External Environment in a Mess

    07-Oct-2020
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Under Xi Jinping, China has estranged itself in a corner. India’s position against global bully got a leg-up after several democracies have decided to bear the cost to teach China a lesson
 
-Shwetank Bhushan Singh
 

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In the last post, "Post-Galwan, where are India and China headed," in early July, this author wrote that a military clash looming between two nuclear-armed countries cannot entirely be ruled out.
 
Now that the India-China military standoff is entering its fifth month and as the brutal Himalayan winter approaches, both sides are moving troops into the region, not out. All the talks at all levels, promising "conciliatory steps," have failed to resolve any matters to satisfaction. The stocking and deployments on both sides of the LAC have enhanced. The move forward has brought troops on both sides within hundreds of metres of each other and, potentially, closer to confrontation in over three decades.
 
Geopolitically, can a friendless China rely on military misadventures, and, for how long? Can it sustain the combined pressure by a realigned and fast-emerging new world order?
 
Since the Chinese-virus ravaged the world early this year, China's aggressive manoeuvre, and more so, the India-China border clashes have created a buzz and are reshaping not only Asia's geopolitics but the world order. Chinese autocrat Xi Jinping has decided that now is the time to assert dominance over an economically prostrate, post-pandemic world, raising the hackles of nations near and far.
 
For the last two-three decades, China was the toast of the western world, and the notion of shared economic prosperity shared global opinion. There was also a belief that as China prospered, it would become less autocratic and a more open society. Any view that an expansionist China's rise would not be peaceful for the world was considered a despairing cry. Virtually every country turned a blind eye to China's alarming rise and its roguish behavior until they could no longer brush under the carpet the monster they had created.
 
It has escalated standoffs with Vietnam and Malaysia, pressuring Taiwan and threatened Australia with boycotts and repercussions. The Chinese have opened up many fronts of expansionism, intimidation, and predatory economic policies simultaneously.
 
Xi Jinping and the CCP have so severely overplayed their hand that they have unified the world against China, and a growing number of nations are fighting back. Today, there is a near-consensus in the global geopolitical scenario that China is a hostile power with malevolent tendencies. It makes perfect sense for democracies to balance and contain China.
 
The neighboring countries
 
Malaysia, facing frequent incursions on its economic zone and interference with its commercial operations in the South China Sea, issued a formal complaint about China's actions late last year. Vietnam and the Philippines have slammed China for provocative military drills in the South China Sea's disputed waters. A Philippine fishing boat had sunk in its territorial waters by increasingly predatory Chinese ships. The Philippines' people are up in arms over China's expansionism into areas of the South China Sea claimed by Manila.
 
Since the Chinese-virus ravaged the world, China's aggressive manoeuvre, and more so, the India-China border clashes have created a buzz and are reshaping not only Asia's geopolitics but the world order. Xi Jinping has decided that now is the time to assert dominance over an economically prostrate, post-pandemic world, raising the hackles of nations near and far  
Taiwan also looks to tighten China's investment rules by compiling legal and illegal Chinese stakes in the economy and is planning to close loopholes that threaten national security. As the ongoing tensions between the two continue to escalate, Taiwan is reported to have scramble jets to counter the Chinese aircraft that had encroached upon their region.
 
Myanmar, China's closest ally in Southeast Asia, recently sought help from the world, suspecting that China was trying to use terror groups as a bargaining chip for smooth implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects.
 
Although Indonesian territorial claims in the South China Sea do not directly conflict with China's, the exclusive economic zone around Indonesia's Natuna archipelago overlaps with the nine-dash line where Chinese fishing boats have extensively operated. To infuriate China further, Indonesia is also wooing Japan for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed-rail project that Tokyo had lost to Beijing as part of BRI. China now also claims Bhutan's territory that recently rejected the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary's Chinese claims being a "disputed" territory".
 
In Hong Kong, the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators are beaten by riot police on Beijing's orders. The sight of the millions of people crushed under the Communist boots is one the world will not easily forget. China's strong-arm tactics in Hong Kong have meant that countries like the UK, Canada, and others are also pushing back.
 
From Sweden to Japan to Czechia, more and more nations worldwide are coming to understand China's mortal threat to the world order. Even Somalia has taken a stand.
 
Significant powers
 
Immediately after the Galwan-Clash between Indian and Chinese troops, Japan began the legal process of complete integration of the Senkakus, an uninhabited island group, which Beijing has for long set its eyes on. Japan has also spoken about the need to raise awareness about China's intentions and capabilities, citing references to its actions in the South China Sea and military activity along the India-China border in Tibet.
 
