The world wakes up to the Chinese threat – K.A. Badarinath

India-China Relations

K.A. BadarinathThe BJP government may have to give up its shyness and instead pursue a bold line against China, its opaque Communist rule and the havoc it has heaped on humanity. – K.A. Badarinath

Most agree that the global order would undergo a total overhaul after the coronavirus pandemic. If the policy responses of countries in the last few weeks is any indication, China might be heading for complete isolation. Many nations have found Beijing’s economic and strategic expansionist agenda even during the crisis appalling, while the Chinese Communist Party’s role in the genesis and spread of the virus has come under global scrutiny.

The muscle flexing between the US and China accusing each other of being responsible for Covid-19 notwithstanding, the latter’s insensitivity under an incorrigible Communist regime has become largely unacceptable to humanity. But this does not mean that China as an economic and strategic powerhouse would in any way get diminished in the near term. But most countries have come to realise how China has been allowed to spread its tentacles without resistance. Reports suggested over 1,000 companies from Europe that have operated in China are busy finalising plans to exit in search of more friendly and open destinations. This is indicative of the suffocation they have faced within China led by President Xi Jinping that neither values human life nor their basic rights.

For many big and small companies, China had been a cost-effective manufacturing destination during the last decade. But these benefits may seem too little or negligible given the heavy price the world had to pay after the virus emerged from Wuhan in China. Suspicion, fear and distrust seem to have overwhelmed boardroom discussions in the global corporate world given reports about Chinese biological warfare-related research going out of hand.

Governments and corporates seem to have decided to move away from China. Japan under PM Shinzo Abe seems to have taken a tough call as the country’s industrial enterprises would starve for want of components if the umbilical cords with China, its biggest trading partner, were to be snapped. It fired the first salvo by setting up a $2.2 billion dedicated fund to help its companies that opted to shift their production out of China.

Key EU member countries seem to have taken the cue and decided to keep China out of their industrial, agriculture, trade and services ecosystem. This again is difficult to achieve and sustain. Nevertheless, they have moved on. Disturbing reports from global merchant bankers that China was zeroing in on a hostile takeover of international businesses after the virus pushed several enterprises into the red seem to have hastened the exit process. Simultaneously, firewalls have been set up worldwide against an aggressive Chinese bid to take control of small and medium businesses, especially those that provide access to proprietary technology.

Italy, where most human lives were reportedly lost due to its extensive economic linkages with China’s Wuhan, moved first to set up barriers against takeovers. As per the columnist Giacomino Nicolazzo, backed by Partito Democratico (synonymous with the Italian Communist Party), China owns a major chunk of real estate in North Italy, bought up over 300 companies in diverse sectors, had majority stake in five top Italian banks apart from the nation’s entire communication network. Though Italy’s new investment guidelines were in sync with the European Commission’s directive to protect critical assets ‘against foreign takeovers’, the urgency was to guard against predatory Chinese moves to expand its footprint. Several governments, including those in Spain, France, Australia and elsewhere, too seem to have set up what’s popularly known as a “Chinese firewall”.

Germany, on the other hand, was seen as a different cup of tea till the other day. Initial reports suggested that summit-level talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping would flesh out a new alignment of forces. Thankfully, these efforts seem to have fallen through and Germany has toed the line of other European powers to keep China out. On April 8, the German Cabinet approved tightening of rules against the takeover of critical infrastructure and enterprises by foreign companies, especially from the US and China. In a mock invoice, German newspaper Bild went ahead and billed China 130 billion pounds towards meeting the country’s costs of fighting the virus.

The Narendra Modi government, on the other hand, has been treading very cautiously. Even while drafting its new FDI norms, it refused to call out China. Instead, it put up restrictions on countries having borders with India attempting takeovers. The government may have to give up its shyness and instead pursue a bold line against China, its opaque Communist rule and the havoc it has heaped on humanity. Outstanding strategic and border issues notwithstanding, India will have very little option but to join a broad global coalition that’s in the making to single out China, Communist oligarchs and President Xi.

Parallelly, India will have to rework its supply chains, localise production as seen in the case of generic drugs, personal protection equipment or even go overboard in the near term to dovetail these efforts with the policy framework. Cashing in on the opportunities that arise out of exodus from China should also begin immediately. Going local and swadeshi with focus on self-reliance is the way forward while China gets time to reflect on its anti-humanity behaviour. – The New Indian Express, 28 April 2020

K.A. Badarinath is a New Delhi-based senior journalist and economic analyst.


4 Responses

  1. Trump vs. Xi

    How coronavirus has stirred a new cold war – Minhaz Merchant – Daily-O – 2 May 2020

    A new Cold War is brewing. The Covid-19 pandemic has set the stage for a long-term geopolitical conflict between China and the United States-led Western alliance. The US and Western Europe have suffered disproportionally in the global pandemic. Of over 2,35,000 deaths due to Covid-19, more than 1,70,000 have taken place in just five Western countries; the US, Italy, Spain, France and Britain. Three of those countries are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); four are members of the G7.

