On March 8, 1983, American president Ronald Reagan named the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. He said that the Soviets “must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards [nor] ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire.” The USSR crumbled under the weight of maintaining its vast military machine and a flailing economy.
Now, there is a new Evil Empire on earth. Its name is the People’s Republic of China. The Communist Party of China (CPC) under Xi Jinping has launched a plan to dominate the world. To test the waters, the world’s only Communist empire deliberately or by error unleashed a powerful bioweapon on an unsuspecting world last year—the novel coronavirus.
Never before in the history of nations has a country’s germ warfare ambitions affected nations; first, by manufacturing a modified virus and launching its lethal mission, and then hiding its true origin by gene-editing the pathogen. Throughout the Covid-19 narrative and the unfolding documentation of Xi’s lust to be the world’s supreme leader, the shadow of Sun Tzu is present like an ominous counsellor.
Murdering Millions the Chinese Way
Last week, British professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sorensen announced that the coronavirus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab and had no “credible natural ancestor”. It was created by Chinese scientists in a ‘Gain of Function’ project (see box: Altering the Virus) by taking the virus’s “backbone” found in Chinese cave bats and splicing it onto a new “spike”. Dalgleish and Sorensen discovered “unique fingerprints” in samples that could only have come through manual virus manipulation in a laboratory environment.
As thousands began to die in the pandemic and China came in the crosshairs of the world, mainly the West, it decided on the “deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data”. “China will do everything to deflect attention. After the Biden administration ordered US intelligence to look closely at the evidence pertaining to lab leak, China suggested that it is America that is responsible. India, along with several other nations, has demanded a transparent enquiry into the origins of Covid-19, so China will target India as well. But global focus today is on what happened in Wuhan and China is feeling the pressure,” says Harsh Pant, Director of Research, Observer Research Foundation.
The Art of War speaks of the importance of knowing your enemy. Some Wuhan scientists had been working with American scientific laboratories earlier. Chinese whistleblowers who revealed the conspiracy were either silenced or simply disappeared into the dark maze of China’s own version of the Gulag—notorious prison camps that Mao Zedong had set up to “re-educate” dissidents, artists, academics and party officials. Xi’s father was one of them.
China’s Dream of World Domination
Events and personalities occur twice in history, the first time as tragedy and the second time as an even greater tragedy. China is the new Soviet Union, Xi is the new Stalin. The philosophy of the authoritarian Xi is summed up by the Chinese word ‘tianxia’, which means “everything under heaven”. Economist Arvind Subramanian has predicted that Chinese currency will replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency before 2035. Various China watchers believe that it will become the world’s most powerful economic force by 2049. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is its primary instrument to perpetuate newly forged alliances and expand global presence.
It links China with Asia, Russia and Europe by land and will connect China’s coastal regions with Asia, the South Pacific and the Middle East. “Xi’s flagship BRI seeks to extend Chinese diplomatic, economic and military power around the globe. India is directly impacted since the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was the first part of the BRI to be operationalised and it soon began to bend borders. With the CPEC, Beijing shed the ambiguity it had maintained on the status of the territories in Pak occupation and began advising India in all interactions to ‘ease tensions with Pakistan, resume talks, resolve the Kashmir issue and then look to improving relations with China’,” says Jayadeva Ranade, President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
Tianxia proposes dominance of the Han community—China’s ruling class—and the world’s subservience to China. The “Son of Heaven”, aka the Chinese emperor, aka Xi, will be the sole ruler. The altered coronavirus, BRI, military adventurism, bringing Hong Kong under Chinese rule, threatening to invade Taiwan, using hackers and aggressive Wolf Warrior diplomacy are the Communist emperor’s advance guard. After his father’s purge by Mao, the 15-year-old Xi was sent from Beijing to Liangjiahe village a little over half-a-century ago. Xi learned to brawl; at a meeting discussing his elevation to power, the story goes that one of the old guard hit him with a chair. Xi got the chair in the end and his assailant’s fate is unknown.
In 2017, a term coined by Spanish China expert and writer Juan Pablo Cardenal sums up Xi’s leadership style. Cardenal spoke of “sharp power” that dictators use to “manipulate and co-opt culture, education systems, and media”. Xi’s foreign policy is fuelled by sharp power. He initiated programmes like Confucius Institutes (CI) teaching Chinese culture and language. But censorship of discussions on the CPC on campus—Xi sees criticism as “hurting Chinese peoples’ feelings”—and opaque funding methods forced host countries to close CIs down. American universities have refused Chinese money fearing infiltration of academia. Xi’s foreign policy is fuelled by sharp power. Hong Kong is sharp power’s first testing site.
