A week or 10 days into the global lockdown after China let slip the biocidal #coronavirus into the world, some bright spark on social media observed that the Dragon had won the third world war without as much firing a single bullet. This is exactly the forbidding image, bordering on the evil, cultivated over years that has enabled the last frontier of communism to get away with its relentless quest for economic and military dominance in every nook and corner of the world map. But something in the poisoned summer zephyr now says China’s bluff may, finally, be on the verge of being called, howsoever difficult it be for the global community to extract itself from its tentacles.
Surprise of surprises the first snub was delivered by a hitherto dovish Bharat on April 18 with the amendment of the country’s norms for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) putting a blanket ban on investments by bordering countries through the automatic route. Quite obviously, the move is aimed at neutralizing any hostile takeovers of Bharatiya companies by Chinese corporates. This is a small but crucial decision which cries out for replication by other countries, both poor and not-so-poor, at the earliest. The incalculable cost of cadging cash from the Chinese will need to be hammered in.
The complaint filed against People’s Republic of China, the People’s Liberation Army as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology by the International Council of Jurists and the All India Bar Association in the UN Human Rights Council “for grave offenses against humanity” is undeserving of anything more than passing attention given the UNHRC’s low credibility. But the charges are worth a cursory glance: exposing the world to a deadly pandemic, and willy-nilly attempting to unleash biological warfare on an unsuspecting world. Circumstantial evidence is all that exists to support the call to censure, but the obviousness of the motive is enough to get Beijing blackballed given the frightful consequences of the pandemic. Nearly 1.65 lakh people have already been killed, and 25 lakh afflicted.
Germany’s best-selling newspaper, Bild, launched a stinging frontal attack against China’s president, Xi Jingping, accusing him of running a surveillance state but failing to monitor his diseased wet markets selling bat soup, much less know the poison potion brewing inside the virology research labs at Wuhan. An editorial in the paper went on to demand 149 billion euros as damages from China for single-handedly spreading the virus.
First-flush reactions in a crisis of this magnitude are necessarily minor blips on the global canvas. Keeping China in check will entail a grand economic cum military alliance. Much depends on whether the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, leaders of the Free world, can sacrifice their self-destructive pursuit of material progress. It will not be easy given the far-reaching geopolitical implications of such a pact, howsoever loose.
The chances are that the Islamic bloc comprising the Saudis, Iraq, Iran, UAE, Turkey and Pakistan will stonewall the initiative given the mess in their own economic backyards and China’s all too apparent willingness to bankroll their rescue. The crash in oil prices, tumbling demand, and depleting storage capacity has put the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in a quandary and dashed Beijing’s hopes of using the crisis to its advantage by racking up stocks. Unlikely as it may seem, the only gainer in the oil pricing war since the outbreak of the virus has been Russia whose production costs have plummeted with the decline of the rouble against the dollar. Russia has said it has the resources to shoulder the burden of low oil prices for a decade.
Building a wall against China will, in any case, necessitate roping in Russia whose policy against its neighbour remains ambivalent. This too will not be easy. In fact, a key reason why President Vladimir Putin refused to accede to Saudi requests to cut oil output and stabilize prices is prevent US shale oil producers from making a quick buck. Topping Putin’s agenda in a post-Corona world is powering past the Constitutional tenure of his presidency beyond 2024. Bolstering the West’s phalanx against China is secondary even if he joins hands. Which is why preparing a potpourri aimed at giving the power drunk Xi Jinping a stomach ulcer is a challenging task, but one which cannot brook any further deferment. Every effort will have to be made to bring Russia to the negotiating table.
The US has itself to blame for the mess its finds itself in. Successive presidents have humoured China for decades. Managing the Dragon has been the preponderant concern of every new incumbent in the Oval office. The current office holder was the first to successfully fend off the American Deep State’s efforts to ensure that the White House stayed on course with regard to its China policy. The Deep State usually gels well with Democrat presidents — like it does with the Congress in Bharat. Hillary Clinton was their natural choice whom voters rejected.
Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars on Chinese imports rattled Beijing like never before. Charges have been flying thick and fast since. Trump’s complaint that China needed to be brought to book for years of unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft found favour with many. He no longer seemed the oaf scorning critics made him out to be. Hence, the possibility, remote as it may seem, that China returned the fire by releasing a deadly virus to shatter the US economy.
Trump’s latest move to investigate the $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2015 at the behest of the dodgy director of National Institute of Health (NIH), Anthony Fauci, during the tenure of Barrack Obama could set the cat among the pigeons. But it would be an utter waste of time trying to establish whether #coronavirus was ejected from a laboratory in Wuhan or one its wet markets hawking bats and pangolins among other culinary delights. It is enough to know that the pathogen was making the rounds of Wuhan since late December last year. Only that its travels were suppressed by the country of its origin hand in glove with the World Health Organization (WHO). #Coronavirus is not exactly a whodunit in need of a Sherlock Holmes. It the execution of the plot which holds interest.
The superbly conceived script, titled Checkmate, holds lessons for would-be playwrights. A social media message did well to split the play into clear cut scenes:
The curtains go up with anti-hero China ill from the after effects of a trade rupturing “crisis”;
The Chinese currency is devalued but China idles away its time;
Due to the paucity of trade in shares of Europe and US based companies with a presence in China, the value of their shares fall 40 per cent;
The world is ill. China buys 30 per cent of the shares of companies in Europe and US at low prices;
China has controlled the disease and owns companies in Europe and the US. And it is decided that these companies stay in China and earn $20,000 billion:
The curtains come down.
But the twist may lie in the tail. The US has the option of upping the curtains again to confiscate the $1.18 trillion held by China, now the single largest stake holder in the US Treasury after the blood-letting in world stock markets these last weeks. Then sit back and hear the squealing sounds emanating from a man called Xi.
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