A Confrontation of Superpowers- Part I
June 3, 2020 | Expert Insights
In this three-part series, the author examines worst-case scenarios, from an impartial point of view. This is a work of fiction; but built on contemporary realities. The place where truth ends and imagination begins, has been clearly indicated in the text. Artfully evolved from the COVID-19 pandemic, it serves to highlight the dangerous spiral of events, if we do not control narratives, with facts and reasonableness.
The Eulogy of the Liberal World Order
The Liberal World Order (LWO) was created by the US, during and after the 2nd World War. It represented an international system, based on the rule of law, respect for human rights, national sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation states. The LWO and its policies were implemented by international institutions like the UN, World Bank, IMF and the WTO. The LWO was embraced by democracies around the world and its stature was guaranteed by the military power of the US and the NATO.
However, 75 years into its existence, the concept of LWO is being challenged, like never before. Parties of political extremes have gained power in Europe and across the world. Even BREXIT is testimony to the preference for nationalism, over multilateralism. The current US President, with shocking brazenness has questioned the independence of the US media, US courts of law and US law-enforcement institutions. He has also demonstrated the new paradigm of ‘America First’, by denying funding to the UN & WHO and walking out of the Paris Climate Change Accord & the Iran Nuclear deal. In January, 2020, President Trump standing alongside the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced the Palestine Peace Plan, without the endorsement of even a single Palestine leader; illustrating that in the new order, there is little respect for international diplomacy, international precedent or international rule of law. However, President Donald Trump is not alone in his quest for individual power. Xi Jinping of the PRC, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Narender Modi of India, Joko Widodo of Indonesia, Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines and Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka belong to a cabal of leaders, who have invested in and benefitted, from populism.
The rise of populism stems from general dissatisfaction, with stagnation of incomes and job-losses; caused by new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics. However, populist leaders prefer to exploit the dissatisfaction with divisive agendas; such as, influx of immigrants, cheap imports and inept political opposition. Faced with choice, electorates prefer to invest their mandates with those who promise hope, rather than those who only offer the status quo.
COVID-19: the spread of the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a worse time, for the US President. The robust US economy, which should have been the center-plank of his re-election strategy, is literally in tatters; millions of people have lost their jobs and the GDP, is floundering. Worse, with more than 1.5M cases and close to 1,00,000 deaths, the US is the worst affected nation by the pandemic. The President’s critics have accused him under-playing the threat, inept handling of the pandemic, and reactive-response leadership style, in the crisis. In recent days, Washington and Beijing have traded increasingly bitter recriminations, over the origin of the virus and the response to it.
“You could fly out of Wuhan, where the primary problem was…and you could go to different parts of the world, but you couldn’t go (from Wuhan) to Beijing and you couldn’t go to any place in China. So, what’s that all about?”
- President Donald Trump, Fox News Town Hall event, on 03 May, 2020
“The Chinese behind the shield of the WHO, for two months hid the virus from the world and sent hundreds of thousands of Chinese on aircraft to Milan, New York and the rest of the world to seed that”.
- Peter Navarro, White House Trade Advisor, on 18 May, 2020.
Some Fiction Begins Here!
Woes in the American Dream. By August, 2020 the pandemic has spread holistically throughout the US. More than 100M people were officially infected (confirmed by testing), though some experts reckon that the actual figure could have been closer to 200M. Death rates have begun to decline but the official death toll is a horrific 1.5M! Which, is more than all the loss of life of US soldiers, in all wars since American Independence, in 1776! To add to America’s woes, millions of American citizens have lost their jobs, federal debit is at an all-time high and the US economy is in recession.
Emergence of Chinese Power
In contrast, China was able to restrict the death toll at under 5,000. Though, there were resurges of the pandemic in different parts of China, the experienced and disciplined Chinese health care workers, were able to detect, monitor and control the spread of the infection, successfully. Most of the PRC has returned to work and have adapted to new working & living conditions that controls the spread of the infection, through social distancing. Though, the Chinese economy has been restrained on account of the pandemic, the PRC is the only developed country with a functional economy, sufficient budget surpluses and abundant foreign exchange reserves. President Xi Jinping has offered medical assistance to much of the world, including Europe and the US.
US Presidential Election
The average American is angry with the downward turn of the robust economy, disappointed with of the US response to the pandemic and resentful of the PRC’s growing admiration, as a strong and helpful nation. In the build-up for the US Presidential election, the American public begins throwing up questions that have speculative answers.
(a) How did China, where the virus originated, keep the death toll, so low?
(b) Why is the death toll from the pandemic so high in Europe and the US?
(c) Was the virus man-made and did it escape from a laboratory in Wuhan?
(d) If the virus was indeed man-made, do the Chinese have a vaccine that has been kept concealed from the world?
(e) How did the Chinese economy rebound from the aftermath of the pandemic so fast, while the rest of the world is still floundering?
(f) Was the pandemic a Chinese master plan to shape a Chinese-centric world order?
The Chinese Defence. When confronted with these questions, Chinese spokespersons claim better public health response to the pandemic, suggest irresponsible governance in affected countries and deny accusations of biological warfare. They also claim to empathize with the victims of the pandemic, demonstrated by their willingness to share the benefits of their robust economy, with the less fortunate.
For many in the developed world, it is difficult to accept that the stark contrast in outcomes of the pandemic, was merely a matter of better governance. Some find the Chinese explanation boastful; while, others sense Chinese sadistic pleasure in undermining former world powers. Some, particularly in the Pentagon, remain committed to the hypothesis that the pandemic was a Chinese strategic plan, to secure the Chinese dream of world domination.
Note: In the next part of this series, the author continues to weaves the fictitious narrative; exaggerating differences of opinion and biasing impartial judgement, to risk confrontation with horrific outcomes.
Author: Major General Moni Chandi (retd)