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.

How Biden plans to speed past, and stop China!

If Joe Biden successfully launches two of his favourite multi-trillion dollar infrastructure projects, in and out of America, he may well go down in history as one of the most successful American Presidents.

In March, he proposed two highly-ambitious infrastructure projects: the first one will challenge China’s mammoth $3.7 trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to commercially connect over 100 countries across three continents; and the other aims to revamp the USA’s ageing infrastructure, pegged at $2.3 billion, in the next eight years.

On the foreign policy front, Biden proposed a ‘democratic’ rival to BRI during a telephonic conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week. He suggested founding an initiative from democratic countries to rival China’s BRI at a time tensions spike between Beijing and the West.

Recently, the US President had declared that he would prevent China from passing the US to emerge the world’s most powerful nation, and he vowed to invest heavily to ensure America prevailed in the ever-growing rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.

“I suggested that we should have, essentially, a similar initiative coming from the democratic states, helping those communities around the world that, in fact, need help”, Biden told reporters, referring to BRI.

Since President-for-Life Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, China has been trying to increase influence by ‘debt-trapping’ some countries, raising concerns among regional powers and the West.

The BRI has, in fact, come as a major geopolitical challenge to the West as China has helped many countries to build infrastructure. China has enrolled over 100 countries for cooperation in the BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.

As of mid-2020, more than 2,600 projects were linked to the BRI, but 20 percent of them had been “seriously affected” by the global pandemic. Some countries have also pushed back their BRI projects as costly and unnecessary. They forced Beijing to scale back some plans by asking it to review, cancel or scale down commitments, citing concerns over costs, erosion of sovereignty, and corruption. Even the BRI’s flagship project, the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPAC) has virtually stopped mid-way.

While Biden’s ‘BRI-II’ plan is yet to take wings, he has also proposed  another, multi-trillion dollar plan to revamp ageing infrastructure of the USA itself, and position Washington to out-compete Beijing.

The proposed $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan is expected to create millions of ‘good paying’ jobs and rebuild the American infrastructure in what officials deem as a “once-in-a-century capital investment” in America. “By this investment, over the next eight years, we can transform our current and future infrastructure and fundamentally change life for Americans”, officials said.

“If passed alongside President Biden’s Made in America corporate tax plan, it would be fully paid for within the next 15 years and reduce deficits in the years after. This plan will bring public investment as a share of the economy back to where it was in the 1960s, the last time we made transformative investments in our nation’s infrastructure,” they said.

Currently, the US ranks 13th in global infrastructure. Delays caused by traffic congestion alone cost over $160 billion per annum, and motorists are forced to pay over $ 1,000 every year in wasted time and fuel.

The Biden plan proposes to invest $620 billion in transportation infrastructure, which will modernise 20,000 miles of highways, roads and main streets. It will also fix the 10 most economically-significant bridges in need of reconstruction, and repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, reconnecting communities across the country.

Also, it will spark the electric vehicle revolution, building a network of 500,000 Electric Vehicles (EV) chargers, replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles, electrify at least 20 per cent of the yellow bus fleet, and help consumers purchase the vehicles of tomorrow, media reports quoting the White House said.

The plan will make the new infrastructure more resilient to climate change. Some 40 per cent of the benefits of the climate and clean infrastructure investments will flow back to the disadvantaged communities.

As part of the plan, investments of $650 billion will reconnect communities and transform the way Americans live.

The plan will deliver universal broadband access, including to the more than 35 per cent of rural Americans who currently lack access, in addition to the underserved communities that cannot afford it. It will entirely replace the nation’s lead pipes and service lines and reduce lead exposure in 400,000 schools and childcare centers. It will also lay thousands of miles of transmission lines, making the electric grid more resilient. It will build, renovate, and retrofit more than 2 million homes and housing units.

The plan will also repair schools, community colleges, childcare facilities, and federal buildings, including the veterans’ hospitals. It will cap hundreds of thousands of orphan oil and gas wells and abandoned mines, putting many people to work in communities that have been affected by the market-based transition to clean energy.

