A research dossier prepared by the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ involving intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, released over the weekend, stated that China intentionally hid or destroyed evidence of the coronavirus outbreak resulting in the loss of over 2.5 lakh lives worldwide. Western nations are demanding a probe to determine the origin of the virus and the complicity of the WHO in abetting Chinese actions. The shriller the calls for investigations, the more China panics. The result: China is losing friends faster than ever before. China accuses the US of being responsible for the virus and seeks a probe against it. It threatens European nations with loss of trade, tourism and medical equipment, if they continue to persist with demanding a probe on its handling of coronavirus. Globally, China is facing increasing accusations and decreasing faith.
Simultaneously, its nemesis, Taiwan, is gaining recognition for its positive actions. The Netherlands renamed its office in Taiwan as Netherlands Office Taipei amidst Chinese objections. In addition, the Netherlands flew tulips to Taiwan to thank it for donating face masks to help in the fight against coronavirus. China could only watch and protest. African nations displayed their anger against the brutal handling of their residents in Wuhan, after being unjustly accused of being the carriers of the virus. The Nigerian leadership was particularly harsh on China, shutting Chinese restaurants claiming they were discriminating against Nigerians. China had an open spat with Australia including threatening it of dire financial impact if it does not stop its demand for a probe. In an article on 1 May in the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher writes, “Australia has arrived at its moment of truth. It is now presented with the explicit choice between sovereignty and money. It arrived this week when the Chinese Communist Party publicly threatened Australia with trade boycotts for proposing an international inquiry into the global pandemic.”
Australia chose sovereignty. Australia is now set to challenge China. On 30 April, in a direct attack on China, it announced that it will support Taiwan’s return to the WHO, as an observer, four years after it was ousted by Beijing. This will be raised at the World Health Assembly and the US is expected to back the move. Fireworks are expected to fly when the World Health Assembly meet commences on 17 May, where the demand for a global independent review on China’s actions during the pandemic will be raised. Post this crucial meet, India is to take over the appointment of chairperson of the World Health Assembly for three years. Any decision taken during the assembly will have to be pursued by India. China would employ all power of itself and allies to block the resolution. Russia, as expected, has backed China. In a statement over the weekend, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov “expressed his displeasure” with Western nations’ scepticism of China’s role in the outbreak of the virus. Within ASEAN, China is employing force to silence its neighbours.
Its offensive actions in the South China Sea are aimed at intimidating nations in the region to ensure they do not join Western countries in criticising it and demanding an independent probe. It also forced the WHO to issue a statement over the weekend confirming that the virus came from nature and was not manmade. Japan has backed Australia and the US in demanding an independent probe. Japan is also the first country to encourage its manufacturing establishments in China to shift base. Amongst the nations, bordering China and still maintaining silence, despite being provided with faulty testing kits, are India and Pakistan. The Indian statement on faulty kits and its return with no financial implications has been made by the ICMR, not the Indian government. Meanwhile Pakistan, despite having received faulty equipment, maintains silence. India is firmly in the US and Western camp though for diplomatic reasons has not commented against China. Simultaneously, India’s leadership role in the global battle against the virus is being recognised.
Its supply of medicines to all nations which requested, organising SAARC into joining hands to battle the pandemic and supporting friendly nations, including the Maldives, Kuwait and others by sending medical teams is earning praise. It was India which was behind the organising of the G20 virtual summit. While China loses global credibility, Indian gains global recognition. India is also under pressure from Australia, Japan and the US to voice its support for an independent probe against China. Evidently, China is almost alone and seeks allies. Pakistan has no choice but to support China. Its lifeline is China, whether it be financial or medical aid, diplomatic support or provision of military equipment. It is renegotiating its loan payments due to China, while seeking additional funds to survive. It must back China if it desires to survive as a nation. It knows that China desperately needs allies and if it remains one, it can gain from Chinese largesse. The world is aware of the relationship between the two. Companies planning to move out from China are considering all Asian nations, apart from Pakistan, aware that establishing in Pakistan would be the same as remaining in China. In late April, while the world was battling coronavirus, Pakistan surreptitiously removed over 1,800 names from its terrorist watchlist, including that of Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi. This is aimed at indicating increased performance to the FATF.
It was China which has saved Pakistan from the FATF blacklist. There are also reports that it would use Chinese support to assist in the removal of six names from the UNSC terrorist watchlist on vague grounds. Without Chinese backing, Kashmir would never come on the UNSC agenda. Further, only to safeguard Pakistan interests, China has blocked Indian entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The relationship between Pakistan and China would move closer as China loses allies. It is Chinese diplomatic backing and military support which emboldens Pak to enhance its proxy war in Kashmir, the impact of which India witnesses daily. India remaining in the Western camp, resisting pressures while displaying neutrality is of no major benefit to China. China needs allies and the closest is Pakistan. The closer the relationship, the more brazen would be Pakistan’s actions in Kashmir. Pakistan is smug in the belief that in case there is any global pressure or Indian retaliation on Pakistan soil, it is China which would come to its rescue. For India, the combined Pakistan-China axis is a threat which would increase in the days ahead. India should diplomatically engage with China to state that in case it desires Indian neutrality, it needs to change its approach towards Pakistan.