Friday 28 January 2022
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Coronavirus Cloud Over The World Has A Silver Lining

The post-coronavirus world will see a much-discredited, condemned China that few countries would want to continue to do business with


Gautam Mukherjee
Commentator on political and economic affairs

Normality can be very sweet, especially when smatterings of it returns after more than sixty days. No, Wuhan Virus is not going away. It will infect and kill people for at least a year or two going forward. Lockdown and quarantine will continue, but in stubborn retreat, issuing dire threats, as it is pushed back to ever-narrower domains. The method, like the affixing of medieval leeches, is much less effective than the proverbial silver bullet. It slows the spread, yes. But the cost-benefit is haywire, and so, the world has resolved to live with the coronavirus. Will it postpone the US presidential elections, just as it did the Tokyo Olympics? By months, a whole year? Probably.

The global pandemic of coronavirus disease, which has devastated the US, is President Donald Trump’s opportunity to not only turn the tables on China but decisively win another term in office. Will it be a full four-year term, or will he have to minus the months of postponement? Would the Democrats, if they win, take a softer line with China? This is a most unusual year. We will just have to wait and see.

Various medicines existing and repurposed, have been pressed into service to fight coronavirus. They try but do not cover the spectrum of the disease. Many infected have co-morbidities, complicated by management protocols of their own.

Immunity building seems is probably the best defence against coronavirus. And being young, or at least reasonably fit. The protocols: hand washing, sanitiser usage, masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds. These are sometimes difficult to implement amongst rebellious populations. Highly populated regions like ours are doubly challenged. We are also served by inadequate facilities- transport, hospital beds, border crossings, liquor, no money.

Vaccines are still under development or in human trials, with little chance of any hitting the market much before the last quarter of the year.

Coronavirus does kill exposed people of all ages and not just the elderly or the already sick. But not very many. The death rate has stayed between 3-5% globally. Even numbers in need of critical care have not exceeded 5% .

These are infinitely better statistics than past pandemics like cholera and the plague. Or even the Spanish Flu of a 100 years ago. And the recovery rates are improving steadily. Unfortunately, recovery rates are not man bites dog news. In India it has inched up to 41% and rising.

But the Wuhan virus has been the banana peel of stepped on banana peels for its originator. From an ascendancy that seemed unstoppable, even inevitable. Particularly, given the extraordinary manufacturing and infrastructure building successes of the Red Chinese. To a downfall, that is like being thrown off from the highest point of the Three Gorges Dam.

China is definitely on the back foot, wolf warring notwithstanding. This has been so sudden and dramatic that it is hard for the Communist Party and its President Xi Jinping to swallow. It has made it not only belligerent but also a little irrational. China is now claiming entire countries in addition to mere portions of other sovereign nations including India. This, in addition to its relatively long-standing programme to gird the world with its roads and train lines, dominate every ocean with its blue water navy. It has built artificial islands to extract tolls of passage on international sea lanes. It flies aircraft over the South China Sea and uses navy ships and armed fishing boats to patrol it.

It is presently bullying Australia, leaning on Nepal, pressuring Bangladesh, making Sri Lanka sit on the fence, insulting Africans, Arabs, South East Asians, and Europeans, all who don’t toe its line of innocence on coronavirus. And most absurdly, it frequently threatens the United States with war, monetary withdrawal, and trade sanctions. It is launched on a disastrous course to steam-roller all democracy and dissent in Hong Kong. It is sailing aircraft carriers in the narrow sea lanes near Taiwan to make its intent clear.

But two things have changed overnight for Xi Jinping’s Red China. One, people who have shied away from potential conflict in the past are no longer backing down. Two, everyone has stopped indulging China despite its money, muscle and importance in the global supply chain. China is rapidly, like a house on fire, losing business, manufacturing contracts, commercial and diplomatic influence. Red China was sworn to uphold the autonomy of Hong Kong for 50 years from just before the millennium. But it does not care for solemn treaties with Britain. Tibet, which it overran under Mao, while the international community looked away, has surfaced again in the news. America now wants to see it independent.

And Taiwan, the Republic of China, is in contention once again to be regarded as the true owner of a unified democratic China. Will the Communist Party of Red China be ousted in its turn? Certainly, the newly elected second term government in Taipei is not interested in any form of rapprochement. It wants no part of Beijing’s one-country-two-systems offer. It is on the side of an autonomous Hong Kong. Britain too has opened a path to citizenship for 300,000 of its people.

All this has happened in six months of the coronavirus era. These changes have come at the cost of thousands of lives sickened or lost. The global economy is in tatters.

The silver lining around the coronavirus cloud is in the new world order that is emerging. China is no longer a contender to take over the world. It will suffer horrendous economic degradation and internal insurrection. If it decides to use its military, the process will, if anything be accelerated.

So, true to this new template, China will probably back off from its aggressive intrusion at several points into Indian Ladakh. It is stymied by a corresponding Indian build-up and its strategic advantages. Quite apart from infantry, artillery and armoured divisions, Indian fighter planes are close by and can deploy with ordnance from multiple airfields. Chinese airports in Tibet are far apart, vulnerable, their fighters visible to our satellites, out in the open. Most of the Chinese planes anyway are on the other side of the country, thousands of kilometres away, protecting Beijing.

China is rightly concerned that India may, in future cut off its access to Tibet. India is resolutely building substantial border infrastructure, roads, all weather tunnels, railways, to mirror Chinese activity over years of building such facilities in Tibet. And it has flatly refused to stop doing so. India is also building roads, airstrips, bridges, other infrastructure all along the long LaC with China.

There is a profound shift in India’s military perceptions and foreign policy vis a vis China, provoked by decades of bullying and use of Pakistan as a proxy. Many treaties and written understandings on the status of the LaC have been flouted. The McMahon Line is not accepted. Older British treaties are not honoured either.

But now — as Sikkim, Doklam and now Ladakh demonstrate — India will not be pushed. It has narrowed the military gap disparity with hardware, software, infrastructure and the creation of regiments trained and equipped to operate at high altitudes. The current Chinese apprehension over Ladakh, recently converted into a union territory by India, is not unfounded. It is India’s stated objective in parliament to reclaim the parts of Akshai Chin that belong to it.

China’s vassal states, North Korea and, most notably, the bankrupt state of Pakistan cannot survive without Chinese patronage. Pakistan doubly so, because of American reluctance to fund it. The much-impoverished finances of its erstwhile supporters from West Asia are another problem. A resolution against China’s crackdown in Hong Kong has already been initiated by the United States in the UNSC. This will result in crippling economic sanctions. Hong Kong will not remain a global financial capital under Red Chinese domination.

These changes are all to the advantage of India. It will suffer much less from terrorism starved of funding. It will soon be in a position to reclaim PoK and Gilgit Baltistan, most likely via another UNSC resolution.

Armed with the Security Council’s reiteration of India’s legitimate claim over PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan, India will move to take possession. This will entail a minimum of bloodshed and military conflict, as a consequence. The Shia people of the region, long suppressed by Sunni Pakistanis, will welcome the development. It will give a fillip to independence movements in Balochistan, Pakhtoonistan and Sindh.

The reclaiming of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan will dramatically change the calculations of both China and Pakistan with regard to the $ 60 billion CPEC. And China’s access to Gwadar Port via Pakistan and Balochistan. The CPEC can only survive with the cooperation of both India and Balochistan in future. When China falls, Pakistan, as we know it today, must also fall. It will make for a more peaceful South Asia.

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