“The domestic political environment in China is undergoing a tremendous churn. Xi’s emergence as the ‘core’ leader has not been without friction, which continues to persist, as evident from repeated official calls for cadres to maintain political loyalty. At the same time, his ascent to unparalleled authority since Mao has cemented the trend of top-level design in foreign policy. This makes course correction and adaptability difficult. Beijing is increasingly viewing the world from the prism of systemic competition. This has been amply evident in its narrative around the superiority of the Chinese system in containing the pandemic. This goes hand-in-hand with China’s perception of itself as a major global power,” says Manoj Kewalramani, Fellow-China Studies, Takshashila Institution.
Contempt for Democracy
Xi is no Brezhnev or Gorbachev. Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan and the costly war ended in the economic and social collapse of the Soviet Empire which Gorbachev presided over. Chinese foreign policy equals Chinese economic policy. Xi’s preferred method of expansion is two-pronged: investments in the First World and blackmail—China will seize a debtor country’s strategic assets if it defaults on loans. Xi is following the Sun Tzu dogma that “each fight is won or lost before it is won”. He knows the West’s soft point is democracy.
China believes that democracy, which encourages flourishing private enterprise, public scrutiny, a free media, civic protest and vibrant debates, and a tolerance for dissent, will eventually weaken the West. He is bound to accelerate his neo-mercantile protocol—rogue nations that encourage child and slave labour (China included), ethnic cleansing (China again in Xinjiang), religious extremism and terrorism—to get a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. China’s cunning acceptance of the present liberal world order by joining WTO and WHO has strengthened Xi’s clout—WHO absolved China of manufacturing the Covid-19 virus.
The Xi Enigma
The key to understanding China’s global ambitions is to understand Xi. He is God in Communist China. Every day, hundreds of Chinese embark on a political pilgrimage to rural Shaanxi Province to trace Xi’s journey from its dusty, rocky slopes to the rarefied atmosphere of Zhongnanhai, the former imperial garden next to the Forbidden City. Military guides show visitors the cave where he lived—carefully maintained to illustrate his rustic commitment. Inside it are two piles of mattresses, blankets and a pillow on a bamboo mat. Xi’s black and white photograph in Mao jacket and cap gazes out Che Guevara-style. Old newspaper cuttings adorn the walls. His portraits are plastered across Chinese cities. The legend of Xi is carefully nurtured.
Opinions against China are assaults on the legend. When Xi turned Hong Kong into a police state, social media posts by employees of any international brand invited a ban on access to the estimated $5 trillion Chinese market. The CPC controls domestic industry, both state-controlled and private. Global business icons such as Jack Ma and Pony Ma had to quit their executive positions or face prison. An ORF paper sums up ‘Invest, Indebt, Incapacitate’ as China’s geo-economic and political strategy in BRI nations. Sri Lanka took Chinese funds to co-develop the Hambantota port. When it could not repay, Beijing demanded equity in the port and 15,000 acres of surrounding land. When South Korea allowed the US to install a defence system on its soil, Xi asked the Chinese to boycott South Korean companies, such as Hyundai, AmorePacific, and Lotte. China banned South Korean tourists.
Maldives owes China $1.4 billion or 78 percent of its total external debt. Montenegro has borrowed ¤800 million from China to build a highway with its land as collateral. Should it default, expansionist China will gain direct entry into Europe. Pakistan is deeply in debt. Last week, Xi asked CPC to “unite the majority and continuously expand its circle of friends with those who understand and are friendly to China”. China gets the upper hand in connectivity and partnerships through six main economic corridors—China, Mongolia, Russia, Central and West Asia, Pakistan, and Indochina. According to an Asian Development Bank report in 2017, Asia’s infrastructure investment requirement is $26 trillion till 2030, which the $13 trillion Chinese economy would be happy to subsidise. This assures Chinese products a significant market share in BRI countries. China also exports huge quantities of steel and aluminium through BRI. Xi is betting on projects to expand the international footprint of deep-in-debt Chinese state-owned companies.
Chinese Spies Rampant in the West
“All fighting depends on misdirection,” declared Sun Tzu. Xi created a massive espionage network that reached the highest levels of world governments and institutions. Dissidents who Xi would rather see in Qincheng Prison scored a huge propaganda victory last year by leaking voluminous data on Chinese operatives. Documents reveal that CPC members are embedded inside large global businesses. The leaked database has information on almost two million CPC members working in companies, universities and government agencies. The mega corporations, which they have infiltrated, include auto makers Boeing and Volkswagen, pharma giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and banks, such as ANZ and HSBC. Agents penetrated consulates of Australia, the UK, the US and European nations. These spies report directly to Xi.
An Army to Reckon with
When Nazi Germany began rebuilding its Army in the late 1930s, ignoring the conditions of the Versailles Treaty, the world looked away. China has violated international law by constructing military bases on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea. “China under Xi is intent on making enemies of many nations. One just has to look at Australia and the EU nations, for example. These nations have been trying to develop robust trade ties with China but Xi seemingly feels that today China can dictate the terms of engagement to others and there is no need to tread cautiously.