The American Jobs Plan will invest $400 billion in the care economy. The plan will support well-paying caregiving jobs that include benefits and the ability to collectively bargain.

Besides, the plan invests $580 billion in Research and Development (R&D), manufacturing and training, and $50 billion in domestic semiconductor manufacturing, securing the US leadership in a global market that supplies critical inputs for almost all goods — from cars to refrigerators to computers.

The US also proposed to fundamentally reform the corporate tax code so that it incentivises job creation and investment in the United States, stops unfair and wasteful profit shifting to tax havens, and ensures that large corporations are paying their fair share, the officials said.

One key element of the plan is to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. The rate will remain lower than at any point since World War II other than the years since the 2017 tax act.

Immigration: New US laws may help Trump bounce back in 2024

He had hinted that he will return. For now, Donald Trump is, since the accession of President Joe Biden in January 2021, lying low. He has reasons to smile and announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election.

Angry Trumpites—chiefly the conservative Republicans and the White supremacists, in the “Bible Belt”—had created mayhem in Washington DC on January 4, 2021, when the US Congress met to confirm Biden’s election as the 46th President in the November 2020 election, which the outgoing President had dubbed as a ‘massive voter fraud’ perpetrated by the Democrats.

Additionally, within two months, Biden, 78, has proved that he is too old, ageing faster, and forgetful, a deadly combination for any leader, particularly for the President of the “world’s only superpower”. Last November, he broke his leg. This week, he addressed Vice President Kamala Harris as “President”, and stumbled, thrice, while boarding his official aircraft, Air Force One. The White House had a difficult time claiming his ‘good health’, as the video of his stumble went viral all over the world.

In contrast, Trump, 74, is robust, full of energy, and in fighting spirit. Even  leaders of new American ‘Asian NATO’ partner countries are likewise: Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga (72), Indian PM Narendra Modi (70), and Australian PM Scott Morrison (52).

Even China’s President-for-Life Xi Jinping is only 67.

Clearly, Biden is the oldest of them all. And age, and falling health, are catching up with him: in 2024, he will be 81, and Trump 77.

Besides, Trump has reason to be optimistic about his next run, thanks to the new immigration laws the Biden Administration has just got through.

These may potentially open the ‘floodgates’ for foreign immigrants, strengthening Trump’s voter-base. In the next four years, the White Americans would helplessly watch more ‘coloured’ people flooding in from across all borders, including Mexico, and change the very complexion and demographic composition of America.

The US House of Representatives (Lower House of Parliament) has just passed two key bills that would ease getting American citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, some migrant farmworkers and children whose parents immigrated legally to the country, like those under the H-1B visa program. The bills will now go to the Upper House (Senate), which must pass before the President signs to make them law.

Describing it as a critical first step in “reforming” America’s immigration system, President Biden welcomed the passage of the fresh bill, the American Dream, and the Promise Act of 2021. The House passed it on Thursday by 228-197 votes.

It will provide relief to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders and Dreamers, young people who entered the US as children and know no other country. “I support this bill, and commend the House of Representatives for passing this important legislation,” Biden said.

Those known as ‘dreamers’ are basically undocumented immigrants who enter the country as children with parents. The US has nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants from all over the world, including more than 500,000 from India, a policy document issued by the Biden campaign in November 2020, had revealed.

Indian-Americans are the third most influential community in the US. Currently, they constitute about 2 percent of the total population of 331 million, or nearly 7 million. 

Among others, the bill also provides relief for legal dreamers, the foreign-born children of non-immigrant workers, including those on H-1B visas, who lose their legal status once they reach 21 years of age. It would allow many other promising young people to pursue their ‘American Dream’.

