Why China dreads Xinjiang and Tibet?

Nothing worries China more than the potential independence of two ‘rebel’ provinces it continues to occupy by force. China has tried to completely colonize the “autonomous” region it claims as Xijang but the world knows as Tibet, and another “autonomous” region it named as Xinjiang (“New Territory”) whose original name was Eastern Turkestan. Beijing had annexed Xinjiang in the 1750s and Tibet in the 1950s when the British emerged in and eclipsed from South Asia.

Ever since, China has been trying to change their DNAs—Buddhism and Islam—by adopting carrot and stick policies, homogenization, alleged genocide, etc. But it realizes that the two key provinces, bordering South Asia, are, at best, cultural anomalies for an atheist China. An uneasy, rented occupation, which could become the first to throw out the Chinese yoke the way the predominantly Muslim provinces broke away from the disintegrating Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Xinjiang and Xijang are, therefore, China’s X factors. The unknowns. The variables. No other Chinese provinces are seen like time-bombs ticking in the Dragon’s belly.

That is why a worried China is now trying to woo the Tibetans and the Taliban.

In November 2020, the US Congress passed a bipartisan resolution by voice vote recognizing the autonomy of Tibetan culture and religion, and praised the Dalai Lama, proposing to hold a roundtable or a teleconference with him. It pressed for human rights in the Buddhist region.

Congressman Eliot Engel said the US State Department had found that the Chinese government had systematically impeded travel to Tibetan Autonomous Region areas for US diplomats, officials, journalists and tourists.

As expected, China condemned and rejected it. But the seed was sown.

Six months later, in July 2021, the US-led “War on Terror” virtually ended when the American soldiers secretly left Afghanistan in the dead of night without even informing President Ashraf Ghani they had been supporting so far. Not only this, the 36-nation forces also left behind a huge cache of arms and ammunition, apparently for the resurgent Taliban who, by August, are expected to regain control of the mountainous country.

China is aware that Afghanistan has been the “graveyard of superpowers” like the British, Russians and Americans. And, as they say in Afghanistan, the Afghans are at peace only when they are at war! The Taliban, therefore, are sure to discover a new battleground—and Xinjiang eminently fits into their Islamist architecture.

China is trying to keep the Taliban in good humour. The Taliban are also playing the game they must until they get Kabul. They are aware how China has crushed the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) supporters, many of whom the terrorist militia has been training for launching attacks on Chinese interests in Xinjiang. And also that Beijing has been running a drive against both Islam and Christianity to erase their vestiges, including identity of mosques and churches. In other words, China is engaged in a vast programme of deIslamization.

This the Taliban are expected to pay back to China. And this is also seen as part of the agreement between the US and the Taliban.

A sudden Chinese interest in Tibet is also interesting. For the first time in three decades, a Chinese President, Xi Jinping, visited Lhasa, and even a Buddhist shrine, to mollify the six million angry Tibetans scattered across the world that Beijing looks for a harmonious relationship with this “autonomous” region.

Then came the real news: China has made it mandatory for every Tibetan family to send one member to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for what it believes would strengthen its military deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India, especially in extreme weather areas like Ladakh in the west and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, media reported.

The Chinese army is recruiting Tibetan youths and training them for operations along the LAC with India. The recruits have been made to take a loyalty test, including learning the mainland Chinese language and accepting the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over any other belief. This, China hopes, would bind the Tibetan youths with their government.

This recruitment began early in 2021 after China learnt how the Tibetans-in-Exile brilliantly served the Indian Army. The Tibetans living in India have been part of an elite Special Frontier Force (SFF) formed after the 1962 war. Since then, this unit has been part of important operations during the 1971 war against Pakistan, the Kargil conflict in 1999 and also in the Sino-Indian conflict in Ladakh last year. These Tibetan youths

surprised the PLA on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake last year when they physically occupied the Mokhpari, Black Top and other heights in the view of Chinese aggression along the LAC.

They are China’s ‘T’ factors.

The Taliban’s return: New battlefronts for China, Pakistan!

In one fell swoop—suddenly withdrawing its army overnight from Afghanistan—America has completely changed geopolitical equations against China. The resurgent Taliban may become Beijing’s nemesis and Islamabad’s graveyard, the way mountainous Afghanistan had become the graveyard for the British, Soviet and American forces.

Utter confusion in the two ‘all-weather allies is showing up in both China and Pakistan; they do not know how to recalibrate their policies about Afghanistan…and India.

Pakistan, in particular, has a sense of betrayal not only from Beijing but also from fellow Islamists of the Taliban it created, funded, sponsored, armed, and launched against enemies. On its border with India, it is petrified of the substandard Chinese military supplies; on its border with Afghanistan, it is paranoid with the unpredictable Taliban.

Recent media reports indicate the level of distrust between China and Pakistan as well, despite their protestations to the contrary.

One report said that Beijing has sold substandard equipment to the Pakistan Army, making it vulnerable to any Indian attacks. Another report said that China, distrustful of Pakistan, has sent it’s own ‘armed workers’—soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles—to finish incomplete infrastructural projects, in the midst of terrorist attacks against them.

The first report indicated that China is not properly responding to the Pakistani Army’ concerns that their air defence systems deployed on the eastern borders with India was endangered due to technical failures.

The Chinese-built portable air defence systems, artillery rocket systems and surface-to-air missile systems, worth millions of dollars, are riddled with technical and operational deficiencies. Because of this, as many as 850 man-portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs), both launchers and missiles, have become dysfunctional, leaving a serious gap in air defence on its borders.

