As the total number of coronavirus infections globally have officially crossed one million with over 50,000 fatalities, there is a growing belief that this time around, China wouldn’t be allowed to go unpunished. China’s concealing of the virus’ outbreak has resulted in the world economy spiralling into recession. China made it personal for Donald Trump as it falsely accused the US military to bring the virus to Wuhan. It has become increasingly clear that any efforts to make China pay for its sins must be led by the Trump administration. The burning question is what US could do to China after the worst is over?
The Trump administration sent alarm bells ringing as it claimed that based on the estimates received from multiple predictive models, the country shall be prepared for a 1,00,000-2,00,000 death toll of the coronavirus. The US with 237,497 cases of coronavirus has already entered the league of Italy and Spain and has emerged as the virus’ epicentre. The USA’s coronavirus death toll of 5,712 has already surpassed that of the 9/11 attack.
It is a known fact the US government places a tremendous amount of worth on the life of its citizens which again came to the fore after the US government successfully killed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The mission to eliminate Baghdadi was aptly named after Kayla Mueller who was an American Human Rights worker who was kidnapped, tortured and killed by the ISIS. Even after his death, Trump made it a point to humiliate Baghdadi by claiming that Baghdadi died “whimpering and crying and screaming” and labelled the ISIS terrorists as “very frightened puppies”.
It is a foregone conclusion that the US will not allow China escape scot-free. From concealing the outbreak of the virus by colluding with the WHO to directly blaming the US Military for “bringing the virus to Wuhan,” the Chinese government has done it all. If the recent developments are anything to go by, a diplomatic offensive is imminent the USA has already been hinting that China will be taken to task.
What we already have within a month:
The Trump administration wasted no time in rightly labelling the virus as the “Chinese virus” to counter the Chinese propaganda machinery that it was the US who brought the virus to China. The Chinese government was busy trying to buy good press across the world with prestigious publications like the Atlantic and the New York Times doing their bidding to peddle the Chinese propaganda.
While the Trump administration has now pulled back from labelling the virus as “Chinese virus”, it has simultaneously also stepped up the offensive against China. Trump said that he didn’t regret using the term but has decided to not make a big deal out of it. Just as China appeared to claim victory as Donald Trump recently announced that he will be scaling down his tirades against China, its ambassador to the USA, Cui Tiankai disowned the virus conspiracy theories pinning the blame of the virus’ outbreak on the USA. Cui Tiankai claimed that it was “crazy” to spread rumours that the virus originated from a military laboratory in the United States.
Cui’s statement contradicts the stance of the Chinese foreign ministry. Lijian Zhao, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry has been particularly rabid in floating such conspiracy theories. “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao tweeted on March 12.
This comes in the backdrop of a class-action $20 trillion lawsuit filed against China. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit state that “COVID-19 was designed by China to be a very ‘effective’ and catastrophic biological warfare weapon to kill mass populations… there are many indications besides the nature of the disease demonstrating that the virus was engineered in the Chinese military’s laboratory or laboratories.” Trump’s advisers have wholly backed the lawsuit. The Daily Caller reports that two out of government advisers completely endorse the lawsuit and believe that the lawsuit has the potential to unite the entire country against a common enemy.
While the suit is likely to be bogus as $20 trillion is nearly the size of the whole US economy. It was done to gain attention and shed light on China’s wrongdoings. The Conservative establishment in the USA has united as they push for punishing China.
“I’m totally in favor” one of Trump administrations top advisers told Daily Caller, “F*ck them.” Another adviser called the lawsuit something that “can unite our country against a common enemy.”
It seems that the US government is preparing for all-round diplomatic offensive that seeks to implicit China and the WHO for creating a pandemic at a time when over 150 countries are fighting the deadly Wuhan virus. According to a US Intelligence Community report to the White House, China has underreported both total cases and fatalities suffered from the Wuhan virus. According to the officials, the thrust of the report is that China has intentionally concealed the extent of the Wuhan virus. The report further concludes that the numbers reported by China are fake.
President Trump also questioned China’s numbers as he said, “Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side, and I’m being nice when I say that,” at a daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. Vice President Mike Pence concurred with Trump as he said, “The reality is that we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming.” He added that, “What appears evident now is that long before the world learned in December that China was dealing with this, and maybe as much as a month earlier than that, that the outbreak was real in China.”
