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How China Has Used COVID-19 To Escalate Military Conflicts & Crush ‘Democratic’ Voices?

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COVID-19 has brought the entire world to a standstill except for China which is finding it a perfect time to escalate military conflicts, intensify border disputes and curtail democratic freedom. 

Experts talking to the EurAsian Times agree that many nations are using the cover of the coronavirus to take advantage of the situation and forwarding their political agenda as the world remains distracted.

China has been the most active in promoting its regional interests during COVID-19 pandemic with Hong Kong and India facing the brunt of Chinese hostilities.

China was one of the first countries to shut its border and bring the entire country to a standstill in a bid to curb COVID-19, however, this did not stop China from making provocative moves in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, India Ocean and even the Himalayas.

Near the Strait of Taiwan, Chinese naval vessels and airforce have regularly engaged in military drills aimed at invading Taiwan, which Beijing calls a renegade province. As reported by EurAsian Times earlier, experts believe that military drills were conducted to test the response of Taiwan, as well as the US, in case China invaded the island nation.

Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous region of China under the ‘One China-two system’ framework, is also facing Chinese hostility. The National People’s Congress (NCP) has proposed a new national security law that aims to curtail HK’s freedom and potentially arrest critics for treason, secession, sedition and subversion.

The new law not only overrides Hong Kong’s constitution but threatens pro-democracy supporters. As expected, the move has drawn international criticism and violent protests from citizens in Hong Kong. Many experts have called it ‘perfect timings’ in reference to COVID-19 pandemic.

China has also been accused of bullying the ASEAN nations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea and COVID-19 did not stop Beijing from its hostile, aggressive manoeuvres.

China tracked Malaysian ships, took control of Islands claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines and even sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel. China lays claims to almost 80% of the South China Sea and has regularly made provocative moves in the region.

Although thousands of miles, the United States was quick to stand up Chinese bullying tactics. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force conducted naval and aerial exercises in the region to reassure allies and stay committed to unrestricted movement through the waterway.

US and China are already involved in a trade dispute and the coronavirus has only intensified tensions between the two powerhouses. The US has consistently blamed China for spreading the virus and threatened to cut ‘all ties’ with Beijing.

Deep in the Himalayas’, India was the next country to witness Chinese aggression. New Delhi has not only locked horns in the high reaches of the Himalayas but also the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Soldiers from India and China have exchanged blows at Pangong Lake in Ladakh and Naku-La Pass in North Sikkim. Currently, both countries are involved in a bitter border conflict in Galwan Valley in Aksai Chin along the Line of Actual Control (LaC). Experts have called it the worst stand-off between India and China since 2017 Doklam dispute.

Prior to border tensions, India also witnessed increasing Chinese hostilities in the Indian Ocean region. China has regularly mapped the ocean, conducted patrols and has redeveloped an island in the Maldives.

In response, the Indian Navy flexed its muscle by sailing destroyers and naval ships in the area. The Navy has also fired a warning at intruding Chinese vessels and stated that Indian Navy remains ‘battle-ready’ despite the pandemic.

Tensions with key Chinese ally – Pakistan have been on the rise. India has seen in an increase in violence as cross-border shelling, insurgency and counter-insurgency operation in Kashmir. According to South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP), 24 members of the armed forces have lost their lives and 49 militants have been eliminated since March 2020.

Towards the east, Nepal has been a staunch ally of India and acts as a natural buffer between New Delhi and Beijing. However, Indo-Nepalese relations are under duress as the normally friendly neighbours are currently engaged in a territorial dispute.

Both Kathmandu and New Delhi claim Kalapani to be an integral part of their country and this dispute has soured ties between them. Nepal claims to be acting on its own and standing up for itself while India suspects Chinese involvement behind Nepalese claims.

When it comes to furthering political interest, it would be wrong to only point fingers at China. Playing the same game are countries including Iran, Israel and Russia.

One of the oldest unresolved issues in international politics involves Israel-Palestine conflict. The Israel-Palestine dispute is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode as the planned West Bank annexation by Israel nears.

During the pandemic, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will not miss the “historic opportunity” to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank. Palestine, Jordan, European Union, United Kingdom disagree with Jerusalem but Israel has the full backing of Donald Trump – the US president.

While discussing increasing Russian strength in eastern Europe, political analysts believe that Ukraine could lose more territory to Russia as Crimea faces a severe water shortage. Despite the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, Vladimir Putin is hardly a man that would be deterred from pursuing his political ambitions.