The Chinese-made FN-16 MANPADS were designed to intercept low altitude and ultralow altitude air targets like enemy helicopters and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles under visual conditions. But most of these systems are handicapped by defective surface-to-air night aiming and battleground signalling systems. Without these systems, the MANPADs are literally blind.

The Chinese manufacturer, Wuhan Infrared Co. Ltd, instead of quickly replacing or repairing the systems, has appointed an allied firm, Valiant Technologies, to sort out the mess. Equally serious problems afflict over 500 QW 18 MANPAD launchers imported from China.

These systems were supposed to counter aerial threats and have a range of 6 km with a speed of 600 metres per second. It boasts of high anti-jamming and multi-tracking capability.

The MANPADs form part of a larger contract of supply of 1,300 systems with China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC). About 500 of these systems were inducted into the Pakistan Army in 2016. Numerous deficiencies were found in these systems during biennial functional testing of these systems at the army base workshops since July 2019. The army has asked CPMIEC to replace at least 47 of these systems along with one base control unit and one training simulator.

The story of multiple launch artillery systems, A-100, also bought from China, is similar. It was manufactured by the China state-run Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co (ALIT).

The A-100, incidentally rejected even by the Chinese Army, was inducted into Pakistan Army. During field trials, the Pakistan Army found it wanting in many respects. Even the Chinese manufacturer concluded that the systems had to be replaced as they were beyond repairs.

These problems are causing a serious headache in the forward air defence positions of the Pakistan Army which comes on top of the persisting issue of the defective Chinese-made LY80 surface-to-air missile systems.

These reports of substandard Chinese supplies to Pakistan have come at a time when the Taliban are about to take back control of Afghanistan after the sudden withdrawal of American troops, something neither Islamabad nor Beijing were ready for. The American move has made both Xinjiang vulnerable to China and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) to Pakistan.

For, they fear, under the new global realignment of forces, the Taliban may become Washington’s militant arm against Beijing the way it was against Moscow two decades ago. That is why China is trying to coax the Taliban to shun terrorism and recalibrate adjustment.

The Taliban now control nearly 250 districts, out of 400, in Afghanistan, and Beijing is apprehensive of their designs in Xinjiang, imperilling the entire Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through the restive regions like POK and Baluchistan.

Afghanistan is a key link between China and Central Asian republics, and Beijing envisions a “Pamir Group” of Afghanistan, China and Pakistan, with a new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China.

However, America’s masterstroke in arranging the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan has drastically changed geopolitics and put paid to China’s global ambitions. Apparently, the US has successfully persuaded the Taliban to join hands against China, the bigger foe, which has not only tried ‘genocide’ of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang but also attempted to wipe out the identities of even mosques and churches across the country.

Now, China is paranoid about insecurity overspill from Afghanistan and fears that it could become a safe haven for Xinjiang terrorists, whose trouble could further spill over to Central Asia and the Chinese mainland.

With China’s relentless efforts to blot out Islam from across the land, Beijing genuinely fears that Afghanistan could become a launchpad for the revengeful Taliban and for separatist activities targeting the iron rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Xinjiang.

For long, Beijing has been blaming the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a shadowy group it accuses of seeking Islamic rule in Xinjiang, of fomenting trouble in the restive, Muslim-majority province. Recent reports suggested that hundreds of ETIM terrorists were being trained by the intrepid Taliban in the Badakhshan area bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China. China and Afghanistan share a 76-km-long border which Beijing knows is porous for Uyghur fighters.

The CPEC was supposed to be extended to Afghanistan as well. This extension included projects like a motorway linking Peshawar and Kabul, and a trans-Afghan highway joining Pakistan to Central Asia. Afghanistan could have become a promising notch in the BRI.

As in Pakistan, where China is alarmed by attacks from militant groups like the Baluchistan Liberation Army, it fears uncontrolled attacks against Chinese interests in Afghanistan as well. The July 14 terror attack, in which nine Chinese workers and six Pakistanis died in a dam project, have heightened China’s fears, despite the Taliban’s ‘assurances’ as Beijing knows they are as unreliable as itself!

This particular incident has prompted China to deploy its armed men as ‘construction workers’ in the CPEC projects.

And Pakistan is in no position to say no to Beijing!

Thus Spake a scared Xi Jinping: ‘Be Loyal to Me’

Counting enemies outside the Great Wall of China, Beijing is now apprehensive of the foes lurking within. Having antagonized the world with alleged involvement in the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, and debt-trapping many poor countries, China is increasingly wary of a possible storm gathering within.

And the new threat is not just from within the Communist Party of China (CPC), or the demoralized People’s Liberation Army (PLA), mauled by India in East Ladakh last year, but also from the dispirited business leaders post-Jack Ma meltdown, and the influential middle class scouting for happiness beyond bread-and-butter, by seeking political liberties. Besides, the burning issues of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan have never been on the backburner.

The Dragon is trying to fight forest fire with the fire it is spewing.

Currently, China is facing growing global hostility over the Covid-19 origins, and allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. Its mammoth projects under the USD 4 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have rather turned into millstones around the Dragon’s neck. For the first time in history, Beijing has successfully united its former friends and new enemies.

These growing uncertainties without and within have even forced President-for-Life Xi Jinping on June 18 to extract oath of ‘personal’ loyalty from his hand-picked top brass of the Communist Party of China (CPC), whom he suspects of colluding with his enemies.

The unprecedented and publicly televised pledge of loyalty followed after reports of alleged ‘defection’ of Dong Jingwei, Vice Minister of State Security—top spy chief—along with his daughter Dong Yang, via Hong Kong in mid-February to the USA. There, it was claimed, he disclosed everything about the Wuhan Institute of Virology which is at the centre of the coronavirus-leak hypothesis.

