China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic

| August 2, 2020 | 0 Comments
“Epidemic prevention” measures at Qujiang Toll Station in Yanta District, Xi’an, are shown here. The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wuhan, China. (Photo: Liuxingy)

“Epidemic prevention” measures at Qujiang Toll Station in Yanta District, Xi’an, are shown here. The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wuhan, China. (Photo: Liuxingy)

China has come under scrutiny for its handling of the pandemic that began to tighten its now-worldwide grip in January. Joe Varner investigated what has been reported in independent media and what the Chinese government has stated on wide-ranging aspects of the pandemic.

At publication time, we are still emerging from almost four months of lockdown in Ontario, with similar timing across Canada. As of July 21, more than 111,697 Canadians have been sickened and 8,862 have died due to the deadly virus. Around the globe, 14.9 million have suffered from the infection and a staggering 616,317 have died, although we will never likely know the real total. The cost to the global economy is in the trillions of dollars as the virus becomes a global economic disrupter. The purpose of this article is to examine China’s actions during this pandemic and their impact on global security.

Once the pandemic was in full swing, there were some observers who viewed China as taking advantage of the disease while others, think-tanks such as U.S.-based RAND Corporation, took the view that China’s recent activities were just the norm for its increasingly assertive behaviour. Diplomat magazine has unsuccessfully requested interviews with several Chinese ambassadors. As an alternative, we took five subject areas and collected information from experts and journalists on each. We present those as well as the corresponding statements by Chinese President Xi Jinping or his official spokesmen.

1. Allegations that China delayed reporting and withheld information from the world and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the nature and severity of the pandemic

Global media:
Chinese doctors, such as the late Li Wenliang, warned of the danger of the virus and human-to-human spread in late December 2019 and he and eight others were censored for it by Chinese authorities. Dr. Li was later exonerated by the authorities after his death from COVID-19. According to The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper recently acquired by China’s titan retail and technology company, Alibaba, Chinese data said the first case appeared as far back as Nov. 7. China only confirmed person-to-person transmission on Jan. 19. Authorities in Beijing appear to have been alerted to the danger posed by COVID-19 on Jan. 6 and Xi was likely briefed on Jan. 7, but only publicly acknowledged the threat on Jan. 20.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has asserted that “there is nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea.”  (Photo: UN pHoto)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has asserted that “there is nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea.” (Photo: UN pHoto)

On Jan. 23, Wuhan was shut down. It is also important to note that the WHO only declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30, and a pandemic on March 11. By that time, the number of COVID cases globally had grown to more than 118,000 in 114 countries; 4,291 people had died.
According to recordings obtained by the Associated Press news service, China withheld the genome or genetic map of the COVID-19 virus from the WHO for more than a week. In fact, on two separate occasions, Jan. 1 and Jan. 5, Chinese authorities demanded that samples of the virus be destroyed and the research on the disease be kept secret. Beijing also stalled on providing the WHO with detailed information about patients and their case histories for a further two weeks.
By the end of March, COVID-19 had become a global public health crisis with more than 10,000 deaths each in Italy, Spain and the U.S. and more than 5,000 in Iran and the U.K.
According to Canada’s Global News and Tokyo-based The Diplomat magazine, during this period, China delayed the release of information and lacked transparency with the WHO about the infectiousness of the virus and the danger it posed to global public health.

Chinese authorities’ official statements:
Xi has responded that China has always provided information to the WHO and the world “in a most timely fashion.”
Liu Dengfeng, deputy-director of China’s National Health Commission (NHC), has said in response to criticism: “China has always been open on sharing the novel coronavirus strains with the whole world and will carry on being open. Chinese officials have also stated that China shared the genome sequence of the virus under the WHO framework to help develop a vaccine and medicine quickly. After the scientific research on the virus started, the NHC issued guidelines on Jan. 3 to regulate how labs should treat the SARS-CoV-2 and total destruction is only one of the measures.”
China has also said it is false that it hid the “people-to-people infection” truth for a week before telling the world. Commission Deputy Director Zeng Yixin said “‘People-to-people infection’ is a street term, not a scientific one. The more precise term would be the ability of the virus to spread among people. In mid-January, we were still trying to learn how fast the virus can spread. It’s not until Jan. 19 that we confirmed that the novel coronavirus is dangerous. We did it as fast as we could.”