Much like the annexation of Crimea, more Ukrainian territory could meet a similar fate. With most of Europe busy dealing with the outbreak, Putin will not have such an opportunity again.

Although countries facing threats from other nations can depend on allies for support, Australia finds itself in an awkward position. The Kangaroos have managed to become entangled in the dispute between US-China. Canberra finds itself in a situation where it must choose between the US – the strategic defence ally and China – its biggest trading partner.

The post-COVID world could likely bring a new world order where countries become increasingly wary of each other. The era of globalization as we know could come to an end as countries become more self-sufficient and reduce their dependence on one another. A cold war seems likely, so does rise in protectionism and nationalism.

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Asia Pacific

COVID-19: WHO experts in China to probe origins of Coronavirus

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Two World Health Organization (WHO) experts are travelling to China to talk to scientists to investigate the transmission of COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic from animals to humans, WHO chief said on Friday.

Addressing a webinar, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the global health experts will also prepare a scientific plan with their Chinese counterparts to identify the zoonotic source of the COVID-19 virus.

“As we continue to tackle the pandemic, we are also looking into the origins of the virus,” he said.

Adhanom said the scientists want to learn about the progress made in understanding the animal reservoir for COVID-19 and how the disease jumped between animals and humans.

“This will help lay the groundwork for the WHO-led international mission into finding the origins,” he said.

The team comprising an epidemiologist and an animal health specialist are flying to China to try and identify the pandemic’s animal source, WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said a UN press conference in Geneva.

Harris said the aim is also to examine from which species of animal the virus originated and then transmitted to humans.

On April 20, WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib had said that so far, all available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin, and it was not manipulated or manufactured in a lab, or somewhere else. She was responding to allegations that the virus spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“It most probably has its ecological reservoir in bats, but how the virus came from bats to humans is still to be discovered,” she said.

Missing intermediary host

“There was certainly an intermediary host or another animal that transmitted this virus from bats to this other animal, to humans, “she said.

Adhanom told international diplomats on Thursday that the member states at the 73rd World Health Assembly held in May had adopted a landmark resolution urging the WHO to initiate an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the lessons learned from the international health response to COVID-19.

“This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” said the chief of WHO.

“The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation,” he said.

The WHO had waited for seven months to investigate the source of the virus and this has led to criticism of the organization and American officials accused Adhanom of being too lenient to China.

An earlier WHO mission led by a Canadian doctor Bruse Aylward that went to China in February was criticized in the US for praising China’s in its fight against COVID-19.

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Asia Pacific

Indian Rafale Jets Would Have Been Useless Against Chinese Airforce – Russia Experts

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Rafale jets would have been useless against the Chinese Airforce (PLAAF) – Russian aviation experts have claimed. Rafale fighter jets belong to the 4 ++ generation would not have been of much use had an aerial conflict broken out in Ladakh again the PLAAF.

JF-17 vs Rafale: Why Pakistani JF-17 Thunder Poses A Serious Threat To Indian Rafale Fighter Jets?

As reported by EurAsian Times, India and China had been engaged in a brutal conflict in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. Troops of both countries have exchanged blows and even lost soldiers in the conflict that began more than a month ago.

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Keeping in mind the situation in Ladakh, France said that it would accelerate the delivery of Rafale fighter jets to India. Aviation experts believe that the arrival of Rafale fighter jets will significantly boost the combat capability of the Indian Air Force (IAF). However, according to Russian experts, who did not wish to be named, the French fighter would not help India much incase the conflict turns hot.

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The astronomical cost of Rafale fighter jets is one of the reasons the French 4++ fighter jet would not help India. In the deal struck with Paris, New Delhi agreed to purchase 36 Rafale Jets. The total cost of the deal was an estimated Rs 59,000 crore with each jet costing around Rs 1,646 crore.

The cost of a Rafale is about three times higher than the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter jets. In other words, for 36 French-made Rafale fighters that will appear in the Indian Air Force, China can respond with three times as many of its fifth-generation J-20 fighters – for the same money.

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Even if, in some ways, the characteristics of the Chinese combat aircraft lag behind the French 4 ++ fighter jet, then the Indian air force could get overwhelmed by what is called “capable of crushing by quantity”.