    The Wuhan riddle

    China has recovered fastest from the pandemic. Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated, was declared Covid-free on Monday, April 27. The second wave of infections expected to run through China has not been as lethal as Beijing had feared. Meanwhile, the US continues to reel under the virus. Over 60,000 Americans have died due to Covid-19, twenty times the number who perished in the 9/11 terror attack on New York and Washington in 2001. China has lost less than 5,000 lives though no one believes the figures officially put out by Beijing. The real death toll in China from Covid-19 may never be publicly known though it is likely to be many multiples of the official number. Beijing has for several years been the neighbourhood bully. It forced the Philippines to withdraw its case against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for violating its territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea. It pressurised the University of Queensland to seek the expulsion of an anti-China Australian student Drew Pavlou. Earlier this week, the Australian government sought an inquiry to determine precisely how the coronavirus originated in Wuhan.

    Stung to the quick, China warned Australia that Chinese consumers may stop buying Australian products “in revenge”. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and buys a third of Australia’s exports. Australia, home to lakhs of Chinese migrants and recipient of significant Chinese investment, reacted coldly to China’s threats. Responding to Beijing’s warning over Australia’s demand for an independent inquiry into the source of Covid-19, Canberra was unusually blunt. It cautioned China against any threats of “economic coercion”. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the country had made a “principled call” for an independent review of the coronavirus outbreak. He added: “We reject any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment.” In light of China’s refusal to allow neutral international inspectors entry into Wuhan to independently examine the circumstances that led to the worst global pandemic in over a century, the belief that Beijing is engaging in a cover-up has grown. The consequences will be both geo-economic and geopolitical.

    China vs the world

    At last count, over 50 foreign companies operating in China have decided to relocate manufacturing and global supply chain units to Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. Only three firms have reportedly chosen to relocate to India due to its red tape, over-regulation and whimsical judiciary. The bigger problem for China is geopolitical. Last year, Beijing was set to challenge the US-led Western alliance for global leadership. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was establishing a new Silk Route from Asia to Europe, through the energy-rich Middle East and sweeping across Africa. Those plans are in deep freeze. Chinese workers, already accused of racism and high-handedness at BRI infrastructure projects in several African countries, are now shunned because of the stigma of Covid-19.

    Big clash likely

    Meanwhile Mike Pompeo, America’s Secretary of State and a former director of the CIA, laid out the challenge to China in clear terms: “We need to hold accountable the parties responsible for the deaths here in the United States and the enormous economic costs that have been posed on the US. We are also working with (other) countries to make sure they understand that this was in fact a virus that originated in Wuhan, China, that the Chinese government knew about this certainly by December of 2019 … and that they (China) failed to comply with their most fundamental obligations as a nation, and importantly, too failed to comply with the international health regulations of the World Health Organisation and then did a lot of things to cover that up.” India remains on the sidelines watching the new geopolitical contest between China and the West unfold. It has trod a neutral line, focusing on controlling the pandemic at home. On Monday, May 4, the unprecedented 40-day lockdown will be relaxed in nonhotspot zones. The economy will take a big hit in the April-June 2020 quarter, contracting for the first time in decades. India’s extended lockdown—among the harshest globally—has kept the death toll at around 1,000 compared to America’s 60,000. But the damage done to the economy and jobs, causing widespread malnutrition and hunger among the poor, could have caused many more deaths not classified as being due to Covid-19. History will judge whether India got the balance right between an extended lockdown and a crippled economy.


  2. China deliberately destroyed evidence about start of coronavirus, report says – Kim Sengupta – The Independent – London – 3 May 2020

    A research assessment reported to have been compiled by the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance of western states has stated that the Chinese government deliberately hid or destroyed evidence about the initial outbreak of the coronavirus.

    The document charts how Beijing denied at first that the disease could be transmitted between humans; silenced or “disappeared” medics who tried to warn of the outbreak; blocked access by international organisations to Wuhan, where it originated; and refused to provide live samples to international scientists trying to find a vaccine.

    The Five Eyes intelligence network—comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—has been sharing information on Covid-19, but there is no specific joint operation on the issue. US intelligence agencies are carrying out an investigation at the order of Donald Trump, who has demanded that China pays compensation for its alleged negligence in allowing the pandemic to spread around the world

    The document, obtained by The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Australia, reportedly charts a timeline of subterfuge by China and how it censored news about the outbreak. It says that despite evidence in early December of human-to-human transmission, Beijing did not confirm this key fact until 20 January.

    However, there is little in the document that is not already in the public domain and there is nothing to conclusively support Mr Trump’s claim that the disease originated in a scientific laboratory. It confirms that the Australian government believes that a wet market in Wuhan was the likely origin of the virus.

    British security officials have said they are yet to see proof that Covid-19 resulted from scientific experiments.

    Media reports in the US have claimed that the Trump administration has been pushing Washington’s intelligence agencies to say that the virus originated in a laboratory. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Washington issued an unusual public announcement on Thursday that it was carrying out an investigation into China’s role in the pandemic.