The H-1B visa, the most sought after among Indian IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows American companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations requiring theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

“My administration looks forward to working together with Congress to do the right thing for Dreamers and TPS holders who contribute so much to our country, and to building a 21st-century immigration system that is grounded in dignity, safety, and fairness… to create a path to citizenship for the undocumented population in the United States”, Biden said.

The American Dream and Promise Act establishes a path to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and for certain individuals who either held or were eligible for TPS or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

The majority of these individuals have been in the United States for much of their lives, often with work authorization and temporary protection against deportation.

Five years after attaining full LPR status, individuals are then eligible to apply for citizenship, a path that is supported by nearly 75 percent of the American public, Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera said.

This legislation is protecting Dreamers, TPS, and DED recipients honor the truth that immigrants are the constant reinvigoration of our country, when they come here with their hopes and dreams and aspirations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the original sponsor of the Dream Act said that “the legislative solution was long overdue for Dreamers who have devoted their lives to our country, undocumented migrant farmworkers doing backbreaking agricultural work during this pandemic to keep food on our tables.”

Undocumented immigrants are believed to be one of the largest groups among the immigrant essential workforce, making up 5.2 million essential workers, of which nearly one million are Dreamers, part of the 2019 American Dream and Promise Act, who entered the US as children.

Another legislation, the Farm Workforce Modernisation Act, will allow unauthorized farmworkers to earn legal status in the US and update temporary agricultural worker programs to meet the economy’s needs. It will provide H-2A eligibility to employers having year-round labor needs, which is critical for dairy and livestock.

According to New American Economy, more than 500,000 DACA-eligible immigrants are essential workers, including 62,000 in the healthcare industry alone.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said that since Obama created DACA in 2012 to temporarily protect Dreamers, more than 800,000 individuals have registered for the program. California is home to the most DACA recipients, more than one in four live in our state.

These young people didn’t break the law, many were brought here as babies or small children by their parents. They now go to school, work, and pay taxes here in the United States. They are US citizens in all but name, she said.

The 2024 electoral battle for the next US Presidency, therefore, is expected to be between the old immigrants and the new ones.

Murphy’s Law: China’s BRI dreams turn into a nightmare!

No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it. Murphy’s famous law says: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

Who knows it better than China?

Billed as the world’s most ambitious infrastructure project ever at an investment of USD 600 billion, China’s dream of networking nearly 70 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe and replace America as the planet’s Supreme Power, has turned into a nightmare with Beijing facing a severely shrinking economy in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But China is still putting up a brave face, even applauding the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), formerly known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), lest the Communist rebels waiting in the wings gang up against the present dispensation.

On March 11, President-for-Life Xi Jinping applauded the BRI during the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

The facts are, however, different. Even in China’s so-called ‘all-weather’ ally Pakistan, only 32 of the total 122 projects announced under the BRI could be completed since 2013. And adverse economic climate has forced Beijing to cut back on new loans and investments under the BRI due to the country’s shrinking economy, aggravated by Covid-19, which has made these projects financially unviable, according to The Kabul Times.

Within a year, China’s investment in the BRI shrunk by a whopping 54 percent to USD 47 billion in 2020, the Green Belt and Road Initiative Centre, a research organisation, has disclosed.

Wang Xiao Long, Director-General of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s International Economic Affairs Department, said 20 percent of the BRI projects were seriously affected while another 30-40 percent witnessed adverse impact due to economic downturn.

During the 2020 pandemic, China’s economy nosedived, so much so that its lending under the BRI plummeted from USD 75 billion in 2016 to a trickle of USD 3 billion in 2020.

Not only economic downturn, the BRI projects are also plagued with other problems in different countries. These include rampant corruption, lack of financial transparency, unfair loan conditions, fears of debt-traps, and negative social and environmental impacts.

In Pakistan’s restive province of Baluchistan, for example, Chinese officials and workers have suffered the wrath of native population on several occasions, despite the Pakistani Army ‘protecting’ them. Also, political opposition, for the first time against China, has increased. Many intellectuals and politicians have even denounced the BRI’s flagship conglomerate, the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Baluchistan, as the beginning of yet another ‘East India Company’s attempts to colonize a country’.