The viral rumour was so embarrassing that Dong had to direct his spies to look for rebels within. But this incident itself showed the extent of mistrust in top echelons of China.

In the 1990s, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had sown the wind with his four-pronged modernization; in the 2020s, Xi Jinping fears he will have to reap the whirlwind.

What happens when a vulnerable leader suspects those around, his own followers? Invariably, he extracts from them an oath of loyalty!

That is exactly what Xi did on Friday (June 18, 2021).

As China’s ruling CPC prepares to celebrate centenary celebrations on July 1, Xi publicly administered a loyalty pledge to senior Communist leaders, urging them to follow the “leadership core”—that is himself!—and strive for the country’s modernization and revival. This when Xi has supposedly emerged as the second strongest leader of the CPC in the last 100 years, next only to its founder, Chairman Mao Zedong.

The incident demonstrated his deep-seated fears of disloyalty within the CPC which has a membership of over 90 million across the land. The CPC, which had officially declared him as the “core leader” when he took power in December 2012, he thinks, is the first one to be won over to avert any possible rebellion against his leadership.

To reach the pinnacle of power and pelf, Xi has antagonised several CPC leaders and their families by targeting them under the alibi of rooting out corruption. Similarly, his regime has rubbed the country’s billionaires like Jack Ma, the PLA, and other sections of society by rubbing them the wrong way on different issues.

On Friday, therefore, he was forced to publicly extract an oath of loyalty from the CPC leaders during a visit to an exhibition at the newly-inaugurated museum of the CPC in Beijing.     

Standing ahead of the 25-member Politburo of the CPC, which included his No 2 leader Premier Li Keqiang, Xi administered the pledge which was telecast by the pliant state-run television channels.

The CPC, founded by Mao Zedong in 1921, has been in power since the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. The ruling party has, as part of the centenary celebrations on July 1, planned several events, including a military parade.     

Xi, 67, who succeeded his predecessor Hu Jintao in December 2012, quickly consolidated his position and concentrated power by heading the party, the powerful military and the presidency. He was conferred title of the “core” leader, thus doing away with the collective leadership of his predecessors.     

In his June 18 speech, Xi called on the members of the CPC to draw strength from the party’s history and strive for China’s modernisation and national rejuvenation.     

He said, “It is necessary for you to strengthen your awareness of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central party leadership,” state-run Xinhua news agency reported.     

Xi is originally set to retire like his predecessors after his second term in 2023, but is expected to continue for life as the top legislature National People’s Congress (NPC) amended the Constitution in 2018, removing two five-year term limits. It paved the way for his lifelong tenure in power, as President-for-Life.     

In the pledge administered, the members also said, “It is my will to join the Communist Party of China, uphold the party programme, observe the party’s Constitution, fulfil my party member duties, carry out party decisions, strictly observe party discipline, guard party secrets, be loyal to the party, work hard, fight for Communism throughout my life and to be ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the party and people and never betray the party.”

The exhibition themed “staying true to the founding mission,” was opened on Friday at the newly-inaugurated Museum of the CPC in Beijing ahead of the CPC centenary.

In his speech, Xi said the party members should remain confident in the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, as well as always closely follow the CPC Central Committee in terms of their thinking, political orientation and actions.     

“The party’s history is the most vivid and convincing textbook,” Xi stressed.

Efforts should be made to educate and guide Party members and officials to stay true to the original aspiration and founding mission of the party, Xi noted.     

More than 2,600 pictures and 3,500 artifacts about the party’s history are on display at the exhibition.

The Great Game of the 21st century begins: China’s BRI versus G-7’s B3W

So the Great Game of the 21st century has begun: Eight years after China began its One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme—later rechristened as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)–the Group of Seven Nations (G-7) has announced its own “Build Back Better World (B3W)—a mammoth plan with potential investments worth USD 40 trillion by 2035 across the globe, vis-à-vis BRI’s USD 3.7 trillion worth of projects.

In May, US President Joe Biden had hinted at it in his telephonic conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the 47th Summit of G-7 leaders, which is underway at Cornwall, UK, from June 11 to 13.

On the opening day itself, G-7 unveiled a global infrastructure plan called B3W to counter Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar BRI. This amply demonstrated the G-7 members’ concerns about Beijing’s growth geopolitical footprint and the urgent need to counter it.

The first major step to counter China in geopolitics was the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), in which America has lined up three more democracies—Australia, Japan, and India. With the B3W initiative, Washington is drafting contours of the second front against Beijing in the 21st century, the way it had set up like NATO, CENTO, SEATO, etc. against the then rival Soviet Union after the Second World War.

“Build Back Better World” (B3W), will be a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies and intended to facilitate the building of infrastructure in poorer nations, a US  statement said.

“The adoption of the US-inspired “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project came after President Joe Biden and leaders met to address “strategic competition with China and commit to concrete actions to help meet the tremendous infrastructure need in low- and middle-income countries”, the White House said.

The B3W initiative will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035, it said.

“B3W will collectively catalyse hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in the coming years,” said the White House.

The G-7 is more transparent with respect to its funding as opposed to China. The B3W project plans to put more emphasis on the environment and climate, labor safeguards, transparency, and anti-corruption.

In a veiled criticism of China’s approach to financing BRI projects, the White House said B3W investments would be led by “a responsible and market-driven private sector, paired with high standards and transparency in public funding”.

“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior official in the Biden’s administration said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.” the statement added.

The 47th G7 summit is currently being held in Cornwall in the UK. Participants include the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US and representatives from the European Union.