With India, of course, there is a larger issue of the nation being at the forefront of challenging China, be it on the BRI or the Indo-Pacific. At Doklam and during the border crisis since last year, New Delhi has also signalled its intent to stand up to China militarily. So taming India will send a message across the region,” believes Pant. Chinese historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien recounts a tale about Sun Tzu telling the king of Wu kingdom that he could get even the ruler’s mistresses to fight if given a chance to fully prepare them. The legendary military strategist says that a well-administered military is a successful military—arm soldiers well and direct them clearly and they will give their best.
Xi echoes Sun Tzu in his modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). As Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi turned the oversized, poorly trained and corrupt PLA into the world’s largest military with two million personnel and the world’s second largest defence budget of $202 billion. Xi’s priority is to fully modernise the PLA by 2027, the centenary of its founding. He is spending more on developing advanced weapon systems and AI technology. Sun Tzu wrote, “Walk by a roundabout course and occupy the foe by tempting him with a lure. So doing, you may set out after he does and touch base before him.” In a white paper on defence in 2019, China said it “advocates partnerships rather than alliances and does not join any military bloc”.
Beijing has territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and India. It staged war games near Taiwan. Xi has revived the disbanded ballistic-missile force and boosted capabilities for cyberspace, and electronic warfare. The Chinese Air Force has modern combat aircraft, some of which were built at home. Xi gave PLA modern tanks. Today, the PLA Navy (PLAN) is the world’s largest navy with missile-armed warships and ICBM submarines. “For India, the immediate concern is Xi’s declared ambition to ‘recover territories lost through the imposition of unequal treaties by hostile foreign powers’. This implies that Beijing will strive to ‘recover’ Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and other smaller pockets in Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh,” warns Ranade. When the first Gulf War broke out, Chinese military planners realised the overwhelming superiority of rockets. Since China is not a signatory to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it has become the world’s most intimidating missile force. Its main disadvantage is lack of combat experience. Xi could overcome this too. After Hong Kong, Taiwan is in his sights.
A Paradoxical Relationship
China has discarded ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ in history’s dustbin. Chinese hackers targeted Indian missions, servers, the Dalai Lama’s office and Tibetan exiles. In 2010, researchers at the University of Toronto discovered a cyber network which had stolen classified information about Indian missile systems, local security, and diplomatic communication about India’s policy in West Africa, Russia and the Middle East, Afghanistan and NATO. “Structural fault lines in the India-China dynamic will continue to ensure that the relationship remains competitive. While there is a significant power asymmetry between India and China today, both are also experiencing simultaneous rise.
Both sides have greater capacity today than at any point since they emerged as modern nation-states in the late 1940s. At the same time, both sides also have coinciding and expanding circles of interests, which lead to new sources of friction,” says Kewalramani, whose book, Smokeless War: China’s Quest for Geopolitical Dominance, will be published soon. In the Xi-Modi equation, both are vying for psychological dominance. Some believe the Chinese leader has the upper hand. “To put China’s aggressive moves into the old pattern of ‘hegemonic China’ does not explain anything.
As to how Modi completely misread Xi will always remain one of the permanent enigmas of our foreign policy disasters,” says a retired officer from one of India’s security agencies. Sitting on a swing on the banks of the Sabarmati River in September 2014, flush with his electoral victory, Modi is described by a writer as looking deep into Xi’s eyes and commenting, “This was not expected of your country. Can you tell me when the troops are withdrawing?” As they sipped tea together, 1,000 Chinese soldiers crossed the LAC in Southern Ladakh. Xi did not respond to Modi’s questions on the border issue during his China visit in 2015. He left it to Premier Li Keqiang to inform Modi that it was a “complex issue left over from history” and required “patience”.
After negotiating a mutual pull-back, the PLA entered the disputed Doklam bowl to which Modi did not react. At the 2018 Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore attended by Xi, Modi warned against a “return to the age of great power rivalries,” in the Indo-Pacific, an issue close to Xi’s heart. He believes Modi has been subdued. The Indian PM is keeping his own counsel. “What Beijing is keen on doing is to show up India’s all-round helplessness. And how as an inherently weak and vacillating power, which has outsourced its strategic security to the US and saddled with a plunging economy, India is in no position whatsoever to provide countries in southern Asia and Southeast Asia either military assistance and support or, even less, trade, technology, infrastructure and economic development—all of which China can readily offer,” says Bharat Karnad, national security expert and Emeritus Professor for National Security Studies, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi.
