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!