Rapidly shrinking growth has forced Beijing to tighten fiscal discipline and work on financial risk, which would translate into lower prospects of China pumping money into the BRI projects now, media reports said.

The Rhodium Group, an independent research organisation, said that the progress or growth of the BRI projects had begun decelerating even before the Covid-19 outbreak late in 2019. The Chinese investment became stagnant and even decelerated in most of the developing world in the past three years.

Since the inception of the BRI in 2013, China had been trying to woo developing or poor African and Asian countries through complex loans and investments terms and conditions, triggering fears of debt-traps in many countries. The pandemic’s outbreak, however, came as a bolt from the blue to China itself as it threw millions out of jobs and businesses went bankrupt. This disrupted cash flow and made a huge impact on the country’s economy.

Now the contraction in Chinese lending is expected to further widen the overseas lending gap as well. As the BRI stumbles, China’s diplomatic image as a dependable development partner would be dented, The Kabul Times said.

Many see the BRI dream going bust, even turning into a nightmare.

James Crabtree, Associate Professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, said China will have to walk on the tight rope since the BRI loanee countries want their loans to be cancelled while Chinese people are against overseas spending in such difficult times.

Bradley Parks, Executive Director of AidData, a research laboratory, cited difficulties in construction activities, which would lead to “a significant slowdown” in the implementation of the BRI.

“With the sustainability of financing for the BRI projects already posing a challenge and Chinese capital expected to be mobilized to first meet its domestic needs, the pandemic as well as its induced economic slowdown will be a further setback and may even sound the death knell for some BRI projects,” said global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

Arctic: China plans to ‘encircle’ Russia, Europe

After failing to tame India in the Himalayas, China is toying with the revived idea to wrest back the territory it believes it had lost to Russia and Europe since the Mongol era of the 13th century when Changez Khan and his successors created the largest-ever empire on the globe and ran it for a century.

With this objective, Beijing is putting together another Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)-like plan. It is known as the Polar Silk Road (PSR).

In the post-Mongol era, large parts of Central and East Asia became independent and then were made part of Russia and then the Soviet Union. China has tried to reclaim this ‘lost territory’

On the face of it the PSR could potentially reduce distances significantly for global trade. But the Arctic Ocean remains frozen over for most part of the year, making it much harder to traverse than the two Arctic shipping routes currently available, through the Northern Sea and the Northwest Passage, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said.

China argues that the PSR could be developed as a new sea route through the ice-covered parts of the Arctic Ocean, which is now melting (due to climate change).

Beijing now plans to participate in the ‘pragmatic cooperation’ on the Arctic and the building of a PSR, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted recently from the draft outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for national economic and social development and the long-range objectives to the year 2035.

These plans were submitted to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s Parliament, which began its annual session in Beijing this week, media reported.

Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Transpolar Sea Route (TSR) will cut across the centre of the Arctic Ocean, passing close to the North Pole.

 “To the best of our knowledge, China is the only country to have led official expeditions of all three Arctic shipping passages, including the TSR,” a research team, led by Dr Mia Bennett from the University of Hong Kong, wrote in the paper.

In 2018, China had hinted at the intention to expand influence in the Arctic region, published a white paper calling for its transformation into a PSR and highlighted plans to integrate with its multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China unveiled the BRI in 2013 with the aim to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a vast network of land and sea routes. The USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is part of the larger BRI.

India has refused to join the BRI, the pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as the CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Divided States of America: “Movement has only just begun,” says triumphant Trump

Only thirty-eight days after his violent supporters stormed the US Congress on the Capitol Hill in Washington, former President Donald Trump, accused of inciting this “insurrection”, was exonerated of all the allegations the Democrats had brought against him and impeached him a second time.

This exoneration has thrown up a larger question. Will Trump’s successor Joe Biden become Abraham Lincoln-II?

