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.