Policy’. India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949 after the civil war as well as to accord recognition to its occupation of Tibet. However, China claims the whole of India’s Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’, a claim that India has always rebuffed. Moreover, it occupies Aksai Chin which it captured during the 1962 war as well as the Shaksgam valley, ceded illegally to it by Pakistan in 1963.

Even after the war and the re-establishment of cordial bilateral relations, China has continued to repeat its illegitimate claims and nibble into India’s territory.  India’s protests fell on deaf ears and this is despite India recognizing the One China Policy. India stopped mentioning the policy since 2010 in its public announcements and publications, however, without repealing it. Taking undue advantage of this China pays little concern to Indian sentiments. This view in India, to challenge China’s One China Policy, has been strengthened by aggressive diplomatic postures of China as well as its regular incursions along the disputed border while continuing to support Islamabad on all fronts – overtly and covertly, encircling India. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to give in to the bullying attempts by China by allowing the Army to go ahead with offensive countermeasures against Chinese incursions in 2017 as well as in 2020, in addition to taking measures including banning dozens of Chinese mobile applications. It has also started actively taking part in initiatives like Quadrilateral Dialogue as well as strengthening relations with ASEAN states. However, a dominant section within the strategic community in India feel that these measures are not enough to knock China into its senses. 

Challenging the One China Policy 

The most significant among the measures suggested in this regard has been to review India’s adherence to the One China policy. In an atmosphere where China does not recognize the One India policy comprising of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territories, experts argue the need of reciprocity. Initiatives such as providing greater global visibility and access for Tibetans including the 14th Dalai Lama, using Buddhist history and traditions as a trump card since New Delhi has the advantage of having the Dalai Lama on its side, provides legitimacy for India unlike China. India can facilitate the appointment of the next Dalai Lama and extend protection for the existing and the next Dalai Lama. The repeal of the recognition for Chinese occupation of Tibet can also send major tremors in Beijing but that seems to be a distant dream. The new democratic Tibetan government under President Penpa Tsering should be given greater official acknowledgment and publicity. India has already taken small steps in this regard by acknowledging the involvement of the elite Special Frontier Force (SFF), majorly comprising of exiled Tibetans, in a game changing operation to shift the balance against China during the recent border crisis. The funeral of an SFF commando attended by a Member of Parliament and leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav was an overt signaling to China that Indians are not refraining from openly recognizing Tibetan contributions to the state of India. Another sensitive issue for China is the Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims being allegedly tortured and deprived of their basic human rights in the ‘re-education camps’ by the CPC and a state sponsored genocide being carried out against them. India can take up the issue vigorously at international forums with like-minded countries, increasing the pressure on China. Similarly, the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, pro-Mongol movements such as the protest against Mandarin imposition in the school curriculum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, can also be encouraged or given moral support. India, a country which upholds its virtue of unity in diversity must take a strong stand against the ‘cultural assimilation’ or ‘liberation’ as the Chinese say. This is nothing but cultural destruction imposed by China using the rhetoric of ‘not being civilised’ and branding the non-Han population as barbaric in China and the regions it illegally occupies.

India can also stir the hornet’s nest by engaging more formally with the Taiwanese leadership. Taipei has always been approached by New Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivities of China in mind. However, it does not have to do so for a power that bullies both the nations with constant threats and provocations by its action. It is a well-known fact that Taiwan is a center of excellence in terms of the semi-conductor industry and high-end technology. Engaging more with Taiwan will not only hurt Beijing, but also will help India counter the strategic advantage possessed by China in terms of being the major exporters of electronic goods and telecommunication hardware to India. India can also attain more self-sufficiency by boosting its own electronics industry using the Taiwanese semiconductor bases. India can use this leverage to shed its overdependence on China in critical sectors, balance the trade deficit to some extent, while also securing its networks from Chinese intelligence. India must also focus on working with the states having stake in the South China Sea such as Philippines and Malaysia who regularly face aggression in their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and China’s maritime militia, questioning their territorial sovereignty, imposing the One China Policy. New Delhi must pressurize China by working with the western nations, whose legislators have openly declared support for the Tibetan President in exile, to question China’s occupation of Tibet and attempts at homogenizing the population. Long term measures and strategies will have to be sought to end the dependence on China while seeking alternatives and becoming self-reliant over time. 

However, India will face several serious challenges to implement the above-mentioned measures. There is a deep lack of mutual trust among major powers like USA, UK, France and Russia through whom India can build a coalition. The American President Joe Biden is seemingly interested in partly co-operating with China and has a softer stance unlike the former President Trump. Nevertheless, the QUAD is a welcome step in this regard and India must undertake a greater role in pressurizing China through such forums, albeit not openly. India also has a serious issue of possibly having to incur heavy economic losses on having to limit Chinese goods and investments and finding similarly cheap and easy alternatives. These fault lines are exactly what is being exploited by China to its advantage. Thus, the Indian state and its diplomacy has the heavy task of working between all these hurdles and taking China to task. However, since China seems remotely interested in settling the border disputes like it did with its post-Soviet neighbours in the previous decades and instead gauge pressure against India. So, New Delhi will have to pull up its sleeves to pay back China in the same coin.  

The views expressed are solely of the author.

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East Asia

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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