04.06.2020 Author: James ONeill

The Pandemic Distracts From Wider Geopolitical Events

MEXI

Some recent events have captured the attention of the mainstream media to such an extent that other events of arguably greater importance have not received the attention they deserve. The events getting extraordinary prominence are the riots in the United States and the coronavirus outbreaks. Neither will be given more than a brief discussion because at the same time there are other events occurring of arguably greater importance that have received little or no attention, and such attention they did receive was inaccurately reported.

The first of these mainstream events, the worldwide pandemic generally referred to as the coronavirus is really notable for two main features. The first is that the actual toll of dead or disabled persons is a tiny fraction of the total populations of the countries affected. The United States for example, with the largest actual number of fatalities, currently just over 200,000, has lost 0.62% of its population. The annual influenza figures by comparison, according to the Centre for Disease Control, vary between nine and forty-five million, with deaths also varying widely, with 61,000 for example in 2017/18.

The pandemic has led however, to nearly 40,000,000 people being rendered unemployed, a phenomenon never seen in the annual influenza outbreaks. The real reasons for this extraordinary reaction remain unclear. Certainly Trump has used it as a weapon to beat the heads of the Chinese in his ongoing economic and political war against that country. The more evidence that emerges however, the more fragile that line of attack becomes.

It now seems highly more probable that the origin of the virus was the United States’ own Fort Dietrich research facility, closed in mid 2019 for unexplained reasons for several months. The first United States cases of the pandemic now appear to have occurred not far from that facility.

Trumps use of the pandemic as a stick to try and beat the Chinese with is better seen as another weapon in his ongoing political and economic war against China. His recent proposal to expand the invitees to the annual meeting of the G7 nations to include Russia (a member until 2014 when it was the G8) South Korea, Australia and India, was a thinly disguised manoeuvre against China.

If the G7 was indeed a collection of the worlds major economic powers, the exclusion of China, the worlds greatest economic power by a substantial margin, would make no sense. India rates number 5 of the world economic powers and its exclusion hitherto also makes no economic sense. Australia similarly is well down the world economic power list at number 14, but as a loyal acolyte of the United States, and indulging in political manoeuvres against China that are frankly economic suicide.

Those manoeuvres are explicable only in terms of its subservient role to the United States. That subservience has manifested itself in multiple ways over the past decades, but none of those ill-adventures threatened its economic well-being to the degree that joining Trump’s anti-China crusade is likely to.

It is significant that Germany’s Chancellor Merkel declined the invitation to attend the G7 meeting Trump was proposing for Washington in June. She cited the demands of the Covid virus battle in Germany, but that excuse fooled no-one.

Germany, along with several other European Union member states, sees China as having a bigger role in its economic future than the economically frail and declining (in relative terms) United States. It may be too much to hope for that after 75 years of US occupation Germany is finally asserting a political independence commensurate with its economic power. Germany, along with a number of European Union countries, clearly sees a better economic future for itself by having good relationships, economically and politically, with China and the eastern powers in general than with the United States.

To further emphasise the point, Merkel gave an address to the Konrad Adenauer Shiftung Institute on 27th May. In that speech she made it very clear that China would be a top priority for her government when Germany takes over the EU presidency in July this year.

In her speech Merkel further stressed that Germany plans greater cooperation with China. It hardly needs stressing that German plans for its politico-economic future lies to the East, and hardly wants or needs to be part of a United States led anti-China alliance.

Trumps political war against China will cause some economic damage, but it will not alter the broad path of China’s economic and political development. This year for example, the ASEAN nations became China’s largest trading group, replacing the European Union. Its rapidly growing economic and political relationship with Russia is a further incentive to decouple itself from the United States.

The United States also announced restrictions on the rights of Chinese students to study for advanced degrees in United States universities. The real pain of that move will be felt by the universities themselves. A similar phenomenon will occur in Australia. Although the Australian government has made no announcement restricting Chinese students (the largest foreign student group by a large margin) China’s ambassador to Australia has already made statements clearly hinting that in the light of anti-China sentiment expressed by the Australian government, Chinese students may well choose to study elsewhere. That mild suggestion, which invoked apoplexy among Australian university administrators, may be taken as more than a hint.

Similar restrictions on some Australian exports to China (which accounts for 36% of all Australian exports) may similarly be viewed as a strong hint that the Chinese have tired of Australia’s anti-China subservience to American wishes and, after ample hence suggesting that a modification of the rhetoric would not go astray, is now taking action. The message couldn’t be clearer: China has more alternatives than Australia and there is a price to pay for relentless anti-China rhetoric from government and mainstream media alike.

The Australian State of Victoria recently signed a memorandum of understanding with China over Victoria joining China’s huge Belt and Road Initiative. The Australian Federal government has, as expected, conformed to the United States’ anti-BRI rhetoric. It publicly expressed dismay at Victoria’s decision, joined by political commentators in the mainstream media, and editorials, sounding alarm and concern, literally sprinkled with outright falsehoods about the dangers such a move displayed. United States Secretary of State Pompeo even weighed in, offering dark threats about the jeopardy such a move posed to Australia’s accession to United States military secrets.

No such threats were made to the United States’ other five eyes alliance partner, New Zealand, when the latter signed up to the BRI in May 2019. It was typical Pompeo bluster. Not a single Australian commentator referred to the absence of retaliation against New Zealand, let alone raised the rather obvious question that perhaps Australia’s real national interests would be better served by not being tied to the United States. The American engineered coup d’état of November 1975 has insured that such heresy is not publicly urged by either politicians (of both major parties) or the media.

Schools and businesses will slowly return to normal after the pandemic subsides. The damage caused by the anti-China rhetoric will however, be greater in its effect and more long lasting in the damage it has caused. Germany has shown that there are viable alternatives to the American grasp, and together with many of its EU partners is making economic and political moves consistent with the changing realities of the 21st century geo- political and economic landscape. It is a lesson that others would be well advised to learn from.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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