Republican Senator Rick Scott is leading the push in the US Senate to punish China and the WHO for their wrongdoings as he has called for a congressional investigation into the WHO’s role in shielding China as he suggests that the Trump administration should cut off the organisation’s funding for helping China cover up the pandemic.
“The mission of the WHO is to get public health information to the world so every country can make the best decisions to keep their citizens safe. When it comes to coronavirus, the WHO failed,” said Rick Scott. He added, “We know Communist China is lying about how many cases and deaths they have, what they knew and when they knew it — and the WHO never bothered to investigate further. Their inaction cost lives.”
Over the past few weeks, there is a growing chorus among the Republican lawmakers to make China pay for its sins. Another Republican Senator from Nebraska said, “The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false.” He added, “Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist Party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime.”
Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri recently called for an international investigation into China’s deadly cover-up. Republican Representative Elise Stefanik from New York echoed Hawley’s sentiments and introduced companion resolutions calling on Congress to open the said investigation. Another Republican House Representative Jim Banks backed the calls for making China pay for the cost incurred by the USA in fighting the pandemic.
“Since day one, the Chinese Communist Party intentionally lied to the world about the origin of this pandemic. The CCP was aware of the reality of the virus as early as December but ordered laboratories to destroy samples and forced doctors to keep silent,” said Hawley. He further added, “It is time for an international investigation into the role their cover-up played in the spread of this devastating pandemic. The CCP must be held to account for what the world is now suffering.”
In a significant move that has greatly irked the Chinese Communist Party, Trump signed the TAIPEI Act which seeks to support Taiwan’s international relations amidst growing Chinese pressure. More importantly, the bill had received bipartisan support as it had been unanimously passed by both the house of Representatives and the Senate. This came at a time when the world is blaming China for causing the coronavirus pandemic.
The TAIPEI act states that the US should strive to support Taiwan in strengthening the country’s alliances across the world in the face of Chinese pressure as countries like Burkina Faso, Gambia, Panama and the Dominican Republic have formally severed diplomatic ties in favour of diplomatic relations with China.
“Today and on all days, Congress continues to send a message to the world that America stands with Taiwan. … We [must] ensure that Taiwan has a seat at the international decision-making table, including at the United Nations,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi upon the passing of the bill.
The TAIPEI act also seeks to safeguard Taiwan against any Chinese aggression. The law mandates that the US President is required to provide weapons to Taiwan that mitigate the looming Chinese military threat.
The Communist Party of China wasted no time in labelling the act as an “evil act” as it claimed that the act “sabotages China’s famed One China principle”. A stung Chinese government also warned the USA that it will have to bear the consequences of its actions.
“We strongly urge the U.S. to correct its mistake, refrain from implementing this act and obstructing other countries’ pursuit of relations with China. Otherwise, it will be met with resolute countermeasures from the Chinese side,” said China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang.
Much to the displeasure of China, the Trump administration has decided to engage meaningfully with Taiwan as the latter is extensively working with the USA for a joint-medical help initiative. True to its characteristics, Beijing lashed out at this development. “The joint statement between Taiwan and the US once again exposed the Democratic Progressive Party’s despicable move and political plot to use the Covid-19 pandemic to achieve independence,” said the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
The USA has also stepped up the rhetoric on the WHO as it continues to spar with China over Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO meetings. Under the tenure of under the Ma Ying-jeou administration which was widely perceived as pro-China, since 2009, the country had been an observer at the WHO under the name of “Chinese Taipei”. However, the status was soon revoked after pro-democracy and a fierce China critic Tsai Ing-wen stormed to power in 2016.
While the USA has supported Taiwan’s inclusion into the WHO meetings as an “observer”, Taiwan’s participation has now also been backed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau which certainly doesn’t bode well for China’s “One China Policy.”
While the USA continues to be wrecked by the virus, it has provided sufficient buildup for a full blown diplomatic offensive after the worst is over.
What we can have in the future:
The USA knows that China lied and blinded the world about the impending disaster by colluding with the WHO. If the USA’s grim estimates do come true and the death toll reaches stratospheric levels, the US government will be left with no option but to punish the dragon.
This could very well mean the escalation of the trade war and whatever little that was achieved by the USA and China last year to soften the war will be destroyed. Steve Bannon who was the former Chief Strategist at the White House claimed that any goodwill that was gained after the initial trade deal with China is now obliterated as he warned that a confrontation is on the horizon.
“Now you can see they are on a propaganda offensive to blame this on the West, particularly the United States, and it’s going to lead to a further confrontation. There is a confrontation coming,” Bannon said.