2. China and shortages of COVID-19-related medical supplies and equipment

Global media:
Global News and Japan’s The Diplomat described how China employed its United Front Work Department organizations, including its overseas diaspora community groups, to buy up and stockpile personal protective equipment (PPE) from all over the world and, in effect, hoarded valuable commodities at the expense of other nations, including Canada. The Chinese Communist Party’s United Front began in pre-revolutionary China and was used by the party to co-opt non-communist groups into its struggle for power. In recent years, it has been used to win over the ethnic Chinese diaspora in other countries to help influence decision-making of foreign governments and to shape domestic public opinion. China sets up its United Front organizations through officials in its embassies to back China, co-opt foreign political and economic elites and promote China’s global strategic agenda.
In mid-January, Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide issued an urgent call for assistance in procuring and obtaining PPE. According to Chinese documents, in six weeks, China imported 2.5 billion pieces of PPE, including more than two billion safety masks. This was in addition to foreign medical aid from countries such as Canada, which sent much of its emergency stockpile to Beijing to fight the virus in January and February.
Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s former ambassador to Beijing, told Global News that this “surreptitious” operation left “the world naked with no supply of PPE.” Once Beijing had the virus under control, it offered to sell its stockpile of PPE back to other countries, such as Mexico, at 20- to 30 times the price. The Washington Post and CNN reported in April that PPE from China was being sold at more than 1,000 per cent over prices seen in early January. Canada and other countries discovered that some of the PPE provided back by China as donations or at a high premium cost were defective. Like Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and Spain returned Chinese-made PPE when it failed to meet national standards.

Chinese authorities’ official statements:

Chinese President Xi Jinping insists that China has always provided information to the WHO and the world “in a most timely fashion.” (Photo: UN PHOTO)

Chinese President Xi Jinping insists that China has always provided information to the WHO and the world “in a most timely fashion.” (Photo: UN PHOTO)

China has denied allegations of hoarding global pandemic supplies, noting that as COVID-19 was brought under control in China, it exported domestically manufactured PPE to other countries in need.
People’s Daily, published by the ruling Communist Party, said the claims were a politically motivated attempt to preserve U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidency and to divert attention from the U.S. administration’s own failures in dealing with the outbreak. “As the U.S. presidential election campaigns are under way, the Trump Administration has implemented a strategy designed to divert attention from the incompetence it has displayed in fighting the pandemic,” the paper said in an editorial. The paper has made U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a central target of its attacks, in recent weeks describing him as “despicable” and of having “evil intentions” by blaming China for having caused the pandemic.
In February, Chinese respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan stated at a press conference that “though the COVID-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China.”
On March 12, Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, went on Twitter, to ask, “When did patient zero begin in U.S.? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! U.S. owes us an explanation.”
On March 19, China’s Global Times reported that the “virus might already be spreading in Italy before the epidemic erupted in China.” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV cited another interview to stress that “unknown pneumonia appeared in Italy as early as October last year.”
The response of several Chinese embassies was to remind African leaders of their countries’ “time-tested friendship,” and to not let certain media organizations exaggerate the situation and “drive a wedge between China and Africa.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported that Jin Hai, a Chinese customs official, said in late June that nearly four billion masks, 16,000 ventilators, 37.5 million pieces of protective clothing and 2.84 million coronavirus testing kits had been exported to more than 50 countries since March 1.
Jiang Fan, an official with the commerce ministry, said it was important to realize that China has ”different” standards and usage habits to other countries,” AFP reported, warning that if the equipment was used improperly, this could sow doubt over its quality.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded by saying problems should be “properly solved based on facts, not political interpretations,” according to Bloomberg. “In fact, when we first began fighting COVID-19 at home, some of the assistance China received was defective, but we chose to believe and respect the kind intentions of these countries.”

