The Indian Alternative to a ‘dangerous realpolitik’ China

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (right), director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), sitting next to Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, at the coronavirus briefing on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: EPA-EFE

China, one of the mousiest yet tactical members of the United Nations, especially, of the UN Security Council, paralysed the world through one of the most heinous and tactically -in-efficient’ foreign policy approach that it has ever adopted in these hard and boiled times for the rules-based international order. It blocked the request of Estonia, a non-permanent UNSC member to discuss on the very matter of the COVID19 crisis. It may be contended that it is a gerrymandering of the very context of ‘peace and international security’. However, the context does not arrive from the very estimate and understanding of how problems seem to be in a bare reality. It was clear enough that the COVID19 or the New Coronavirus among the 7 found in the People’s Republic in China in December 2019, was spread since November 2019 reportedly. The world sensed it late and the very foundations of free movement and trust were shaken. The world order after Coronavirus may be estimated as vague and less prosperous, but the rise of China and a series of issues of distrust between the US and China would scare a person who has lives through decades of multilateralism based on some limited trust which had conferred the rule-based international order.

Read The Fast & Furious Multipolar, Economic and Political Global Order

From Fareed Zakaria to Joseph Nye Jr and even Ruchir Sharma, we heard the signs of a de-globalization or limited globalization are inevitable. My presumption is that limited globalization owed to the woke left-liberal front & the cunningly pragmatic populist right is the case to happen. Less prosperous world order would be the key, but this scenario reminds me of the Congress of Vienna and the Concert of Europe of the 1820s, which according to Henry Kissinger’s realist interpretation, was the moment of peace and stability. Research by RAND Corporation critiqued the episode in world history as the manifestation of liberalism and constructivism together to some relative extent at a diplomatic level. Cooperation as an idea started shifting from being merely opportunistic and power-centric to stability and prosperity-centric. The very idea of the European Union for example, as was endorsed by Jaques Chirac, Guy Verhofstadt, Tony Blair, Federica Mogherini and Donald Tusk, pro-European politicians, has been centric to the discussion of a united Europe that can bring stability and at the same time, retain the course of fundamental rights in a better way. Since, due to COVID19, (and I would hate writing more about COVID19 and International Affairs), the Global Order is shifting, scholars and journalists are speculating that maybe — it would be People’s Republic of China’s turn to take over the US, and maybe countries like India, Singapore, Bangladesh and Japan the Europeans. I disagree to a limited extent, but would not deny that the moral capital of American and European international relations is exhausting — which many agree — is owed to the stupidity of the West. Nevertheless, I contend that the sophisticated construction of post-colonial, post-modern world order by the political West can be protected by those, who strive and cherish the very ideas of multiculturalism, liberalism and accountability at a better level.

The WHO’s accountability on the Coronavirus crisis was just a reflection of the problem that the UN is still encountering: it is anyways the stupidity of the West not to own and legitimize diplomatic ethics the way it should have been. Dr Tedros, the Director-General of the same organization, has been influenced by the Chinese Government, but we need to see how we can reach out to the very problems the rules-based international order institutions like the UN do have if we really have to hold China to account.

Courtesy: Twitter @HKWORLDCITY.

The Corona ‘Liability’

There is no issue in at least asserting that COVID19 is not a bioweapon. As of now, scientists believe that such kind of coronaviruses may not be created. Nevertheless, there is an MDPI research article on Alphacoronaviruses, which we must-read.

Besides SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, bat CoVs closely related to other human CoVs, including human CoV 229E and human CoV NL63, were also recently discovered [26,27,28], suggesting that bats are the important animal source of CoVs that may emerge in humans. On the other hand, bat CoVs may also evolve to infect other animals. For example, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) is phylogenetically closely related to Scotophilus bat coronavirus 512 (Sc-BatCoV 512), suggesting cross-species transmission events between bats and pigs

This is an early 2019 research for due reference. Furthermore, there is an article available on Nature, which you must read. It is worth contending that COVID19, which was claimed to be pneumonia early, is not a bioweapon because it cannot be artificially generated.

While the analyses above suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may bind human ACE2 with high affinity, computational analyses predict that the interaction is not ideal7 and that the RBD sequence is different from those shown in SARS-CoV to be optimal for receptor binding7,11. Thus, the high-affinity binding of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to human ACE2 is most likely the result of natural selection on a human or human-like ACE2 that permits another optimal binding solution to arise. This is strong evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is not the product of purposeful manipulation […] The genomic features described here may explain in part the infectiousness and transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features, including the optimized RBD and polybasic cleavage site, in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.