The new infrastructure plan is recognition of the growing challenge mounted by Beijing’s BRI, a mammoth infrastructure project, with the most ambitious being the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking China’s Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea.

More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways, and other infrastructure. With many BRI projects leading to debt restructuring, it has faced strong domestic opposition in various countries. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have canceled some projects, while China’s aggressive stance has forced others to do a rethink. Even the Opposition parties have expressed apprehension about CPEC in Pakistan. Beijing has faced accusations of operating as a predatory lender setting up debt traps for its ‘client’ countries like Pakistan.

Covid-19:2: China gets a much-needed ‘shot’ in the arm!

How do times change? And how a suspect in 2020 turns into a messiah in 2021? But how long can China hold on to this newfound importance?

China knows but is readying to use this ‘transformation’ to the hilt. The way it used the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a weapon to implement its gargantuan geopolitical objectives, the global vaccine shortage against the Covid-19:2 pandemic has suddenly come as a god-sent opportunity to an atheist Beijing. These vaccines are China’s BRI-II as they have become the latest weapon in Beijing’s arsenal to break or bend targeted nations to its will. At least in the short term.

Recall how then US President Donald Trump had dubbed the pandemic’s cause as a “Chinese virus” in 2020, vilifying the Dragon as the main culprit behind the spread of Covid-19. Some actions of China, like its alleged manipulation of the World Health Organization (WHO) to get off the hook, added to the mystery about the origins of the outbreak.

But 2021 is different. Trump is no longer the White House boss. China’s biggest Asian ‘frenemy’ India, a major vaccine supplier until recently, is struggling to contain the second wave of the pandemic and reduced from being an exporter of vaccines to importer. Paying back, some 40 countries, including the US, the European Union and the UK, have rushed medical supplies to India. If they had not, the rising tide of the pandemic in the vast market of India would have jeopardized future plans of their multinational corporations.

Media reported last week that the world is fast becoming ever more reliant on China for vaccines, as India has banned export of vaccines in view of its own precarious situation. Seeing China regaining its position, the US is also trying to recalibrate its position as a champion of wider access.

Over the past few weeks, some of the most populous countries have sought more doses of vaccines from China despite reservations about their efficacy. This demand may rise once the WHO authorizes vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd., allowing developing countries in the ‘Third World’ to access them through Covax, the global vaccination effort.

“China has become not just the largest exporter,” said Yanzhong Huang, a China specialist and senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “In many countries it has become the only option.”

China’s potential reliability as a vaccine supplier has increased its geopolitical clout while the United States and the European Union allegedly hoarded their stocks and were slow to respond while India, Brazil and other countries gasped for breath. India’s crisis has forced the affected countries to turn toward China.

Seeing China’s quick responses, President Joe Biden said last week that the US will start playing a more active role. America donned the hat of Santa Claus, waived patents on Covid-19 vaccines to allow other countries to manufacture them, and rushed supplies to India. Planning to reposition the US in geopolitics, he is ready to make the country an “arsenal for fighting Covid-19” globally, amid attacks of new variants.

India, the world’s third-biggest vaccine supplier after China and the European Union, had exported 67 million doses to nearly 100 countries until the devastating second wave of Covid-19 forced it to halt most deliveries in April.

As soon as the WHO authorizes Chinese vaccines, many countries could line up before Beijing for supplies, despite concerns about potential public-health hazards involving these shots that have demonstrated lower efficacy rates than those made by America behemoths Pfizer and Moderna. Chinese vaccines have already been hampered by a lack of authentic trial data and a preference for vaccines from the Western companies.

But the world urgently needs vaccines. Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised last week that China would provide vaccines to countries that had been dependent on India. The same day, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe secured an agreement to enhance military cooperation with Bangladesh. Soon, Dhaka also approved emergency use of the Sinopharm shots as the promised 15 million doses it paid for from the Serum Institute of India (SII) failed to arrive.

In April, Chinese President Xi Jinping had opposed “vaccine nationalism” in a conversation with Indonesian leader Joko Widodo, whose government green-signalled Sinopharm for emergency use. Indonesia also secured an additional 15 million shots of Sinovac.

India’s export ban has made Indonesia increasingly dependent on vaccine supplies from China. Other countries have also been forced to fall in line, only a few months after they were dissociating from the BRI projects.

Even the Philippines, having a territorial dispute with China, fell in line as it negotiated with Sinovac for a monthly delivery of four million doses. After India’s export delays deprived Manila of its biggest vaccine order, President Rodrigo Duterte said: “China remains our benefactor. Just because we have a conflict with China doesn’t mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful.”

Pushed from the centre-stage to the side-lines in vaccine supplies, India is watching these development with concern. New Delhi believes the current phase of the pandemic will pass soon and it can ramp up supplies again in a few months. India is aware that China is trying to exploit New Delhi’s crisis but is confident that other countries understand its predicament, an official said.

But China’s delight may, after all, be short-lived. For, many people from Pakistan to Brazil and Africa show a traditional lack of confidence in Chinese products, including vaccines.

That is where the Dragon’s soft belly is!

Quad gallops as Australia thumbs nose at China’s BRI

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is getting fresh steam and may forge ahead in 2021 to formally emerge as the ‘Asian NATO’. Quad, which its prime mover America sees as an instrument to remain the world’s only superpower in the 21st century, got two fillips last week. One, the US-led West arm-twisted India (on the Covid-19 vaccine issue) to end its dilly-dallying and join the four-nation pressure group against Beijing, and two, Australia broke off deals with China’s Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI).