3. The spread of the virus beyond China

Global media:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the China-India border in early July, during the spat between China and India. (Photo: Prime Minister's office, India)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the China-India border in early July, during the spat between China and India. (Photo: Prime Minister’s office, India)

According to the U.S.-based National Review and Times of India, when Chinese authorities knew that they had an epidemic and potential for a pandemic on their hands, China stopped all domestic travel between Wuhan and the rest of China on Jan. 23 and between Hubei Province and the rest of China on Jan. 25, but allowed international flights out of Wuhan to land all over the world.
This had the effect of exporting the disease to other nations through 2 million travellers over a two-week period from the last week of January to the first week of February. During that time, China prevented the virus from spreading to the rest of China. It should be noted that the WHO, at the time, declared that international travel restrictions were unnecessary and ineffective.

Chinese authorities’ official statements:
“In order to meet the needs of passengers in and out of the country and the international transport of supplies during this special period… airlines [are required to] … continue transport to nations that have not imposed travel restrictions,” stated the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
At the opening of the agency’s executive board meeting on Feb. 3, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take.”
On March 27, only after a telephone conversation between Trump and Xi did Beijing agreed to curb international flights from China. China’s Civil Aviation Administration stated after the discussion “that 90 per cent of international flights would be temporarily suspended. The number of incoming passengers would be cut to 5,000 a day, from 25,000. China has also ordered local airlines to maintain only one route per country, once a week, as of 29th March.”

4. Pandemic political economics

The USS Chief in the East China Sea. (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by James Greeves)

The USS Chief in the East China Sea. (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by James Greeves)