The impeachment move against Trump came after an angry mob of his supporters stormed the US Congress on January 6, 2021, trying to stop it from certifying the Electoral College results that showed his Democrat rival Joe Biden had defeated him in the November 3, 2020, elections.

On February 13, the Senate (Upper House) acquitted him of all charges of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol after a majority of Republican lawmakers voted him “not guilty”. They refused to vote in favor of the Democrats’ move to punish Trump.

His successor, the 46th President Joe Biden, who took the oath on January 20, was reported to be against Trump’s impeachment as he feared the former President stood to gain, either way: if impeached a second time, his millions of White, conservative supporters could permanently ditch the Democrats; if he won, these same jubilant supporters would make life hell for the new Administration.

Nobody knew it better than Biden as to what Trump’s exoneration means.

Hours after the Senate’s acquittal, he said in a statement: “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile.”

But he also had to do a balancing act: “While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute.”

Never has America been so divided after Abraham Lincoln’s era in the mid-19th century.

 “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” a triumphant Trump said in a statement, hours after the Senate vote, media reported.

“In the months ahead, I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future.”

While a two-thirds majority (67 votes) was needed in the 100-member US Senate to convict Trump on charges of inciting violence, only 57 Senators voted in favour of holding Trump guilty, while 43 voted ‘not guilty’.

Seven anti-Trump Republican Senators joined the Democrats’ ranks and voted for his conviction in the five-day long trial, making it the most bipartisan impeachment trial in the history of the USA.

Trump described this impeachment trial, his second during his four-year tenure, as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.” “No President has ever gone through anything like it.”

The House of Representatives (Lower House) had impeached Trump on January 13 and sent the charge of inciting an insurrection to the Senate to hold the trial.

“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” senior Republican leader Mitch McConnell said after voting to acquit Trump.

He said that his vote against conviction was based on a technicality that under the Constitution Trump could not be impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate because he was out of office.

Democrats and their Republican supporters, however, said that although he was no longer the president, he could still be impeached and face the penalty of being barred from running for office.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Party leader in the Senate, was shocked. He condemned the Republicans who voted against the Trump conviction.

“The failure to convict Donald Trump will live as a vote of infamy in the history of the US Senate,” he said.

“We saw it, we heard it, we lived it,” he said, calling the January 6 incidents a “constitutional crime” witnessed by Senators.

Trump’s second impeachment was quite shorter that his first in 2020 and relied largely on the video footage of his incendiary remarks and storming of the US Congress. His defense argued that he did not incite “what was already going to happen” that day and that his remarks were protected by his right to free speech, as per the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Trump, who had won more than 74 million votes in the election, had, even after being declared defeated, announced that he will continue to be politically active, hinting that he might run again in 2024. He reiterated it on Saturday as well. His massive support base had made the majority of Republican Senators wary of crossing his way.

Post-exoneration, Trump may prove more dangerous to Biden.

“In the months ahead, I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!”, Trump said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the pro-Trump Senators who voted to acquit him, “cowardly”. She however ruled out censuring Trump saying it would let “everybody off the hook”.

“What we saw in that Senate today was a cowardly group of Republicans who apparently have no options because they are afraid to defend their job… respect the institution in which they serve,” Pelosi said at a press conference after the historic but controversial trial.

“What is so important that the political survival of any one of us that (sic) is more important than our Constitution that we take an oath to protect and defend?” she asked, media reports said.

McConnell said that he voted to acquit Trump because “former Presidents are not eligible for conviction.” Shortly after the vote, however, he said the former President was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the January 6 attack.

They (the mob) did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth,” he said.

Like Biden, he was also forced to do a balancing act!

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.”

Rip Van Biden: Like Rome, the West laughs and dies!

Many remember stunning, recurring TV coverage of how the freedom-fatigued Americans, indeed others in the West too, repeatedly broke the lockdown protocols imposed to check the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. They risked not only other people’s lives but also their own. This cavalier attitude is a sure sign of a civilization’s fatal embrace of possible death.