Like NATO, the US-led Quad is a group of four ‘democratic’ countries (USA, India, Japan and Australia), against a ‘dictatorial’ China. More members could be enrolled into Quad once it formalizes as ‘Asian NATO’.

The US attempts to pull in Australia and India as ‘active’ participants in the Quad have begun to bear fruit with Canberra’s decisive steps. Japan, which suffered the American nuclear attacks in 1945, is more cautious.

In the last few months, China has tried to keep India away from Quad. In February, it pulled back the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Eastern Ladakh. This month, it agreed to export Chinese vaccines to India to combat Covid-19, at a time America is trying to leverage its position.

On Australia, however, China is furious, and slammed Canberra’ decision, signalling a worsening of ties between the nations.

The Australian federal government scrapped both the Memorandum of Understanding and framework agreement signed between Victoria (Australia’s south-eastern state) and China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Beijing’s top economic planning body. Foreign Minister Marise Payne described the deals, signed in 2018-19, as “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations.”

Payne’s announcement, which included bans on two other deals between Victoria and the governments of Iran and Syria, is an indication how fast the US is drawing in Australia inside the Quad.

The BRI deals with Victoria, Australia’s small but second-most populous state, aimed to increase Chinese participation in new infrastructure projects.

Condemning the step, Beijing’s embassy in Canberra said it “is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China.” “It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations—it is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself.”

The Communist Party of China (CPC) mouthpiece Global Times quoted Chen Hong, Director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University in Shanghai, as saying that Australia has “basically fired the first major shot against China in trade and investment conflicts” and that “China will surely respond accordingly.”

In a stern representation lodged with Australia, China has reserved the right to take more action, media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin as saying on Thursday in Beijing.

Relations between Australia and its largest trading partner have been souring since 2020 when Canberra demanded an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic now known as Covid-19. Beijing has since reacted with trade reprisals, including imposing crippling tariffs on Australian barley and wine while blocking coal shipments. In retaliation, Australia has also made life difficult for Chinese students coming for education, apart from taking other steps.

The Australian move to scrap BRI deals is the first under the new laws passed by the national parliament in December 2020, empowering the Foreign Minister to stop new and previously signed agreements between overseas governments and Australia’s eight states and territories, and also with bodies such as local authorities and universities.

These laws allowed the federal government, currently led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to block or curtail foreign involvement in a broad range of sectors including infrastructure, trade cooperation, tourism, cultural collaboration, science, health and education, and university research partnerships.

Foreign Minister Payne said more than 1,000 arrangements had been made between foreign governments and Australia’s states and territories, local governments and public universities.

But China has still not lost all hopes. The new law may allow the federal government to review and overturn MoUs between Beijing and the state governments of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania in sectors ranging from investment, science cooperation and access to the Antarctic. “I will continue to consider foreign arrangements,” Payne said. “I expect the overwhelming majority of them to remain unaffected.”

Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China’s cabinet and founder of the Center for China and Globalization, described Australia’s move as unwise.

Victoria’s participation in the BRI was a “huge benefit” for Australia, and “if they abandon that, it’s going to take more time for China-Australia relations to recover.”

Last week, America dilly-dallied export of vaccines and their ingredients to India, which is severely affected with the second wave of Covid-19. This dilly-dallying is strategic, and a quid pro quo for New Delhi’s own dilly-dallying to sign up for whole-hearted participation in the Quad.

This story is unfolding…

Is Jack ma China’s own Mikhail Gorbachev?

By jacking down Jack Ma, the Dragon has started killing the geese that laid golden eggs for four decades since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began its four-pronged modernizations in the early 1990s, at a time the Soviet Union, as a superpower, was disintegrating.

In its quest to replace Moscow as the next superpower, Beijing failed to see the ironies: the USSR had  heavily invested beyond its pocket to match rival America’s Star Wars programme. It went bust soon. On the other hand, China, nearly broke by the 1980s, turned itself around at a breakneck speed as it followed its visionary leader Deng Hsiao Feng’s famous words: “It does not matter what the cat’s colour is, as long as it catches mice!”

Then came Deng’s nemesis: Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2013,and crowned himself President-for-Life five years later. He was inspired not from Deng or even Mao Zedong but from North Korea’s Lilliputian dictators.

Under him, China began to balloon out. Before him, Beijing had adopted a dual system: for Hong Kong and indigenous entrepreneurs, as it went the whole hog embracing capitalist economy. With Xi’s advent, China became expansionist overtly and covertly, collecting more enemies than friends; it tried to erase Hong Kong’s autonomy, crushed the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, unnecessarily provoked America, India, Japan and Australia, among others, and united them against itself.

On the socio-political front, Beijing shrunk within, like an atheistic version of Islamists. The PRC and the Arabs are both burdened by prosperity and ultra-conservatism and are the mirror images of each other.

That is why the way the Muslim world, torn between material prosperity and psychological poverty, is tearing apart, the PRC, too, is disintegrating.

Jack Ma may well become the PRC’s own Mikhail Gorbachev, not only the whistle-blower but also the magnet that would attract reformers trying to get rid of the Communist Party’s ‘ultra-Islamic’ rule.  

The signs are appearing.

In six months, China has undone the work of millions of ambitious and starry-eyed Chinese youth who pushed their pauperised country to make it the world’s most enviable economy.

So what has China done? It has just punished its best-known entrepreneur and only the second best known Chinese, globally, after a revanchist President Xi Jinping. Jack Ma’s crime? He wanted the PRC to shed its archaic ways and modernize its outlook.