Global media and expert sources, including statements from privately owned Chinese website and
Just recently, two Chinese media organizations published nationalist pieces saying that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were eager to rejoin China and that the territory of the two states was previously Chinese territory stolen by Russia. What the article did not say was that Kazakh tribes declared loyalty to the Chinese Emperor at the time, but the Emperor was Jurchen, and not Han Chinese, and the Chinese were subjects, not conquerors. The articles drew howls of protest from the two Central Asian states. Kazakhstan is viewed as the strategic lynchpin of the region and also as rich in natural resources. Kazakhstan is also home to Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s largest space-launch facility and was home to the Soviet Union’s very advanced biological weapons program during the Cold War. Interestingly, in 2011, Beijing wrote off an undisclosed debt owed to China by Tajikistan in exchange for 1,158 square kilometres of disputed territory. The Washington Post recently identified an outpost in eastern Tajikistan, near the strategic junction of the Wakhan Corridor, that hosts Chinese troops and a new dual-use airport at Yarkand called Shache. China’s foreign ministry denied any involvement in pushing the media sites to put out the “fake news” stories on Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but suspicions remain about China’s real intentions towards the three states.
In addition, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization warned that China would, in the aftermath of its recovery from COVID-19, go on a buying spree of rare-earth minerals and high technology not easily replicated in China while the rest of the world was still fighting the pandemic. There was concern about both Beijing state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and Chinese-controlled companies buying up controlling interests in strategic businesses and critical infrastructure, such as cash-strapped Greek ports. China is rumoured to be trying to buy hard-hit oil companies. Chinese interests bought a 33.3-per-cent interest in Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy a decade ago and the company has filed for bankruptcy. There is concern that China might try and purchase the entire company in its current state of weakness. It is allegedly preparing to take advantage of the collapse of oil prices by shoring up its reserve and hoarding fuel. There are reports that a British semiconductor chip designer, Imagination Technologies, could be moved to China after it was bought in 2017 by an investment firm backed by the Chinese government.
China has also pursued natural resources, including agricultural lands and farm products, on a scale not previously seen in order to meet its food security needs in the aftermath of the pandemic. Canada is not immune. It was announced that Chinese state-owned mining company Shandong Gold Mining Company Ltd. had bought a 50-per-cent share of the Nunavut TMAC Resources Hope Bay Gold Mining Project. In response to potential predatory acquisitions of Canadian companies by Chinese SOEs, on June 1, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology approved a motion to study the sale of Canadian strategic assets to SOEs during the pandemic, a motion put forward by Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner.
While the Chinese economy has taken a serious hit from the COVID-19 virus, it is sitting on more than US$3 trillion in reserves should it choose to go on a buying spree at the expense of others, particularly the United States and its allies. Purchases of controlling interest in critical infrastructure, energy, rare-earth minerals and high technology that are not easily replicated in China are at the top of the list.
There have been hacking attacks in the United States, United Kingdom and Israel. According to the BBC, the United States and United Kingdom have warned that they believe China has attempted to steal information about drugs and a working COVID-19 vaccine, and even damaged research programs with its cyber intrusions. Canada and China are currently engaged in a joint effort to develop a vaccine and it is currently being tested in China on members of the People’s Liberation Army. Not surprisingly, Chinese diplomats around the world have become increasingly vocal and aggressive in criticizing democracies that have media freedom by using uncharacteristic “wolf warrior diplomacy,” which draws its name from the popular Chinese action adventure movie Wolf Warrior 1 and represents a new no-holds-barred aggressive diplomatic response to criticisms of China and its regime. According to a Globe and Mail editorial, even Canada’s Trudeau government, so hesitant to criticize Beijing, has had a ‘wake-up call,’ one that should have come when China took the two Michaels, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, held them hostage for more than a year, and placed them on trial for threatening Chinese national security. The serious diplomatic row over Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a United States extradition warrant for committing fraud to break sanctions on Iran is viewed as a case of hostage diplomacy.

Chinese authorities’ official statements:
The South China Morning Post, owned by Alibaba, reported that an adviser to the Chinese government warned that “global co-ordination, either through the G7 or G20, is needed. If we lose control, the pandemic will risk a new round of global economic crises and social turmoil. So far there is no co-ordinated global action and we may not see one any time soon.”
In Beijing in late June, foreign affairs ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected the hacking allegation, saying China firmly opposes all cyber attacks. “We are leading the world in COVID-19 treatment and vaccine research. It is immoral to target China with rumours and slanders in the absence of any evidence,” Zhao said.
Huo Jianguo, the former head of the Chinese commerce ministry’s research institute, has pushed the G20 to take the lead on an economic solution. “If we keep following the current trend, people will lose confidence in global governance, and just witness the world fall into the pit of chaos.”
Wang Huiyao, president of a Beijing think-tank and adviser to China’s cabinet, urged international co-operation. “It is time for each country to offer their solutions, such as China’s new infrastructure projects and the [U.S.] Federal Reserve’s interest-rate cuts, to know what each country can do.”

5. China’s political and military actions during the COVID crisis

Global media and experts:
China, to date, has concentrated its actions against old adversaries in the South China Sea, namely Taiwan, Japan, India and Hong Kong, and its aggressive international moves have not abated since the pandemic outbreak.
The South China Sea, running north from the Straits of Malacca to the southern tip of Japan, is the busiest seaway in the world. It is home to a series of maritime border disputes with China and most of its neighbours, including Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia over the Spratly Islands that straddle the South China Sea’s shipping lanes. These lanes feed China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and others, carrying an estimated $5.3 trillion in ship-borne trade transits each year, or one third of global trade. As much as 80 per cent of China’s oil imports arrive via the Strait of Malacca and then sail across the South China Sea to reach China. Furthermore, these sea lanes convey five times more oil traffic than the Panama Canal. The region is also home to 5 of the world’s 10 busiest seaports, making it more strategic and vulnerable to conflict.

