From its contested western border with India to challenging countries in the South China Sea, an inexorably common narrative is that Beijing is becoming assertive in its conduct against neighbors to settle old issues. The focus of China's ongoing provocation includes Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Yet this narrative is overstated as China had been taking part in precisely similar types of pressure tactics against these states and others for a considerable number of years even before the pandemic.
The targets of recent Chinese aggression – governments, militaries and activists, will need to be careful as Beijing is endeavoring to look for strategic gains under the cover of the coronavirus crisis. Beijing has been taking part in aggressive behaviour for a long time preceding the crisis, and will move in the direction of its national interest regardless of world events. Once the pandemic is over, China's pressure strategies are probably going to proceed unabated.
Specialists throughout the world are puzzled why China is following such an aggressive policy, opening up numerous fronts simultaneously, regardless of whether it is with Beijing's
'best foe', Donald Trump, or against neighbors, for example, Japan, Vietnam or India.
China was battling a slowing economy even before the pandemic hit. The nation planned to put 3.6 trillion yuan ($500 billion) into its economy this year in tax cuts, infrastucture development and boost measures to create nine million jobs.
China also wants to divert the attention of the world from the covid-19 damage. It is following an aggressive policy at the domestic level to shift public opionion from economic depression, political turmoil in Hong kong and also Xi's legacy as president.
China confronts numerous serious challenges at home and abroad, such as reconciling contradictions in Chinese foreign policy, meeting lofty expectations for BRI projects, avoiding a breakdown in relations with the United States, mitigating risk of conflict along its periphery, managing relations with Taiwan, and overcoming the middle-income trap amidst an ageing society.
Faced with China’s intellectual property theft, double standards and attempts to coerce, many Western countries are re-evaluating their relationships with China. That re-evaluation could potentially lead to erosion in globalisation itself. At a time when the Chinese economy is faltering, the rejection of
globalisation would spell doom for China and its plans to become a world leader. More importantly, its leaders recognise the danger that the situation poses to their continued rule.
To conclude, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, China faces its own array of significant material and ideational obstacles. There exists a scenario in which the crisis accelerates the atrophying of American leadership and international institutions, perhaps because of additional shocks from climate change or other black swans like cyber terrorism coupled with misguided political leadership.
<b><i>The writer is a PhD Scholar, Centre for West Asian Studies, JNU</i></b>.