And the cost is not the only reason why Rafale jets would not help India much. Compared to another Chinese jet – J-16 (an analogue of the Russian Su-35) which Beijing is also using in its airforce, the Rafale jets will find it extremely challenging to outgun the Russian Su-35s operated by the Chinese.

Rafale vs Chengdu J-20: How Will Indian Rafale Jets Compete Against Chinese ‘Stealth’ J-20s?

The maximum speed of the Rafale jet is about Mach 1.8 and the J-16 is Mach 2.2. The Rafale’s practical ceiling is also lower than the J-16s. Even in engine thrust, the Chinese J-16s aka Russian Su-35s are far superior to the French combat aircraft.

Even if the IAF was to deploy all 36 of its newly acquired jets, the technical superiority would still be on the side of China, claims the Russian expert.

China Fighting India With ‘Sticks & Stones’ Cheaper, But Confronting The US Can Bankrupt China: Experts

The IAF has been on high alert in Ladakh and is closely monitoring all Chinese activity near the Line of Control.  As reported by EurAsian Times, New Delhi has inked a deal with Moscow to buy 33 new fighter aircraft including 12 Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG-29s along with up-gradation of 59 MiG-29s. The addition and up-gradation of jets have been approved to strengthen India’s air power.

Rafale vs F-16: Can The Indian Rafale Jets Overpower The Pakistani F-16s In Aeriel Showdown?

The air defence systems of both the Indian Army and the IAF have been deployed in Ladakh to prevent any misadventure by the Chinese Air Force fighter jets or the People’s Liberation Army choppers there.

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China Fighting India With ‘Sticks & Stones’ Cheaper, But Confronting The US Can Bankrupt China: Experts

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The news of relentless India-China border tensions and all other dispute that China has with its neighbours like Taiwan, Japan, ASEAN nations has got the world standing against Beijing, including the US.

US-China Tensions: US Wants India To ‘Match Its Weight By Actions’ In The South China Sea – Experts

In the east, across the pacific is the raging US-China confrontation. Tensions are running high close to home in Taiwan as the Chinese are stepping up the military action around the region. Muscle flexing in the South China Sea has been ongoing for a while now and tensions are high in Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous region, over the new national security law, confronting Japan over disputed islands and the frequent border skirmishes with India – all of it while fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

According to experts, China’s superpower dreams might not become a reality especially with its ongoing conflict with a global superpower, the US.

“Fighting India with sticks and stones on the high plateau of Ladakh comes cheap, but preparing to confront the United States in the Western Pacific is a very expensive proposition indeed,” wrote Salvatore Babones, an adjunct scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney.

“It is likely to prove a luxury that a slow-growth, post-coronavirus China will not be able to afford. China makes a great show of its wealth and its willingness to spend it. In reality, Beijing’s bank balance doesn’t match its bling,” he added.

China’s economic growth had slowed down even before the coronavirus outbreak. China reported the weakest numbers for 2019, in the last 30 years in the wake of the US-China trade war. China’s growth slowed to 6.1% last year, from 6.6% in 2018, according to the official data.

However, Brooking institution suggests that China overestimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by an average of 1.7 percent per year.

“The United States famously spends more on defence than the next 10 countries combined, yet the notion persists that its military is still underfunded and underequipped for its global superpower role,” stated Babones.

He further explained that if the experts are to be believed, the United States will lose its competitive edge without more investment in university research, advanced technologies, foreign aid, diplomacy, the United Nations, clean energy, and, of course, pandemic preparedness.

“The US—with an economy roughly 50 per cent larger than China’s and a GDP per capita more than six times as great—can’t afford to remain a global superpower, how can China possibly afford to become one?” he asked.

Analyses from the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggest that Chinese defence spending may actually fall in real terms in 2020. Given China’s elevated pace of military operations on several borders, spending constraints must be putting pressure on acquisitions budgets.

“China is believed to have built only 50 or so J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighters. The J-20 program now seems to be experiencing serious development problems, limiting production for the foreseeable future. This compares to America’s stock of 195 F-22 and 134 F-35 fifth-generation fighters, with continuing annual production of more than 100 F-35s, even after coronavirus delays,” explained the author.

The author concluded by saying that China’s leaders can at least save face by abandoning their GDP targets and blaming the virus for the inevitable austerity to follow. He predicted that when the coronavirus crisis is over, the US will still be a global superpower while China’s dreams might still remain far fetched.

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