Wuhan, weeks ago
Wuhan, weeks ago|Photo credit: World Economic Forum
Write-In

China: Unrepentant And Aggressive

The country appears to be readying itself to take a dominant position in world affairs in a post-COVID-19 scenario

TP Sreenivasan

TP Sreenivasan

China has barely come out of its trial by fire and is desperately engaged in getting back to normalcy politically, economically and socially, but it has already assumed the posture of the aggressive and unrepentant dragon, ready to battle with the rivals and support the subservient.

It is too early to speculate over the post-COVID-19 world, but China has placed itself firmly in the second place in the global hierarchy, preparing itself to assume the first slot. It shows no sign of repentance over the pandemic it may have let out into the world and passed on the blame to its only rival, the United States. China is poised to step into what it perceives to be a vacuum, which may be created by the failure of leadership of the US.

President Donald Trump never had any doubt that it was the “Chinese Virus” that had hit China and the rest of the world and called the virus by that name several times. China responded to it by blaming the US for bringing the virus to Wuhan when a US military contingent participated in a sports event.

It expelled Wall Street Journal reporters and also cut the local staff of the US media offices. With the reported arrest of a Harvard University Professor who was enticed to work in Wuhan University and some Chinese nationals, who tried to smuggle some vials into China, the CIA has hit back. Claims and counter claims will continue, but it has been established beyond doubt that the virus emanated in China.

China itself had admitted as much in January 2020 when it closed down the seafood market in Wuhan, where live fish and other animals were on sale for human consumption for years. If only the Chinese had revealed the full facts of the case and given out the extent of damage in China itself, the world would have taken the necessary precautions. The Chinese villainous silence gave a sense of comfort to the world.

The Chinese behaviour and actions in more recent times are even more revealing. They have been intolerant of any suggestion that the virus originated in China as their story is that it was only found in China. If it is finally proved that it was indeed a biological weapon gone astray, China will be ostracised by the international community. A beginning has been made by a twenty trillion dollar lawsuit filed at the United States District Court in Texas for damages.

The venom in a statement by the Chinese Ambassador in Brazil against Eduardo, President Bolsonaro’s influential son, the de facto Foreign Minister of Brazil indicated the sense of guilt in the Chinese mind and their anxiety not to encourage any thought of Chinese complicity.

Eduardo had tweeted that “It’s China’s fault,” retweeting a message that said: “The blame for the global coronavirus pandemic has a name and surname: the Chinese Communist party.”

In a ferocious rebuke, the Chinese Ambassador demanded an immediate retraction and apology for the “evil insult”, while his embassy accused Eduardo Bolsonaro of contracting “a mental virus” during a recent trip to the United States.

“Your words are extremely irresponsible,” the embassy in Brasília tweeted. “Regrettably, you are someone lacking both international vision and common sense, knowing neither China nor the world,” the Chinese embassy added. “We would advise you not to be in such a hurry to be the US’ spokesperson in Brazil – you’ll fall flat on your face.”

According to reports in the Brazilian media Yang also retweeted a message that read: “The Bolsonaro family is the great poison of this country.” There were calls for the expulsion of the Ambassador, saying, “the Chinese lied and were negligent. Don’t trust communists – much less Chinese communists.”

On the other hand, the Chinese have either offered, or have sent ventilators and surgical masks to Italy as hospitals there cope with the onslaught of a deadly new pathogen that has led to respiratory failures that killed thousands of people worldwide.

President Trump has been quite blunt on this issue: “The world is paying a very big price for what they did,” he said, referring to his claim that Chinese officials did not fully share information about the outbreak after it began in Hubei. “It could have been stopped right where it came from.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that China would be “compelled to take further countermeasures” if the US continued down the “wrong path”, which should be taken to mean blaming China.

The US-China fight is still at an early stage. If things go as bad as it is predicted and the entire western world reels under a depression and huge financial losses that will take China ahead of them, the consequences will be much worse than any trade war we can imagine.

Today, the question is stark: who will survive the pandemic? But when the survivors want to reshape the new world, the question will be whether China is guilty. Since President Trump is at a weak wicket because of his own lack of vision and action, the ire of the people are on him.

After the elections, whether he wins, which looks doubtful at this moment, or another President takes over, the US will back the President to make the Chinese pay for their unforgivable sins.

Even at the very early stages of the crisis, a question was asked as to what the motivations could be for China to inject the virus into the ongoing trade war. The question was dismissed on the ground that even the Chinese would not be so cruel as to kill their own people.

The second question was whether the whole plan was to drive out the foreign investors from China so that it can take over the huge investments and infrastructure. This was dismissed even more categorically as it would be barbaric to even think of it. But these questions are being asked in hushed tones again.

For India, the challenges will be even greater as China has always been an adversary and is likely to remain so, primarily because of Pakistan. Our list of grievances has only been growing since the war of 1962.

Even after the reset of relations, ironically in Wuhan itself, India’s silent gestures on BRI, Doklam and the Dalai Lama have not been reciprocated. As for the coronavirus fight, India has done better than China so far, but India also did not demonstrate alacrity or readiness to deal with the pandemic.

China will continue to teach India a lesson, which is a euphemism for denying India the leadership of Asia. India may have to separate itself from the China supply chain and also become less dependent on medical ingredients and rare minerals to deal with a newly aggressive China.

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