Fed up with Beijing's efforts to spy on and disrupt their government, infrastructure, and industries, Australia has promised to recruit at least 500 cyberspies, bolstering the country's online defenses and build on its ability to take the battle overseas. Australia is also overhauling its military to create a larger, more powerful force focused on the Indo-Pacific. Australia and Japan are also participating in the QUAD talks with the US and India, which has angered China.
 
The European Union, Beijing's biggest trading partner's relations, also getting bitter. China continues to keep its markets closed to European financial services companies. China has become a central subject of internal political debates in many European countries. However, EU plays on both sides. Nevertheless, in a significant geopolitical shift, Germany's Indo-Pacific strategy in which New Delhi plays a key role, is one of the most severe diplomatic-shock that Beijing has suffered recently.
 
Britain's relations with China started deteriorating when it asked for a free international probe into the novel Corona virus's origin. Next, British PM Boris Johnson offered the political dissidents in Hong Kong citizenship rights following the Chinese clampdown on Hong Kong. It has also prompted Britain to contemplate closer ties with Asian allies to counter China's growing assertiveness.
 
"From today, the UK will have new powers to stop those involved in serious human rights abuses and violations from entering the UK, channeling their money through our banks and profiting from our economy," said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in a statement.
 
The United States has reaffirmed its strong commitment to its ASEAN partners by calling China's claims in the South-China Sea unlawful and championing a "free and open Indo-Pacific." The statement by Mike Pompeo is not only a demonstration of the enormous political will of the U.S. to stand by its allies in the Indo-Pacific region but also a reinforcement of the South China Sea frontline. There has been a noticeable increase in US military aerial activity since the end of June. In direct response, the U.S. sent two aircraft carriers to hold some of the US Navy's most extensive exercises in recent years into one of Asia's hottest spots. It delivered a pointed message to China that it does not appreciate Beijing's military ramp-up in the region. Mike Pompeo has warned China if it takes any reckless step in this region, then the repercussion would be devastating.
 
However, without a formal security coordination charter, the above developments will amount to very little until the world also corners China economically. It is the economic-technological war that will define the future of geopolitics.
 
Arguably in the first-ever instance of flexing its digital consumer muscles in a geopolitical fight, India has taken a series of economic sanctions against China. The Indian government banned over 100s of the large Chinese Apps, including TikTok, PUBG, and AliPay, to name a few, and targeted Chinese telecom and tech giants Huawei and ZTE. It barred Chinese companies from participating in Indian highway projects. Chinese companies have thrived in India; its investors were making serious inroads into the Indian technology ecosystem. However, Indian companies are now attracting many blockbuster investments from US tech giants, large companies, and private equity firms. The Indian government's decisions have shown the world a path to take on China.
 
In the US, citing national security concerns and a sharp escalation of its confrontation with China, the Trump administration announced sweeping restrictions on two top-rated Chinese social media networks, TikTok and WeChat. The US government has brought new sanctions that further restrict the chips available for Huawei devices.
 
Britain has also banned Huawei from expanding the 5G network as it did not want any critical Government infrastructure to be controlled by "potentially hostile state vendors". Meanwhile, Britain is bracing for a crippling cyber-attack as happened in Australia recently. The Chinese ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, had warned it of consequences. Nevertheless, Britain has now turned to Japan to develop its alternates. France has also begun the process to phase out Huawei from its 5G mobile network. Australia was the first country to ban Huawei.
 
These countries are ready to bear the cost to teach China a lesson, and it certainly strengthens India's position against this global bully. A boycott of China by the world's large economies is a huge economic blow to China.
 
Flexing its digital consumer muscles in a geopolitical fight, India has taken a series of economic sanctions against China. The Indian government banned over 100s of the large Chinese Apps, including TikTok, PUBG, and AliPay, to name a few, and targeted Chinese telecom and tech giants Huawei and ZTE. 
Be it perception, trade positioning, or external pressures on all fronts, China was never in this much mess at the same time. More than the pandemic outbreak, it was its mishandling. The rogue nation's secretive ways of concealing the killer virus's truth and its audacious refusal to cooperate with the other clinched the issue. It became apparent over time that there is much steam in the theory that the novel coronavirus was human-made to use it as a weapon against the prevailing world order.
 
In addition to the above charges, there are practically endless other severe allegations by the free world against China. Be it suppressing political dissension by brute force, human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, or refusing civil liberties, China has estranged itself in a corner under Xi Jinping.
 
The pandemic has changed all the geopolitical equations with China assuming an adversary's role that ought to be defeated at all costs.