After the Dalgliesh-Sorenson paper went public, the ever pragmatic Xi said that China must “be open and confident, but also modest and humble”. Successful empires are built as much on treachery as on good faith. The Wuhan viral leak shows a man not afraid to take risks to conquer the world. Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty is considered one of the greatest emperors who ushered in China’s Golden Age in the sixth century AD. He launched a new dynasty, reorganised and strengthened his army, put down revolts and annexed territory. Unlike Xi, Taizong was open to criticism and tolerant. He was also a renowned calligrapher. Xi has chosen the brush to paint China in his own form. The world is watching his strokes becoming clearer by the day in the light of his unbridled ambition.
Gain-of-function research alters the transmissibility, virulence and immunogenicity of a target virus. For example, the H1N1 influenza virus will affect humans but its mutation could jump to another host—which is what probably happened at the Wuhan laboratory. The purpose of Gain-of-function research is to study how pandemics affect humanity, anticipate possible mutations in currently known viruses, identify when they occur and to prepare medical treatment like vaccines and drugs in advance. In an ideal world, it allows governments to execute better disease control measures, and speed up research for potential vaccines and treatments. Gene editing technology such as CRISPR is commonly used by medical scientists to make alterations in the genetic code of the pathogen.
Viruses replicate very fast. Without proper intervention, they will mutate, lowering the efficacy of natural or vaccine-induced antibodies. Early studies suggest that the mutation in the coronavirus spike protein enhances the virus’s potency and enables it to evade serum antibodies of recovered Covid-19 patients. If there are no models of a particular human pathogen to study, Gain-of-function researchers must generate a new infective strain in a laboratory. They do this by passing the virus through an animal—in Wuhan’s case the bats—and thereafter test potential vaccine candidates.
A previous controversy centered around the genetic modification of the A/H5N1 virus in ferrets to make an airborne virus that can infect the animals. Researchers conclusively demonstrated that an altered version of a non-airborne virus can be spread through air. They could also anticipate antiviral drug combinations to treat the disease. However, the mutation must occur in the manner it is predicted in the lab for effective future treatment. How an altered virus affects ferrets may not be the same in other species. All the research proves is that viruses can be transferred from animals to humans. The possibility of accidental or intentional release of an altered virus caused the Obama administration to halt funding for Gain-of-function research related to influenza, SARS, or MERS in 2014. The ban has since been rolled back.
THE WORLD DOMINATION BLUEPRINT
Xi Jinping has attained mythical status in his country. The China vs the Rest policy has evoked strong nationalism, which gives him the support he needs at home to further his agenda. Xi’s absolute control over the Party allows him to push his foreign policy forward without hindrance.
ONE WORLD ONE DREAM
Xi works on the Chinese historical assumption that it will subjugate and unite all countries to be ruled by one emperor. Xi sees himself as the Son of Heaven as the Chinese emperor was called. Disregarding international law, China has established military bases in the South China Sea, directly challenging US Naval power.
FORGING SECONDARY ALLIANCES
Through BRI, Xi will make China resource-competent and geopolitically powerful in Asia, Russia and Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. Xi will create more employment and resuscitate debt-ridden state-owned companies through creating new markets through BRI.
Xi has given massive development loans to countries in South Asia and Europe, which have mismanaged or corrupt governments. China seizes strategic assets when they don’t repay the loans. In Africa, where China has no geopolitical interests presently, Xi does not insist in repayment as he gathers future goodwill as long-term investment.
Xi wants Chinese economy to determine world affairs. To change the liberal world order that favours pro-democracy economics, China promises unconditonal credit to resource-rich, strategic countries that disregard basic human rights and democracy. This alters the market balance, changes policy and forces Western nations to negotiate terms favourable to China. It uses membership of WTO, WHO etc to push its agenda.
SHARP POWER DOCTRINE
China could become the world’s most powerful economic force by 2049. Using “sharp power”, Xi manipulates and co-opts culture, education systems, and media. He runs an authoritarian regime at home and subverts the political atmosphere in democracies.
ESPIONAGE AND PROPAGANDA
Members of the Communist Party of China have infiltrated Western governments, mega corporations and diplomatic missions. They report directly to Xi. China started cultural bodies with opaque funding. It offers endowments to Western universities to infleunce academia. Its hackers access classified data of foreign governments, including India.
DROPPING SOFT POWER
Xi has taken an aggressive and expansionist stand, Hong King becme a police state and Taiwan is being targeted for invasion. Wolf Warrior diplomat is taking on Western anti-China opinion through savage rhetoric and lobbying. Xi excels in psychological warfare by ignoring foreign leaders: forcing them on the back foot even if China is wrong —what Beijing wants Beijing gets.
Xi cut the PLA’s flab and multi-chain commands, and increased the budget of the Army. His emphasis is on state-of-the-art technology—aircraft, nuclear submarines, missile technology, cyber warfare and AI. The reach of the Chinese Navy and missile systems is intimidating.
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