    The Daily Telegraph report confirmed that key figures at the Wuhan Institute of Virology previously worked or trained in Australian government laboratories where they conducted research on pathogens in live bats as part of an ongoing partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. According to the document, the team’s work at the Wuhan laboratory involved discovering samples of coronavirus within a cave in Yunnan province and synthesising a bat-derived coronavirus that could not be cured.


  3. Wuhan Institute of Virology

    The Wuhan lab mystery deepens – Claude Arpi – Daily-O – 24 April 2020

    An issue has been coming in the news repeatedly during the last few days; the Institute of Virology of Wuhan. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Beijing to give access to the laboratory for US scientists: “We are asking the Chinese Communist Party to allow experts to get into that virology lab so that we can determine precisely where this virus began,” Pompeo told Fox News.

    Questions of origin

    Asked his opinion about the Covid-19 originating from the lab, US President Donald Trump had earlier said that “it seems to make sense,” adding that “it was a matter of active investigation within his administration.” After analysing the coronavirus’s genome, most experts believe that it was not consciously engineered by humans, but it could be the outcome of a technical negligence in the laboratory in Wuhan. The Washington Post reported that US officials who had visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology “sent diplomatic cables to Washington as early as January 2018 warning about safety and management weaknesses at the lab, and stated that the facility’s work on bat coronaviruses created a pandemic risk.”

    On February 23 this year, The South China Morning Post mentioned that the virus may not have originated from the seafood market. The Hong Kong newspaper quoted a study from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The team, led by Dr Yu Wenbin found that the virus had spread within the Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, however, the study suggested that the virus was introduced from outside the market: “The study concerning whether Huanan market is the only birthplace of SARS-CoV-2 is of great significance for finding its source and determining the intermediate host, so as to control the epidemic and prevent it from spreading again,” said the study.

    While taking a more balanced stand, French President Emmanuel Macron told The Financial Times that it would ‘naïve’ to suggest China had dealt better with the crisis, he added, things ‘happened that we don’t know about’. There are reasons for his moderation; France had in the past been actively involved with the lab. After the SARS hit China in 2003, Jiang Zemin the Chinese President contacted one of his friends, Dr. Chen Zhu, who had been trained at Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris; China needed help to study the viruses.

    French partnership

    A year later, President Jacques Chirac instructed his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin to work out a Sino-French collaboration with Dr Chen; an accord was sealed in October 2004, and soon the idea of a P4 level laboratory took shape. Designed by French experts and started in 2011, “this cutting-edge tool is a central element in achieving the 2004 intergovernmental agreement to fight against emerging infectious diseases,” explained an article in Radio France. At the start, the Wuhan P4 laboratory benefited from the support of the Jean-Mérieux Laboratory in Lyon, considered one of the best.

    Many were uncomfortable in France, as China refused to explain what had happened with the P3 biology laboratories that were funded by the Raffarin government after SARS. “The French have been chilled by the lack of transparency of the Chinese,” says Antoine Izambard, author of the book Dangerous Liaisons [with Beijing]. According to Radio France: “Fifteen specialized French SMEs lent their support to build the laboratory.” In 2015, Alain Mérieux left the co-chairmanship of the Joint Commission supervising the lab. Mérieux explained: “I am giving up the co-chairmanship of P4, a Chinese tool. It belongs to them, even if it was developed with technical assistance from France.”

    Additional concerns

    France still believed collaboration was possible. On February 23, 2017, when Bernard Cazeneuve, then Prime Minister of France inaugurated the ‘P4’ laboratory in Wuhan, he declared: “France is proud to have contributed to the construction of the first high biological security ‘P4’ laboratory in China.” French Minister of Health Marisol Touraine announced that 50 French researchers would take residency at the P4 in Wuhan for five years and Paris would provide technical expertise, as well as training to improve the laboratory’s level of bio-safety; but French researchers could never go. China had what it wanted, the lab. The cooperation between Jean Mérieux Institute in Lyon and Wuhan lab never really started. Alain Mérieux admitted that: “there has been no meeting of the Franco-Chinese committee on infectious diseases.” The Chinese lab worked without the outside supervision of foreign experts.

    The day Cazeneuve inaugurated the P4 lab, the review Nature published an article on the Wuhan Institute: “Some scientists outside China worry about pathogens escaping, …[giving] a biological dimension to geopolitical tensions between China and other nations.” The magazine admitted there were concerns surrounding some of these high tech labs.

    Surprisingly in January 2020, a Chinese PLA general took over the Institute in Wuhan. Maj Gen Chen Wei, a researcher at the Military Medical Research Institute of the Academy of Military Sciences, became responsible for the research. The lady general is said to have found the first vaccine against the virus on March 16.

    All this raises questions which few will discuss. The stakes are high for Beijing. It doesn’t want to appear to be the one who spread the virus, and President Xi Jinping is being questioned within the Party for his handling of the crisis. We shall not know the truth for years.


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