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May 28, 2020

Tackling American provocations

The writer is a freelance journalist.

The tentacles of jingoism seem to be gripping several parts of the world. They appear to be stronger in Asia than anywhere else on the planet. China and the US recently traded barb over the ongoing pandemic, as well as over Taiwan and Hong Kong. Nepal and India seem to be locked into a dispute over the construction of a road, which Kathmandu claims was built inside its territory while Islamabad and New Delhi have been trading allegations on a number of issues for some years.

The most dangerous scenario could emerge from the sabre-rattling between Beijing and Washington. Ties between the two giant powers have been strained since the inauguration of Donald Trump, whose actions first triggered a trade war between the two largest economies of the world. Now the incumbent of the Oval Office is lambasting China for hiding facts over the pandemic and taking repressive actions in Hong Kong. Washington also tried to help Taiwan’s bid to get observer status at the WHO which infuriated China. However, the island nation, recognized by 15 states as an independent country, withdrew its request citing lack of time and advice of friendly countries; Beijing considers Taiwan one of its provinces.

But the most disturbing news appearing recently in the Western media is about the possibility that the US could resume the testing of nuclear weapons. Washington had put a moratorium on such tests in 1992. The possibility is said to have been discussed at a 'deputies meeting' of senior national security officials at the White House on May 15. The discussion was first reported last Friday by the Washington Post, which cited a senior administration official as saying that a demonstration to Moscow and Beijing that the United States could carry out a “rapid test” could be a useful bargaining counter in the achieving the administration’s priority on arms control – a trilateral deal with Russia and China. The report also quoted a senior administration official as saying the proposal was “very much an ongoing conversation”.

The US, and the four other officially recognised nuclear weapons powers, signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, but the US Senate refused to ratify the treaty, which still does not have enough ratifications to enter into force. The US has observed a moratorium on testing since 1992, in line with other nuclear powers. Breaking that moratorium could jeopardise the future of the CTBT. Given that Trump’s administration has already pulled out of three arms control treaties, even a mere discussion on the testing could create doubts about the US intentions to respect other such agreements.

Amidst the atmosphere of mistrust between China and America and Washington and Moscow, even a mere discussion could create more apprehensions, prompting other nuclear states to revisit their policy of abiding the CTBT. This could be very catastrophic for the planet; it could not only trigger a new arms race but it could be very devastating to environment as well which has been badly affected by the militarization of the world and nuclearization of several regions.

So, what options does Beijing have to counter US blackmailing over the issue of Hong Kong, Taiwan and the pandemic. It is clear that China cannot match the American military might, with the second highest nuclear arsenal and a number of fleets while Beijing is said to be preparing its first fleet. A military response to alleged American provocations would be suicidal.

The Chinese economy has witnessed phenomenal growth in the last four decades and the country has made tremendous strides in several fields. Any conflict would scupper its chance to become a global leader. However, Beijing could use its soft power to counter American hegemony. Instead of locking itself into an arm race with the world’s largest military power, it should pump more resources into its economy which is facing the risk of imploding because of the pandemic.

The US has been waging wars and taking part in conflicts hundreds or possibly thousands of miles from its own borders. In many parts, it used proxies to fight its adversaries instead of confronting the enemy with its own military might. The separatist movement in Western Chinese province with a significant presence of the Muslims, Hong Kong and Taiwan are the three fault lines that the US can exploit any time. The sole superpower does not have any such fault line within its own borders that could be exploited by other powers. Despite being a country of immigrants, the US never faced a strong secessionist movement within its borders except during the early decades after its independence. Any conflict close to the US border drives the American leadership crazy. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one such time when

the US administration ran berserk threatening the world with a nuclear holocaust.

Beijing does not necessarily need to trigger any conflict in the Western hemisphere but it could prop up the governments threatened illegally by the sole global power. It can lobby with Russia and other states to extend support to Cuba and Venezuela. It was a grave mistake by Beijing to ignore the ignominious dislodging of Evo Morales in Bolivia, who could have been a valuable ally of anti-American bloc. Beijing should save countries like Cuba and Venezuela from economic collapse. Cuban education is already one of the best in the region. Its child mortality rate is also one of the lowest not only in the region but in the world as well. Its healthcare system may not be ideal but it fascinates millions of people in America and the region. All it needs is perhaps a generous economic support. Beijing could help Cuban doctors, engineers, scientists and researchers by offering joint ventures in the field of science and technology.

China should also prop up the anti-US government in Venezuela by offering a generous economic assistance to the beleaguered nation that has been threatened by Washington’s stooges and lackeys. The success of these two states could prompt many states of the region to ally with them, posing a strong counter to American machinations. In Brazil, Trump’s buddy Bolsonaro is turning out to be the most a hated figure. People in other states in the region are also furious over the way the pandemic was dealt by their governments.

Rising tensions with India do not suit the economic giant either because Washington could use India to settle scores with Beijing. A Hindu ultra-nationalist government would also want to ratchet up such tensions to fan jingoistic feelings among its impoverished citizens. Peaceful resolution of disputes with India is the only way to allow the unhindered economic rise of the Asian giant. However, Beijing has economic packages that could be employed in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to woo their support. Such power could also be used in convincing Taiwanese capitalists that their interest lies in cooperating with the mainland instead of looking towards a state situated thousands of miles away. Economic cooperation with the EU could also help Beijing isolate America at international forums, which resent unilateral approach of Trump towards global issues.

China should also improve its image by granting more freedoms to its own citizens and adopting a conciliatory approach towards Hong Kong and Taiwan. Its treatment of the Uighurs has badly damaged its reputation. The policymakers must revisit this damaging approach.

Email: [email protected]