Death not with a bang but without a whimper.

Some historians have studied how an epicurean Rome died laughing before it sunk into an ecclesiastical Christianity in the fourth century. Rome did not foresee the Dark Age it was sliding into. Only the collapse of the eight bloody Crusades it launched against the Muslims in the 11th to 13th century could wake it up to  walk into the morning of Renaissance.

On January 6, 2021, America may now have matured into a New Rome. From George Washington to Washington Irving. Like Rip Van Winkle, it finds the world has completely changed and is beyond recognition. Like Winkle, again, America has slept through the civilizational revolution sweeping across the planet. As it wakes up from a long, troubled slumber, it will discover a paradigm shift in the world’s power structure, indeed civilizational design.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are only symptoms of what ails America—a hysterically-divided society. Trump’s “America First” will alternate with Biden’s ‘Democracy First’ dreams, pulling the US further down. America first made China the world’s workshop; not the workshop is challenging the Chairman’s share-holding strategy!

It is another thing that even China’s dreams of world conquest could remain what they are, pipe dreams. Beijing poured in a fourth of its four trillion dollars foreign exchange reserves to develop ultra-ambitious the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects since 2013 across 70 countries. It focused on marking the vast Eurasian landmass and parts of Africa into an integrated zone, a “world island” to replace the American hegemony by a Chinese one. Pakistan is Beijing’s first overseas colony.

Barack Obama and Trump tried to check this inexorable fall of America in the face of the Dragon’s challenges. But America could not keep even European Union intact and Britain exited, threatening even the existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), once directed against the former Soviet Union, and now Russia. While Europe slips away, and the Middle East both splitting and boiling, America will have much more on its plate than it could handle.

Trump’s unilateral “America First” policy sparked a costly trade war with China and then he capitulated to Beijing in January 2020, relaxing US duties on Chinese goods in exchange for the Dragon’s insistance that it could not be forced to buy more American goods! Not only this, China also bankrolled a colour-blind Europe, weaning it away from Washington for the first time in 70 years.

Now China potentially has a preferential access to nearly half of all world trade, even without full development of BRI projects and its flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) facing rough weather. Beijing’s ‘inclusiveness’ may mean Washington’s exclusion from Europe and Asia.

Empires usually decline slowly. Trump in the White House was only a manifestation of America’s long suppressed malaise. He was symptom of what Washington was headed to. Like a bull in a china shop, he tried to bend America to his will, rupturing time-tested alliances, tearing up treaties, denying incontrovertible climate science, and demanding respect for American authority with an empty rhetoric that threatened military retaliation or economic reprisals internationally.

Despite his woolly policies, the Republican Party surrendered, corporate honchos admired, and half of the Americans saw in him their saviour.

Then the “Chinese virus” hit America and the rest of the world as Trump and his crackpots belittled the COVID-19 challenge, angered scientists, and did not stop superstitious Americans from even consuming disinfectants and bleach to protect themselves.

Hurtling from one crisis to another.

Then Biden defeated Trump who tried to regain the White House on January 6 through ‘insurrection’ but failed and left it on January 20, 2021, almost announcing a return in 2024.

Salivating at Biden’s lollypops, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and other immigrants are now waiting to crawl into America, as the next dose of nation-cripplers.

In 2019, a survey of the Brookings Institution on the changes in the ethnic proportions of the U.S. population revealed that the number of White population in America declined from 79.6% in 1980 to 60.4% in 2018.

In about 40 years, the Whites dropped 20% while the White under-15 years accounted for only 49.9%, the survey said.

According to this trend, in about the next 20 years, the White population will be less than half of the national population, and Whites under-30 will become a clear minority.

This quantitative change in demographic structure will fundamentally change American politics.

That is, America’s core ethnic nucleus is vanishing faster than ever like the Antarctica’s ice cap.

Watch this space for Biden going the Trump way!