Some days back an ex-Pakistani diplomat had written a hilarious article in which this worthy predicted that in post Covid19 world, Chinese ‘soft power’ will help in gaining ascendance over the USA. The lady concerned had pointed out at the help China was giving to many countries in terms of testing kits, PPEs, masks etc. It is as if having set fire to the world China is now taking credit for selling fire extinguishers!
Whatever else may or may not happen in post Covid-19 era, one can rest assured that all over the world there is going to be a severe backlash against Chinese government and even Chinese people. The fact that China tried to keep the virus outbreak hidden in the initial stage and has been less than transparent about sharing data in the later period is going to haunt that country for a long time. In the whole of Europe and in the US, pressure of public opinion will force politicians to take a hard line against China, it’s supposed economic clout may not be that handy a tool.
Ever since the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, the debate in strategic circles world over was over the question whether the rise of China will be peaceful or lead to conflict. Since the 1990s and certainly in the 21st century, there was never any doubt about the rise of China. Many in the Western world also had fond hope that once China becomes a middle income country, the rise of Middle Class will lead to opening up China and eventually, some sort of limited democratization.
The Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy students in June 1989 put paid to that fond hope. But such was the success of Chinese diplomacy or Western naiveté, that in post-Cold War 1990s, Ms. Madeline Albright, President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, had suggested that peace and security in Asia be ‘outsourced’ to China.
As Chinese manufacturing Juggernaut moved on, by 2010 most of the world was heavily dependent on imports from China. Chronically chaotic India was never considered to be in the same league as China until the ‘Black Swan’ event of Covid19 pandemic.
In the post Covid19 era, there is likely to be a concerted move by the West to move away from dependency on Chinese manufactured goods. As more details of Chinese cover up of Covid19 emerge, there is likely to be clamour for Chinese accountability and as a long term measure, pressure for democratization of China so that such events are not repeated in future. Chinese economy is heavily dependent on overseas markets and exports and may receive a major blow.
The Western world may also use this as an excuse to freeze debt owed to China and other Chinese assets. There is already a talk in Germany, Netherland and Australia, of imposing costs on China and asking for compensation. These are early signs of the storm to come once the world has some grip over the pandemic.
It must be clearly understood that in 2020 China is still only a half superpower. While it is equal in economic might to the US, its military is still no match to the USA. Should the US decide to take coercive economic measures, like freezing Chinese assets in the West, China is not in position to retaliate militarily.
If the international environment is to deteriorate for China, there is every chance that the leadership of Xi Jinping will be questioned in the Communist Party. An internal coup leading to ouster of Xi is not unlikely, as that will give Chinese a scapegoat.
With the present status of Xi Jinping as an all-powerful leader, this seems outrageous, but in Chinese history, stranger things have happened. In September 1971, Lin Biao, the powerful chief of PLA and appointed heir apparent to Mao; died in an aircrash, while fleeing China along with the Chief of the PLA Air Force. Later he was accused of having plotted a coup against Mao. Even the rise of ‘Gang of Four’, led by Mao’s wife, at one time looked invincible and in complete control. An internal coup against Xi Jinping is not unlikely. The top decision making bodies of China are scheduled to meet in May, we may get an indication of the way wind is blowing.
India under the leadership of Narendra Modi seems to have dealt with the crisis far better than many other democracies. If this indeed turns out to be true and also the Indian economy bounces back quickly, one should expect India to make it to the UN Security Council. The established powers will attempt to get India to join without veto powers! India would be wise to reject such offer and should not settle for anything less than a full permanent membership of the Security Council with veto powers.
Unfortunately for India, just as the country’s handling of the pandemic is being grudgingly admired world over, a concerted campaign of Hindu-phobia has started here and abroad. This is not to deny that there are indeed extremist elements amongst the Hindus, but the fact remains that the very nature of Hinduism as a pluralistic faith militates against any kind of religion based extremism.
While many in the world, especially in Pakistan, raise the bogey of Islam phobia, they conveniently forget that the Indian government has been very proactive in rescuing largely Muslim pilgrims stranded in Covid affected countries. The domestic opponents of this government are desperate as success in containing Covid19 in India will seal their political fate. This remains the biggest obstacle to rise of India in the post Covid19 world.