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Internal politics and coronavirus trigger Chinese belligerence

Internal politics and coronavirus trigger Chinese belligerence

Attack is the best form of defence. China believes in it and has rolled it off for the world to see.

In the last few weeks, a belligerent China has threatened to take over Taiwan, is intimidating people in Hong Kong, has violated the rights of Vietnam and Malaysia in the South China Sea, warned Australia with trade sanctions, and is encroaching upon the Indian border.

Even during the height of the coronavirus crisis, which had its epicentre at Wuhan, China was busy intimidating its neighbors in the South China Sea. It had sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in April, invaded the Malaysian exclusive economic zone (EEZ) soon after, and is now pressurizing neighbors to obey a unilateral fishing season ban in the region. However, it is facing opposition everywhere.

On the Indian border, China has been trying to scare India and numerous skirmishes have happened between soldiers leading to injuries on both sides. China is objecting to India building infrastructure inside Indian territory near the border in Ladakh and also in Sikkim. This is ironical as the two Asian giants had last year planned a full year of joint celebrations to mark <a href="https://indianarrative.com/opinion/70-years-of-india-china-diplomacy-suggest-caution-ahead-479.html"><strong>the 70-years of India-China</strong> </a>diplomatic relations, which were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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A retired military officer says China is attempting to intimidate countries to ward off global pressure over a fair investigation into the origins of coronavirus. China is under economic pressure because of the trade war with the US, the continuing exit of dozens of MNCs, countries closing doors to Chinese FDI, reduction in exports and stuck investments in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which will not fructify soon due to coronavirus-driven poor economic conditions. Many of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious initiatives have fallen flat and Beijing is in the eye of a global storm.

When the Chinese President asked China’s armed forces on Tuesday to be prepared for war, he was not just addressing a foreign audience but also the Communist Party and the Chinese people. “Xi is telling people that 'I am the boss'. War and military actions bind people together and he is sending a subtle message to the Chinese that he is in control because many have been questioning restrictions, lack of openness and other internal issues,” says the officer.

Xi is trying to consolidate his position internally and externally. But will this strategy of intimidating neighbors with military might and war cries be effective?

Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director, The Dialogue, a Delhi-based think tank, says: “This is a classic method of diverting attention from reality because the world is coming together against China over coronavirus.” He adds that China remains in a continuous war-mongering mode and there is never a relaxed moment for its neighbors. It is Chinese policy to irritate a country, stress it out, and keep it guessing, says Rizvi.

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About India's response to China's confrontation on the border, Rizvi says that India has patience. “The Indian Army can respond very fast on its northern and eastern borders against China. But as a liberal nation, we have moral values that China does not believe in.” He feels that China will try to keep India under pressure but there exists international support for India from the US and the EU.

The Chinese effort to rival and replace the US as a de-facto power has been undone by the coronavirus as well as the intransigence by Beijing. “No liberal country will be accepted in the world order with such shoddy and dodgy attitude. The arrogance to accept their mistake over coronavirus, using their economic might to play politics with the World Health Organization does not give it the stature of a power,” says Rizvi.

If China feels that this offensive, launched almost simultaneously, against its eastern, southern and south-western neighbors, will browbeat countries into not opposing it, then it is grossly mistaken. Over a hundred countries have already backed a resolution on finding the source of covid-19 at the recently-convened <a href="https://indianarrative.com/world/india-among-58-nations-questioning-who-on-covid-19-response-2119.html"><strong>World Health Assembly</strong></a>.

Not withstanding the offensive, China just might have bitten more than what it can chew by antagonizing Japan, threatening Taiwan, harassing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/07/does-global-pandemic-open-new-south-china-sea-opportunities-beijing-not-really/"><strong>nations in the South China Sea</strong></a>, abusing Australia and chest-thumping at India. US President Donald Trump has made his annoyance public on numerous occasions and is continuing to ratchet up pressure through various ways.

China might be shadow-boxing but this is a warning for China’s neighbors to stand united, be on guard and keep up the legitimate offensive. For India it is time to strengthen its <a href="https://www.afr.com/policy/foreign-affairs/push-india-towards-the-quad-to-deter-china-20200525-p54w1q"><strong>relations with The Quad</strong> </a>as well as <a href="https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/pm-modi-favours-expansion-of-ties-between-india-and-asean/articleshow/71875016.cms"><strong>engage better with the ASEAN nations</strong></a>..