It would be imperative to see as to how would COVID19 seem in terms of origin because there is also an administrative angle. The Telegraph UK reported that the urns prepared for the patients who died due to COVID19, according to the Chinese Government and WHO data, must have been near about 2,000, which the reports show beyond the numbers expected. It is considered that maybe even the Chinese Government is not aware of the actual data at least in the Hubei Province, wherein Wuhan, the crisis started, according to the secret report briefing of the CIA to the White House. Moreover, it is worth noting that a study by the University of Southampton suggests that if the Chinese authorities had acted 3 weeks earlier than they did, the COVID19 outbreak could have been adequately prevented and reduced by 95%.

Study author Dr Shengjie Lai, of the University of Southampton, comments:

It is imperative to understand here that the Coronavirus crisis can be resolved using social distancing and self-isolation, with other self-help methods like lockdown, and that China, reportedly, is still managing the crisis effectively and restarting its industries. Still, we need to see one more development which happened on Twitter and many people just ignored it.

Tweets by the World Health Organization on Twitter.

All of these tweets show the act of negligence by the World Health Organization, especially by Dr Tedro undeniably. Even when the COVID19 and other coronaviruses were discovered in October-November, WHO ignored the whole scenario and did not avert the crisis. Even some doctors from China and other regions had predicted that human-to-human COVID19 transmission is possible. I am not surprised by the fact that a hashtag on the Hantavirus, a rodent-origin virus discovered in the 2000s was trending someday on Twitter, and while many users seemed to be hysteric and worried, the administrative responsibility of WHO as a multilateral body did not fare well, which shows how the UN agencies are becoming.

Furthermore, let us understand the problem on another aspect as well. It is agreeable that travel restrictions are maybe not an appropriate way to handle this kind of crisis. However, it would be insisted if we understand the powers WHO have under the international health law. You can find a doable insight in the episode of Cut The Clutter by Shekhar Gupta, Founder, ThePrint to know more.

China is alleged to have withheld early reports of medical staff infections and also allegedly been withholding “classified Chinese government data” concerning the number of asymptomatic infected persons, a crucial element in ascertaining the contagiousness of the disease. Thus, we may never conclude with a more rudimentary fashion that China is liable for the spread of COVID19. However, thanks to the international media and even certain liberal and populist critics, the imagery of the Chinese Government has been tainted. Therefore, to think that China can take over the image of the US is a flawed proposition.

Will Globalization End? No.

Now that we have understood the COVID19 issue, let us understand the trends of the fourth stage of globalization carefully. If for goodness’ sake, the COVID19 would not have spread wildly or there could not have been a due case of such pandemic, globalization would still have suffered adversely, maybe slower than the way the global markets are pompously devastated. The recent 13-page UNCTAD report on COVID19 and its economic impact did give a crisp and well-fed analysis of the economic shocks the world will face and provided words of wisdom that China, likely, and India, at most possibility among the developing and underdeveloped countries, would not be affected by the global recession. The rest of the world will face the global recession as the report suggests. However, to understand why we are here, let us understand an excerpt of this same report:

These have been built up over the last decade of easy money and against a backdrop of heavily underregulated ‘high-tech-cum-gig economies’ and deeply ingrained income inequalities. In addition, the avalanche of cheap credit since 2008 has also spilled over to developing countries, creating new financial vulnerabilities and undermining their debt sustainability.

The Global North while has not created a promissorily transparent and balanced ecosystem of global capitalism, then the Global South also does not possess effective debt sustainability and the income inequalities do exist because of the reasons that the economic democratization of the systems in developing countries, including India— has not become transparent and legitimate in reality. Nevertheless, this problem is not by the virtue of neoliberalism and capitalism, but the very lack of policy ethics that leaders do have. Since the 1990s, globalization was taken by nation-states for granted, especially those in the West by geography or by the partnership. We brace China’s exponential economic growth in the 21st century, but the same issue of cheap credit and income inequality under limited capitalism gauged by the command economy of the Chinese Government is also facing the dangers. And maybe they knew their bubble can burst, so the COVID19’s economic impact, was a meagre preparation for them to become economically preserved.

The worst risk is the ticking time bomb within the nation’s financial system.13 Banks are state-funded and owned. This means the government sets interest rates and approves loans. They pay low-interest rates on deposits so they can lend cheaply to state-owned businesses. As a result, banks have channeled government funds into an unknown number of projects that may not be profitable. […] China’s present debt-to GDP ratio is one of the highest in the world. Its domestic consumer demand is low. So, the nation relies heavily on exports. These factors are now considerably slowing growth.