If history is anything to go by, there is a high probability that the USA will lobby against China openly, and diplomatically the USA will eventually treat China as an “adversary” and this will mean that the world will have to choose between the two, as it could use its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) with case in point being Iran, North Korea and Russia are who are the USA’s “adversaries” and any major trade with these countries is problematic for countries that value the USA’s favour and friendship. Why? because under CAATSA, the USA threatens to apply sanctions on these countries too.
Due to CAATSA, India has been forced to not import crude oil from Iran as it would invite US sanctions on India. Iran is India’s third biggest suppler of crude oil. Iran has suffered the most due to the US sanctions which has made it almost impossible for a single dollar to flow into Iran’s economy with no one willing to do business with Iran due to the sanctions.
Instances of countries defying the US sanctions are extremely few and rare. In October 2018, when India inked the historic agreement worth US $5.43 billion with Russia to procure four S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system, incidentally the most powerful missile defence system in the world, the US threatened India with sanctions over its decision to buy the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.
However, the US decided against placing sanctions on India keeping in mind the disastrous effect that it would have on the bilateral relationship between the two countries with the sanctions would have forced India to tilt towards Russia, something which the US couldn’t afford. The US administration made note of the fact that India was already reeling from the decision to restrict crude oil imports from Iran and hence, decided against placing sanctions on India.
China will suffer from grave consequences if the US decides to treat China as its “adversary” under the CAATSA Act. While this would lead to supply chains shifting out of China, more concerning for China is that CAATSA would effectively act as a death knell to Xi Jinping’s pet project Belt and Road Initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative is already struggling as from Kenya to Central Asia to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the BRI has been facing widespread protests and severe backlash as China’s debt trap diplomacy comes to the fore. The BRI was already reeling before the pandemic, and the aftermath of pandemic is likely to put Jinping’s BRI in jeopardy.
According to a report, the backlash could shave as much as $800 billion off investment in President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. The backlash is so severe that even African countries like Sierra Leone and Tanzania have raised their voice against China’s BRI. Both the African countries have decided to scrap projects under BRI with Sierra Leone recently scrapping project worth $318 million due to heavy debt burden. Tanzania too scrapped a $10 billion project to develop the Bagamoyo port under BRI as it was deemed ‘exploitive’ by its President, John Magufuli. Magufuli alleged that Chinese financiers set “tough conditions that can only be accepted by mad people.”
BRI has continued to taste failure at every step of its way with the Hambantota airport being dubbed as “the world’s emptiest airport” to Malaysia scrapping Chinese projects worth $20 billion.
If the US decides to impose sanctions, it would have a domino effect as countries trapped under the humongous Chinese debt will now have a way out.
The USA and China have witnessed fierce stand offs at the South China Sea. Maritime shipping is nine percent of global trade and this has resulted in fierce clashes between the USA and China. The UK after its exit from the European Union has hinted that it will intervene in the South China Sea if the China doesn’t mend its ways. In February 2019, then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson indicated that the UK “may have to intervene” in the future to confront China as it continues to “flout international law”. The UK has fiercely contested China’s nine-dashed claim by periodically sending its ships to South China Sea to embolden the countries countering China’s influence in the South China Sea. 12 percent of British trade passes through the South China Sea each year which makes it strategically important for the UK to not let have China have its way.
The USA and the UK along with Asian countries can jointly challenge China’s hegemony in the South China Sea. The US has already intensified its military activity in the South China Sea since last year after in September 2018, the US and China warships almost collided during the US’s “Freedom of Navigation” exercise.
In 2019, the US conducted eight “freedom of navigation” operations which is three more than 2018 – during which its vessels sailed within 12 nautical miles of land claimed or occupied by China. Importantly, the US has also at least 50 joint and multiple exercises with South East Asian countries in the region.
“As the strategic competition between China and the US has continued to intensify in recent years, the comparison of the navies have become evident, particularly in the South China Sea. By carrying out freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea and sailing through the Taiwan Strait, the US is making a retaliatory response to China, which is becoming a new trend. As China continues to modernise and strengthen its navy and air force, the US will become more concerned and increase its surveillance … against the Chinese military. The risk of confrontation in the sea and in the air will increase,” said a Beijing based think thank’s report on the South China Sea.
The Trump administration is certainly not short of options to make China pay for its sins after the world collectively battles the deadly Wuhan virus.