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Post-COVID-19: New Cold War in the making! China to play role of Rogue State Actor!

TIOL - COB( WEB) - 720
JULY 16, 2020

By Shailendra Kumar, Founder Editor

FOR humanity, it is abject misery time! The 'Wuhan' virus has overrun the entire planet, including the Nordic island country of Iceland! The COVID-19-ravaged world is in deep trouble upto its neck! And there are no clear-eyed signs of any tapering in the ferocity of the pathogen. Different studies by eminent research institutions and also the World Health Organisation (WHO) have regularly been cautioning against the yet-to-arrive apogee for the deadly virus. Close to 1.4 Crore people have already been infected and about 5.9 lakh dead, a large swath of them not getting even a bare minimum decent burial! The daily number of positive cases in most powerful and also most populous countries has been hitting a new crest but what is palpably missing is the absence of a global leadership! With Mr Trump religiously following 'America First' policy which does not go well with the US global status of being the only superpower and a major let down for NATO and other allies, the pandemic sprang up a windfall opportunity for China to embrace the throne! It is not that China was not eyeing such a mantle but it appears that COVID-19 prodded Mr Xi Jinping to take a plunge and that explains his brazen assertiveness in many regions, including Indian borders in Ladakh.

Immediately after the Trump Administration dispatched its notice to the United Nations about its decision to withdraw from the WHO, its Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, with tears in his eyes, asked at his press briefing - "How difficult is it for humans to unite to fight a common enemy that is killing people indiscriminately?" Going by his regular statements on the pandemic increasingly getting worse, it is very clear that the world is heading in the direction of uncontrollable geo-economic chaos and benightedness!

What unfortunately adds to the pile-ups of human woes is the growing evidence of autocratic China happily fishing in the troubled waters, literally! China has claimed South China Sea as part of its maritime assets! To scare away its smaller neighbours including Japan, it has deployed dozens of naval warships, frigates and nuclear submarines in the Indo-Pacific region. Piqued by the Chinese bellicosity to lock horns and threaten smaller countries, the Trump Administration has also deployed a major pool of its naval assets in the region. America has also allowed Taiwan, which China claims as part of its mainland, to do shopping of some of its hi-tech defence equipments. This has further infuriated the Chinese leadership which has been preparing to dethrone America from the mantle of Superpower for several decades. In quick response, China has imposed sanctions on the putative American supplier Lockheed Martin.

Grizzled China has also angrily reacted to the Trump Administration for withdrawing special status under the US laws to Hong Kong after China tightened its chokehold on it through a special security legislation. It has promised retaliatory actions. The US has banned export of sensitive technologies to Hong Kong. An otherwise flourishing megapolis has overnight triggered fissures in the diplomatic relations with the West. UK has offered residential status to 2.9 million Hongkongers if they prefer to leave Hong Kong lock, stock and barrel! Australia has also offered immigration facility to about 30,000 Hong Kongers. Taiwan has also joined the growing bandwagon of countries espousing democratic and universal values. Apart from threatening all such nations, fearing brain drain of bankers and white-collar workers from Hong Kong, China yesterday increased the tax rate from 15% to 45%. This is to slow down the process of exodus from the former British island.

Apart from accusing China of breach of agreement with the British, the UK Prime Minister has announced his decision to throw out numero uno Chinese telecom giant Huawei from its 5G network. Though many experts may see it as a triumph for President Trump who has been asking America's allies to ban Huawei's involvement in sensitive projects but the ground reality is that a similar view prevailed in the UK and also among many members of the European Union. EU has traditionally been wary of Chinese companies penetrating key projects having serious security implications. It recently called for a war chest to stymie Chinese investors from taking over pandemic-crippled critical companies. EU is aware of the devilish design of the Dragon which has been investing in a major way in Europe but always blocking its investment in China and often pricing out EU companies in the Chinese market by subsidising local companies. Though Germany is one of the key beneficiaries of exports to China but there are not many Sinophiles in its top leadership. At one point of time, the former British PM Cameroon was a Sinophile but the present generation of MPs is highly sceptical about China's future design. With Germany rising to the top leadership of the EU, it is widely expected that the EU, in response to China's newly-demonstrated aggressiveness, may firm up a common diplomatic front to deal with China, perhaps selectively. Though Italy has fallen afoul to China's tricky BRI project but in the months to come, it may not fructify and the EU may drift again towards the US post-election in November.

Post-COVID-19, the global geopolitical order is inevitably going to undergo a massive change. Very similar to what happened post-Spanish Influenza in 1918, the League of Nations was set up to calm the boiling waters in the international relations; followed by Great Depression in 1929 and Second World War till 1944, resulting in creation of the United Nations in 1945, the world is certainly heading for a new world order. Post-COVID-19, one may clearly see a two-camp world - One led by China (anti-West) and the other horsed by America and supported by EU, India, Brazil, Australia, Japan and others espousing similar universal and democratic values.

A second round of Cold War is on the cards, impacting the economic well-being of humanity, particularly the descamisados. China, an empire-driven authoritarian economy, would try to rope in West-ostracised countries like Iran which is more evident from the latest USD 25 bn economic partnership to be inked in the near future. Other supporters of China would be pygmies like Pakistan and non-descript economies in Central Asia and even Middle East. Russia is certainly going to be the only 'Gulliver' with China as it needs China more than China needs Russia. Russian economy now largely depends on Chinese goods and also for imports of its energy. Even its Central Bank has reduced dependence on Dollar and increased its holding of Yuan. Given the fact that Mr Putin is going to remain at helm till 2036 after the recent amendment in the Constitution, it would be critical for the West camp to lure Russia to join anti-China camp as Mr Putin knows it well that China is not a trustworthy friend and also has a running border dispute which may be flared up any time if the Chinese leadership may decide to do so.

Secondly, China has already begun to treat Russia as its loyal subordinate which Mr Putin is certainly not finding it much to his liking! If the new American President and the West Camp deal sensitively with Russia and offer tactful gains for its economy in the long-run, Mr Putin may change his mind as this is what Russian citizens have also been hankering for right from the days of Boris Yeltsin. Even if Russia manages to shift camp, China is likely to continue to behave like a rogue State Actor which would keep the world on tenterhooks and may throw economic prosperity into an uncertain zone. However, let's not undermine the potential of rapidly-sprawling COVID-19 which alone can dump all assumptions into a cement mixer!