Interestingly, the currency movements of Yuan Renminbi in comparison with the USD is predicted by the UNCTAD report on COVID19 minimal or negligible.

[The] strong recovery in developing country trade that occurred in 2010 seems less likely this time. Even if the damage to global supply chains is not irreparable, as lead firms recover from the crisis they will likely have to rethink their business model, including fewer links in these chains, and with more that are closer to home. Moreover, China has steadily diminished its dependence on external suppliers in its chains through an increase in domestically produced intermediate products. At the same time, there has been too little diversification of economic activity in many developing countries over the past decade — with greater commodity dependence in many countries — leaving them more exposed than ever to new shocks and disturbances.

The Eurozone, the Atlantic and the Pacific economic systems would face special tremor except for India (plainly) and China in Asia as exceptions, and some of the Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden in Europe as due exceptions.

If in near future, therefore, developing economies would like to make global supply chains fruitful and workable again, then they have to focus on relatively credible practices of economic nationalism, where they focus on production and improve the standard of living of their people by cheapening the monetary costs. Like China, developing economies, especially in ASEAN and Africa, must focus on indigenous economic benefits. This reminds me of India’s cunning move not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership dominated by China. Following India, Japan too denied joining the same, which is indeed a matter of embrace. It was contended in a frisky manner that India under Narendra Modi is anti-globalist and too protectionist when it comes to tariff issues, the H1B Visa matter (where Indian applicants now surpass 2/3rd of the applicants under the same category for FY21 according to US officials) and the impact of dilution of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. India’s growth has been affected by a poor GST policy, the Yes Bank crisis, the liquidity issues relating to the Banking sector and the implications of the 2016 Demonetization. Nevertheless, India took advantage of the oil price situation and a kind of debt war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and would get advantages anyways. Moreover, since India had been striving hard already to prevent itself from engaging more with the Chinese despite certain default-like limitations were ignoring the Chinese market is a big mistake and that India has not been benefited by exports based on Financial Trade Agreements, there is a big opportunity for the Indian Government to reform its economic policy and act sensibly in order to focus on better bilateral arrangements that do not silent India’s concerns due to unreasonable multilateral arrangements. Thus, the India example may be a dynamic but unpredictable way of curtailing the Chinese economic powerhouse.

The need for Pragmatic Populism & Responsible Liberalism

Populism and Liberalism are two separate political ideologies, but may not be antithetical to each other. A political leader who embraces liberal values, whether left-centrist, centrist or hardline left, can be a populist — like Rahul Gandhi in India and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Even in the centre-right and far-right, leaders can do wonders and endorse liberal reforms, even if their political captivity earned is populist by nature, like Narendra Modi in India, Mark Rutte in the Netherlands and Scott Morrison in Australia. We have Centrist politicians, who may not be populist, but can balance populist measures successively, or in other terms, are also the champions of liberalism to calm conservative opposition, like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Angela Merkel in Germany, Emmanuel Macron in France and others.

Thus, the current global order, which would increase more economic stakes for China, but in issues like Climate Change, Inequality, Diplomatic Parities, Geopolitical Harmonization, Islamophobia and Identity Politics, you cannot dare to encourage both populism and liberalism antithetical to each other. This approach may sound crazy for left-liberals, especially those who like liberal political parties but ignore politicians like Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Dr Manmohan Singh, Dr Shashi Tharoor, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Indeed there are tremendous examples of failures among centrist leaders as well, like Jean-Claude Juncker and Charles Michel, in Europe, and to be honest, Macron is too near that line. However, amidst COVID19, Macron’s approval rating is beyond 50–60% in general, which is quite safe for him. However, even Trump has a stagnant approval rating of about 47 to 51%, which is obvious for incumbent governments and their heads because it enables the atmosphere of trust among people towards the institutions regardless of fear, panic and worries.

So, what kind of liberalism can the world seek? Can it learn from the direct communication approach that populism adopts from its users, and can it still endorse constitutional and legitimization values in that moralist and self-sophisticated yet contained manner? We do not know because neither have we seen any electoral estimate in a post-COVID19 situation, but at least this can be conferred to the political development that while five to ten-year-old populist approaches of advocacy can swing votes for the incumbent leaders, which is common among incumbent leaders in general when such crises of similar nature happen, a balanced approach of liberalism is the best tool to tackle the global order as more restrictions would be built. Keeping economics aside for a while, it is imperative to understand that protectionism is a temporary necessity in politics. So in order to normalize and calm down any possible wave of protectionism, leaders in European countries, who endorse liberalism — must take baby steps to address the real issues. Nevertheless, the populists should retain their provocative imagery if they wish to, but all they can do is to actually gauge more accountability on those state agencies, which ignore the precariousness of the imparted situation in the international community. A liberal marketer image with nationalistic sentiments is still better for leaders if they have pragmatic approaches to deal with the need for protectionist and economically strong nationhood to fix globalization. Being woke obviously is not helpful unless people can really help the needy and keep relevant imagery among the many.

