China's shadow looms large over the world. Not only geopolitically, but also in the economic and cultural realms, the Chinese are attempting to remake the world as per their conception of a master-serf relationship. Though in international relations, politics, economics and culture are interrelated, it is important to discuss them separately in order to bring out the nuances of Chinese imperialism.
The age of colonisation and imperialism ended for good in the wake of the breakup and reordering of the international order. This order was based on liberal principles of free trade, respect for international law, prevalence of democratic norms and a security architecture underlined by the presence of two superpowers. Intra and inter country disputes did happen but they were generally localised at best or limited to particular regions.
It is only with the entry of China on the world stage in force that global disruptions have started to manifest themselves brutally. The 2008 financial crisis decimated economies of the West and the East Asian Tigers but China emerged unscathed, riding on the success of its impervious wall which prevented (and still prevents) foreign investments unless approved by the Big Brother Xi. China by then had established mass manufacturing bases in major parts of the country and unimpeded by human rights or basic minimum wages, yoked its population to work tirelessly. The end result: China now mass produces everything from a needle to an airplane.
This has enabled it to dump its produce on other countries initially through the pretensions of free trade (now censored by the WTO) and later through the mega-ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI has been used by China to weasel its way through national sovereignties like a hot knife through butter. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are best examples of what international observers euphemistically call “Debt Trap Diplomacy” but in reality is a gross usurpation of national authority.
China's tentacles, unlike Covid-19's, reach far and wide. In fact, Europe faces a double whammy of being repeatedly hit by the coronavirus and China almost simultaneously. With access to the Piraeus port of Greece, China has already started dumping products of all kinds in the European Common Market system. Italy's untimely submission to Covid-19 was also made possible due to its proximity to the Chinese trading system. After all, Covid-19 and China have become synonymous with each other. In terms of politics, China has undertaken a multi-pronged attack across international borders of many countries.
India has been the first to bear the brunt of Chinese Janus-faced policies of illegal aggression on one hand, while calling for normalisation of trade and other relations on the other. However India is not the only one. The US faces a challenge of another kind. There is a real threat of China's disinformation campaign affecting the outcome of the US elections in November.
China's Thousand Talents Program has already ensured massive theft of data and exclusive technology from the US, the latest being Zhengdong Cheng of College Station, Texas who has been charged with making false statements and hiding his affiliations to the PLA. With Taiwan, China is playing the waiting game, pushing its ships and jets closer to the island nation with every passing week under the garb of exercises. Hong Kong for all matters has stopped existing as an autonomous region with only its nomenclature remaining unchanged.
China has also been active on the cultural front. The various China Study or Culture Centres opened in a number of countries act as both espionage and propaganda centres. There is a proactive effort to disseminate Xi Jinping Thought, a constricting ideology that aims to cement the Chinese President as the centre of China's absurdist and all-encompassing universe.
The number of mushrooming Confucius Institutes all over the world teach everything but Confucian values. They are a front to propagate Chinese communist ideology under the facade of an educational institution and are now being investigated by a number of governments for their links to “The Party”. Chinese Students Associations have also been implicated in a number of countries to stifle criticism of Tibet and Xinjiang by expatriate Chinese students through use of violence and coercion.
Covid-19 is something that will ultimately have a cure. As it is, its lethality is very limited. However, the bigger virus of Chinese Communist Party keeps growing potent everyday and to counter it, the entire world needs to come together. The vaccination to get rid of the Chinese communist virus, though much more painful than the Covid-19 affliction, will have to be undertaken.
(Binay Kumar Singh is a columnist and researcher. Views expressed are personal)