In October 2020, the Xi Gang cracked the whip against Jack Ma. It first stopped Ma-led Alibaba’s $35 billion IPO, the world’s biggest, and almost house-arrested him for months. Then it slapped a record $2.8 billion fine on Albaba Group Holding Ltd which, the government claimed, was abusing its monopolistic market dominance! Ironically, it is not Jack Ma but the Communist Party which has a monopolistic dominance not only over economy, but also in socio-political-academic-cultural narratives in the PRC.

With this hammer, the PRC may have readied its own coffin.

For, the miracle that is China today is not due to its fossilized Communist leadership but because of the innovations, hard work, and sacrifices made by millions of Chinese entrepreneurs who managed to create over 800 billionaires in four decades. Jack Ma is only one of them, though the most successful.

With his wings being clipped—or so China thinks!—the glorious era of China’s technology and financial giants is over.

In aping Moscow, Beijing forgot one crucial thing: despite facing challenges from America and its own socio-economic-political crises, the Soviets innovated a lot in both theoretical and practical science and technology, won multiple Nobel Prizes, even as they curbed political rebels. China, on the other hand, did little in theoretical and practical science and technology, followed corrupt practices, and shunned serious innovations that made both Moscow and Washington great powers for decades.

In contrast, China’s global ‘influence’, which began with Xi Jinping’s coronation in 2013, came to end in 2020 with its suspected role in a global biological warfare via the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, Beijing has lost trust even of unofficial Islamabad!

The full implications of China’s breakneck moves against Jack Ma’s internet empire would soon begin to manifest as other billionaires, suffocated in their country’s archaic policies within and geopolitical blunders without, gang up in rebellion: simply by doing nothing noteworthy any further!

This possibility is emerging after they witnessed how Beijing went against not only Jack Ma’s Alibaba but also ordered an overhaul of Ant Group Company’ It regulators summoned 34 of the country’s largest companies, including Tencent Holdings Ltd and Tiktok owner ByteDance Ltd, warning them all that “the red line of laws cannot be touched.”

As the world struggled with coronavirus, China managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, not only within but also without—against India, for example. Because the message Ma and other entrepreneurs got was that the decades of unfettered expansion, that created challengers to Facebook and Google, had ended.

Henceforth, China’s technology companies would shun innovation and move far more cautiously, what with their limbs tied up. Their international forays would also stop and their exponential growth will become subject of world lore. China’s billionaires, who elevated the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese people, will now enjoy the fruit of their labour rather than taking any more risks via-a-vis their unelected dictatorial government.

Growth of startups, modern era’s economic miracles, may also come to a halt. The likes of Alibaba and Tencent, who became Chinese industry’s kingmakers by investing billions of dollars into hundreds of startups, may hardly show any interest in continued investment in new startups.

With individual entrepreneurship and enthusiasm being suspected, these billionaires have also learnt a hard lesson in the last few months. The unprecedented series of regulatory actions has proved that Beijing will go all out to rein in its internet and fin-tech giants who have already seen how $200 billion were wiped off Alibaba’s valuation since October 20

This week, media reported that Chinese titans from Tencent to Meituan are next up in the cross-hairs because they’re the dominant players in their respective fields. “The days of reckless expansion and wild growth are gone forever, and from now on the development of these firms is likely going to be put under strict government control. That’s going to be the case in the foreseeable future,” said Shen Meng, a director at Beijing-based boutique investment bank Chanson & Co.

“Companies will have to face the reality that they need to streamline their non-core businesses and reduce their influence across industries. The cases of Alibaba and Ant will prompt peers to take the initiative to restructure, using them as the reference.

The most amorphous yet dire threat lies in the simple principle implicit in regulators’ pronouncements over the past few days: that Beijing will brook no monopolies that threaten its hold on power.

Clearly, Xi is scared that Jack Ma might replace him as President of China!

How pandemics alter geopolitics, create new superpowers?

Pandemics are, perhaps, like Nature’s detergents that cleanse up clogged arteries of Organic Evolution by removing surplus population. These widespread diseases have often changed the course of world history.

Nothing cripples human societies the way diseases do. Pandemics have triggered the collapse of empires, weakened contemporary powers, and institutions, caused social upheavals and ended even wars. They have altered geopolitics, pushed up new players, and unveiled superpowers

Thus, these scourges have had great influence in shaping human society, civilizations, geopolitics, and national politics throughout history.

We can list here some of these pandemics and how they reshaped our known history.

The Justinian Plague was among the deadliest pandemics ever recorded. It broke out in the sixth century in Egypt and spread fast to Constantinople, the capital of the then Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine), at the peak of its imperial glory. The plague was named after the then Byzantine’s Christian Emperor Justinian (482-565 AD). The outbreak spread from Constantinople to both the East and West, and killed an estimated 25 to 100 million people.

The scourge returned, again and again, in waves, in different countries, until 750 AD, paving the way for Islam to replace a weakened Christianity as the dominant faith. The Byzantine army weakened as it failed to recruit new soldiers or maintain military supplies to battlegrounds. It lost one province after another…By the time the plague ended, the empire had lost vast tracts of Europe to the new forces like Germanic-speaking Franks and Syria and Egypt to Islam…

Another pandemic, the deadliest in our recorded annals, which changed the course of history in the medieval era, was the Black Death, or pestilence. It hit Europe and Asia in the 14th century and was estimated to have killed between 75 and 200 million people. In the early 1340s, the scourge struck India, China, Egypt, Syria and some other countries before arriving in Europe in 1347 where it killed about 50 percent of the total population.

It also had lasting economic and social consequences. The pandemic led to large-scale persecution of the Jews in Europe as the Christians blamed the community for spreading the diseases…it continued until the Jews returned to Israel after the Second World War in the mid-20th century.