India as Stabilizing Power against China’s Economic Colonization

Some nations are yet handling the COVID19 crisis in a reasonable manner. Among them, India — despite facing a severe economic slowdown, is still trying hard to deal with the logistic issues it possesses. At the occasion of the 45th Anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), India sent quite a diplomatic message to the international community:

India strongly believes that the BWC must respond effectively to the challenges posed by the new and emerging scientific and technological developments of relevance to the Convention. India has been submitting an annual Resolution at the UN General Assembly on the “Role of science and technology in the context of international security and disarmament”, which has been adopted by consensus.

The global economic and social implications of the pandemic, caused by Covid-19, have underlined the need for international cooperation, including institutional strengthening of the WHO.

In addition, they have highlighted the need for strengthening cooperation amongst the States Parties to the BWC aimed at full and effective implementation of the Convention in all its aspects. India has been working with fellow States Parties to establish an Article VII database which can play an important role in dealing with bio-threats and bio- emergencies.

While Donald Trump appreciates the Chinese’s efforts to curb COVID19, after his infamous rhetoric of ‘Chinese Virus’, Dr Jaishankar, the Indian External Affairs Minister pretended to affirm or at least meagrely affirmed that India does not follow the US way of stoking COVID19 as a Chinese Virus. India, of course — cannot do the Trump way because of several reasons.

Yet now that Western states are severely affected, they have still lacked the decisiveness and the appropriate response that is required to manage a pandemic of this scale, both domestically and internationally. The WHO, despite all its successes and its failures, remains a Western-centric global institution that derives its power from UN member states. It can be safely assumed that Western hegemonic powers enable the organization with their funding to follow a path that suits their vision of a healthier world. Such political problems bring us to the basics of how health is socially construed today. Unless global health issues are presented in a manner that makes the individual in the international society threatened or insecure, there remain no necessity for international actors to tackle global health (ORF, 2020).

First, the US, despite being nationalist, can condemn the Chinese and the WHO due to its stature, even if the trust capital of the US has declined severely since the 2000s. India — while uses WHO’s appraise in a smart way to convince its people, has been quite clearer to state that the WHO needs to be strengthened and reformed. Furthermore, India has still positioned better since 2014 as a negotiating, less defensive and engaging power, and has cautiously partnered with Caribbean countries, its neighbours and in the Pacific, has received an invitation from Russia to join the Eurasian Economic Union and is seeing a steeper transition from being a defensive soft state to a more engaged soft state.

It is true that India’s economic conditions are not cogent, and that there are social issues that prevent India from acting in its full potential. However, it would be imperative to understand that Modi has to gauge a ‘moment of competitiveness’ in India to cut out the superstitious nature of the voter bases that decide the incumbency of the governments. Seeing the developments — like the passage of the CAA and the dilution of Article 370, the government has a political capital well-built. We are also not in the sphere of an ethnocentric, West-centric civilization of diplomacy predicated by some soft elitist manoeuvres of supposed pro-human-rights civility pictured and enslaved at the verge of the global perception towards developing economies and weak democracies — which means that a multipolar world is set to see a blooming world, which would shed its cold war and colonialism past. India, being a post-colonial Commonwealth member, has mastered the anguish and redemptive wave of populism against the political elite internally under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and therefore can commend more political stability to get things done, which have been undone for a long time.

Thus, India is a stabilizing power and can develop its own narrative maybe not antithetical or isolated to the West, Russia and China, but rooted in the sociological and multi-lithic colour of the society it has cultivated for 70 years, which is constantly changing. Keeping the very noise of issues related to fake news, political correctness and ideological obscurantism cum meaningfulness away from the issue whether India can be ethically sharper if not morally blunt in guiding the world for a more pragmatic populism but reasonable liberalism to tackle the ‘realpolitik’ traps that China can now create in the years to come.


Disclaimer: I would like to thank Baldeep Singh Gill from Indian Society of Artificial Intelligence & Law & Kartikey Misra, Global Legal Innovation Advisory, Internationalism for their support in the sourcing of certain relevant information essential for the article.

Founder and CEO, Internationalism™ | Founder & Chairperson, ISAIL | AI-Law Futurist | YouTuber | Researcher | Poet

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