India — In fifty-six days, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will celebrate 100 years of its existence. In its time, the party has held a political monopoly over the lives of 1.6 billion people and has pushed China to a global power that today rivals the clout of the US in terms of money and military. The CCP on its part has expanded its wings all over the world through frontal organizations such as the United Front Works Department and has managed to penetrate countries of interest through pelf and power.
While paramount leader Xi Jinping will extol the virtues of the CCP during the centenary celebrations and project himself as a natural successor to the party’s founding father Mao Zedong, China as a country, is at a crossroads today. The US President has tasked his national intelligence to submit a report within 90 days on whether the origin of the SARS-Cov-2 virus was zoonotic (transfer from animals to humans) or a laboratory accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We are told that the US President will make the intelligence assessment public unless extraordinary circumstances prevent him from doing so. The global scientific community has conjured up tedious arguments to back both hypotheses, but there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that the origins of the global pandemic lie in Wuhan with all its secrets either destroyed or buried deep within the virology institute. After the global pandemic has already snuffed out 3.5 million lives, infected 1.6 billion people and destroyed economic livelihoods of far higher numbers, it would be very naive to assume that China will either allow access to the Wuhan laboratory or provide samples of Patient Zero. Perhaps what will happen will be to the contrary with the Chinese getting more aggressive in their attitude towards their enemies and more demanding of their client states. Given the evidence that points to the involvement of some elements from the US scientific community in promoting the research at WIV, the truth about the origin of the virus from Wuhan will never be found as it will be too inconvenient for G-2 to handle.
Consequently, the role of WHO under Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in wittingly or unwittingly delaying the announcement of a global pandemic will also be remembered by history with a large question mark. Backed by the Africa group, Mr Ghebreyesus will perhaps be elected WHO DG again next May and Beijing will prepare for the XXIV Winter Olympics. But all this will come at a price for China as the country is definitely seen as a kind of Darth Vader by the democratic world due to its aggression towards its adversaries whether it be trade wars with Australia, or its combative approach in the South China Sea and Taiwan with the US, Senkaku Islands with Japan or LAC with India. Everyone knows that talk of the Indo-Pacific and globally resilient supply chains are euphemisms for that which shall not be named.
The rise of QUAD to counter the Chinese challenge has ensured that Indo-Pacific now finds resonance in Europe, which had handed over the keys of its diplomacy to large corporates trading with China. The EU’s freezing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China is reflective of the unease within Europe to the big money trade by Germany under Angela Merkel and to some extent France.
Given the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) effort to unilaterally change the status quo along the 1597 km long Ladakh LAC in May 2020, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not back down till such time as China restores April 2020 status quo ante on the LAC. While India is awaiting dates from China for the next round of WMCC and the 12th round of military talks on Gogra-Hot Springs disengagement, this may not happen soon – or else PLA will have nothing to show at centenary celebrations of its 2020 aggression. The rapid upgrade of military infrastructure in the hinterland in Tibet and Xinjiang are all a part of an effort to make Fortress China impregnable.
If the international community led by the US does not make China accountable for the virus, the next PLA target will be Taiwan, after which the PLA’s nuclear submarines will be free to patrol the Indo-Pacific and virtually impose toll on international ships crossing the South China Sea. The question here is what will trigger a push-back by the democratic world? Virus, Taiwan or Indo-Pacific?
The first signs of push-back to China will be dependent on the outcome of the summit between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin tentatively scheduled for next month. If the two erstwhile Cold war rivals agree to bring China under the strategic arms control regime, then at least the daily threats of CCP’s propaganda machine on the use of ballistic missiles like DF-21 and 26 on adversaries will stop. Normalization of the relationship between the US and Russia will also pave the way for making China accountable for the spread of the virus in an unsuspecting world.
While the QUAD summit is also expected this fall, the grouping must go from being a security talk shop to creating an alternative global supply chain that is not dependent on one country only. For India, this is not only an opportunity but also a challenge. Irrespective of whether the global matrix is a triangle, quadrilateral or a pentagon, it will be at the centre of it.