But the Black Death was also a great leveler. It began to dismantle the old feudal system, improved the wages for workers due to their dwindled numbers, and gave a strong voice to the underprivileged…which led to the emergence of democracy. It also weakened the hold of the Church on the Christians some of whom broke away to form Protestant denominations—and virtually shifted the global power of Christianity to America.

In the early 20th century, the ‘Spanish flu’ we now know as influenza impacted likewise. The pandemic broke out in the last phase of the First World War (1914-18), killing up to 50 million people worldwide. From Europe, it spread to America and Asia. It weakened the war machine of the Germans and Austrians, and dismantled the last Muslim Empire of the Ottomans. India was the worst-hit; it lost about 6 percent of the population, up to 18 million people, crippling the British Empire and its Indian soldiers, and paving the way for the rise of anti-colonial movement, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Similarly, in the early 21st century, Covid-19 has unfolded to reshape geopolitics…in 2021, we are apprehensive of what could happen next. While the pandemic is still unfolding in waves, ebbs and flows, and will take years to settle down with a ‘new normal’, we can make some intelligent guess about its long-term impact.

Some experts have suggested the following three-phased progression: (1) The end of the globalized liberal order; (2) A resurgence of authoritarianism, as in the 1930s; and (3) a China-dominated New World Order.

But this appears simplistic, based as it is on the previous scenarios. Of course the past can guide us to explain the present and push us towards the possible future, we should know that the past would have stayed on if it was perfect.  A study of history can make us historian, not history-maker!

We can make history if learn from past errors and innovate for the future.

Covid-19 can help us understand the emerging scenario.

The fear that we have come to the end of the globalized liberal order appears unfounded; in our world of globalization of economies and internationalization of civilization, this is not possible—even dictatorships promise democracy! No country, not even North Korea or Myanmar, for example, can live in isolation for long, sitting as they are on their own volcanoes; they will have to come to terms with modernity and join the mainstream, or disintegrate and disappear.

Similarly, the authoritarianism of the 1930s cannot return, except in some areas. No country, not even Saudi Arabia, can afford to ignore the calls of modernity. And no country can import only the consumer products of the West but not its socio-political value systems that had created those products in the first place. Science and democracy are Siamese twins.

Which brings us to the ‘belief’ that China can replace America as the sole superpower.

Of course the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has risen phenomenally as an economic powerhouse, but its ancient socio-political infrastructure is unable to absorb so much wealth; it is like a beggar burdened with a jackpot! Internal pressures will eventually prise open the Communist-controlled dying socio-political infrastructure and create a new one.

There is a major difference between China and America; the former is almost entirely full of native population while the latter is almost full of immigrants of different varieties and generations. In the US, the people run the government; in the PRC, it is the other way round.

So China can flaunt its riches and huge population, America is likely to remain ahead of it due to its controlled population constantly requiring immigrants who come with innovations. Thus America will, in all likelihood, continue to remain the planet’s hub of innovations while China will have to make do with its moniker of world’s factory.

Huge population has huge surpluses and it is no longer an asset, but a liability, where it is China or India. What matters is a continuous inflow of working and innovating population, something that made America the world power in the last century.

But America may outsource its powers to the new group, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) it is trying to set up with India, Japan, and Australia, as a remote-control over China.

These democracies will be the real challenge to China in the 21st century.

And this will perhaps be the contribution of Covid-19 to geopolitics.

From President-to-Prophet: Xi Jinping emerging as China’s Muhammad!

Across the Muslim world, believers, including children, are taught to follow what Prophet Muhammad, and those close to him, did back in the seventh century. The Hadiths (Traditions) detail how the ideal Muslims’ daily life and beliefs should be like.

Something similar is being attempted in China, where President-for-Life Xi Jinping has emerged almost as a home-grown prophet in a country that has long boasted of atheism.

China has for long been trying to eradicate alien global religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. In Tibet, it tried to erase Buddhism; in Xinjiang and elsewhere, it has been taking tough measures against Islam and Muslims; elsewhere, particularly in Hong Kong, Beijing has made life difficult for Christians.

Quoting Karl Marx, Being called all these religions ‘opiate’ of the masses.

But now China is trying to establish its own “religion”, with Xi Jinping as the First Prophet.

Media reports this week indicated that Chinese schoolchildren are being prompted to study Xi Jinping’s “teachings” ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s centennial celebration in July 2021.

On Wednesday, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC)’s Central Committee issued new guidelines to accelerate ideological education among the Chinese Young Pioneers, a national youth organization affiliated to the party.

According to these guidelines, all children in primary school and the first two years of secondary school should have at least one weekly class to carry out Young Pioneers activities, and the core training materials for the teaching staff should be what it claims to be “Xi Thought”.

Members of the Young Pioneers should be taught to “firmly bear in mind” the teachings of Xi, and “do what Xi has instructed,” the guidelines said.

In China, everyone from diplomats to executives to even science fiction writers are under pressure to incorporate the broad, often fuzzy tenets of “Xi Thought” into their policies, part of an effort to elevate it alongside Maoism and help consolidate the President’s effort to further cement control, media said.

The guidelines directed that the children be taught that “today’s happy life comes ultimately from the correct leadership of the Party” as well as “from the superiority of our socialist system.”

Strengthening “political enlightenment and forming of values” among children is of strategic importance to make sure the “red genes are passed down from generations to generations,” party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, said Thursday, citing the guidelines.

Another state-backed newspaper, the China Daily, cited the guidelines in an article, “Cultivation of Children Seen as Strategic,”, stating that kids are the country’s and the party’s future. The CPC had always made cultivating the country’s in a good manner a “strategic” and “fundamental” task.

The CPC’s guidelines came after Xi’s visit to a village in the south-western Guizhou province which, the state media claimed, had successfully eradicated poverty. Posing for photos with local people from the Miao ethnic minority, Xi greeted the Chinese ahead of the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on February 11. This is significant because, in 2020, millions of Chinese were banned from celebrating the New Year amid the outbreak of “Chinese virus”, COVID-19, at Wuhan.

The Chinese Young Pioneers was founded in 1949 and includes almost all children in China between the ages of six and 14. It has played an “irreplaceable role” in guiding generations of children to follow the instructions of the party, the guidelines claimed.

The guidelines also called for the promotion of exchanges between Young Pioneers in the mainland and children’s’ organizations in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, so as to enhance the “national, ethnic and cultural identity of youth in these areas.”

Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), had also become a cult figure in the 1940s-1970s. His “policies” killed millions of Chinese in different disasters, including the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution.” His “Little Red Book” had become a Bible for Communists across the world.

The Xi Thought is an attempt to put it on the same pedestal as the Red Book. So much so that Xi Thought and his “philosophy” are invading even science fiction and weather and earthquake predictions.

The “Xi Thought” is being compiled in one place, although the three-volume “Xi Jinping: The Governance of China”, a collection of his speeches, writings, sayings and ideas, is already out. More than 20 applications of Xi Thought on everything from economic management and military reform to controlling the media and the arts that have appeared in state media since 2018.

While ‘Mao Zedong Thought’ stressed toward adapting Marxist-Leninism to a pre-industrial society, Xi Thought is all about maintaining the CPC’s strong control at a time when China is being pilloried as an international villain, and facing the Hong Kong heat spreading all over the country.

Bottom of Form

Barring Mao, no other Chinese leader has had his ideology raised to the level of “thought,” which carries a special meaning in the CPC propaganda. Ultimately, Xi Thought can be whatever Xi thinks he needs to ensure his own rule.

“It seems quite obvious from all signals, that he wants to serve beyond 10 years, perhaps for 20 years,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies, who has authored numerous books on Chinese politics. “To remain in power for that long, he needs to consolidate his power base.”

Merchant of Wuhan wears three albatrosses: COVID-19, CPEC, and India

Just when China was plotting to dislodge America to emerge as the world’s first supreme power and used different tactics in different countries to buy them off, it finds being weighed down by the three albatrosses of its own creations in 2020, now haunting it in 2021.

Despite denying role as the epicenter of the “China virus” and claiming success in ‘containing’ the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the Dragon has only Pakistan and North Korea for ‘friends’. It has antagonized almost the entire world, reminiscent of the isolation of Nazi Germany in the early 1940s—like Beijing, Berlin also had only two friends in Rome and Tokyo. Each of China’s action or statement is now suspected and thoroughly scrutinized by the world. Beijing’s carefully built reputation lies in tatters.

Many importers from China, until 2019, mocked only its substandard products; in South Asia, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, China became a byword for everything fake. Now these countries mock Beijing as the manufacturer of its only genuine export: COVID-19!

The pandemic is still spreading across the world in newer variants and wreaking havoc in one country after another. It has already claimed 1.85 million lives and infected over 85.5 million others. China has been unable to convince the world about its claims on the pandemic. And this mistrust is now showing.

Suspicious countries now think multiple times before they import from China—goods, services, assurances or debt— lest Beijing start arm-twisting them like a barbarian Shylock in neo-Shakespearian Merchant of Wuhan. Many have cancelled new orders, or cancelled the old ones. Reports indicate that fresh contracts for supplies are steadily slowing down, leaving huge industrial capacities increasingly redundant in China. Each country is now discovering alternate supply chains, and rejecting Beijing as international business pariah.

After a year-long arrogance, and foolishly uniting its enemies, China now realizes its basic folly: even if it rules the world, how would it force the colonized, pauperized people to buy its products and protect “communism” in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)? It cannot force the world to import and keep communism in power at the same time.

Clearly, COVID-19 is the noose the Dragon is increasingly tightening around its own neck.

Another albatross is the ultra-ambitious, USD 65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the USD 200 billion Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) conceived by President-for-Life Xi Jinping. It is proving a white elephant for China. A comatose investment.

The much-delayed CPEC’s most-challenging part passes through the Pakistan Army-controlled and terror-infested Baluchistan, Pakistan’s biggest and restive province. With rapidly changing geopolitical equations in the Muslim world, and divided opinion in Pakistan itself, Beijing is cautiously waiting-and-watching efficacy of the whole project afresh.

The progress on CPEC has, therefore, slowed down due to the economic downturn, and restrictions by the IMF’s bail-out programme on fresh borrowings, besides the pandemic, which have all forced Beijing to halt  or slowdown new projects on the CPEC.

The third albatross around China’s neck is India. In May 2020, Beijing tried to divert world attention from the pandemic to the Himalayas. In a quick military action aimed at quicker victory, it tried to redraw the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and push the international border into Indian (and then Nepalese) territories.

But it found something it had not bargained for: it discovered a resistant and tough India delivering a befitting reply, and ended up its acolyte Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli announcing elections in mid-2021! China has also ‘successfully’ united India, the US, Australia, and Japan against Beijing—and more countries are set to join the Quadrilateral (Quad) group in the Indo-Pacific region, the first step towards an ‘Asian Nato’.

In 2021, China is set to reap the fruits of its ‘investments’ in 2020!