While the U.S. navy was fighting COVID-19, the Chinese sortied their aircraft carrier Liaoning, shown here, and her escorts through Taiwanese waters in April and May out into the Western Pacific. (Photo: Tyg728)

While the U.S. navy was fighting COVID-19, the Chinese sortied their aircraft carrier Liaoning, shown here, and her escorts through Taiwanese waters in April and May out into the Western Pacific. (Photo: Tyg728)

China has essentially claimed the South China Sea in its entirety and has fortified islands just off the coast of the Philippines to create a line of control and an area that shipping must pass through to get to China’s regional rivals, namely Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Beijing, against an international court ruling on its claims and the wishes of its neighbours, has essentially annexed up to the so-called “first island chain” stretching from Japan to the Philippines, on to Taiwan and down to Malaysia. At the very least, Beijing could close the area through the use of its own “grey measures” force based around its Maritime People’s Militia, a ghost fleet of fishing trawlers from small to large that surrounds rival islands and intimidates other shipping vessels.
A series of actions illustrate China’s escalation against adversaries:

• Starting in mid-February, the Philippines government reported that a Chinese navy warship pointed its “fire control radar” at a Philippines navy ship off Commodore Reef in the Spratly Islands. The radar locks weapons on a target prior to an actual attack and was viewed as a highly aggressive action.
• On March 1, three Taiwanese Coast Guard cutters were challenged by about 10 Chinese fishing boats, part of Beijing’s shadowy maritime militia, near Taiwan’s Little Kinmen Island. In late March, Chinese fishing vessels rammed a Taiwanese coast guard patrol boat near Little Kinmen and were repelled only after the Taiwanese fired warning shots.
• In late March, a Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force destroyer, the JS Shimakaze, was damaged after colliding or being rammed by a Chinese fishing vessel in the East China Sea approximately 650 kilometres west of Yakushima Island.
• While the United States Navy was fighting COVID-19 with its only two aircraft carriers deployed in the Western Pacific and shut down by the virus, the Chinese sortied their aircraft carrier Liaoning and her escorts through Taiwanese near-shore waters in April and May out into the Western Pacific and Beijing’s second carrier, the Shandong, sailed the East China and Yellow seas.
• In April, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel near the disputed Paracel Islands in the second incident in fewer than six months.
• In late April, the U.S. Navy and Australia deployed warships to respond to alleged Chinese harassment of neighbouring countries in the South China Sea, particularly Vietnam and Malaysia.
• Additionally, on May 8, 2020, two Chinese Coast Guard ships approached and chased a Japanese fishing boat in Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
• In late May, a Chinese maritime militia vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel near the Paracel Islands and injured 12 fishermen. At least 12 other Vietnamese fishing vessels were damaged in similar incidents, but remained afloat.
• As well, Chinese vessels damaged 24 Vietnamese coastal security vessels during the month of May.
In terms of Taiwan, a democratic state that China considers a renegade province, China has become very bellicose and aggressive over the last several months. It may have been a Chinese Communist Party reaction to Taiwan’s success in stamping out COVID-19, Western sympathy over re-admission of Taiwan to the WHO that China then blocked, or it might have been sparked by Taiwan’s offer of effective PPE to foreign governments fighting the crisis, while Chinese aid garnered some criticism as substandard or extremely poor — or all of the above. It also coincided with the swearing in of pro-independence Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen for her second term. Beijing, to strengthen its claim over the whole South China Sea, set up two administrative municipal regions covering the Paracel and Spratly islands. China has stepped up air incursions in and around Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands and Japan, including its first night-time operation around Taiwan.
Furthermore, Beijing announced that the Bohai Sea would be cordoned off for more than 70 days by the Chinese military for a series of live-fire drills to train for an amphibious landing on the mainland-facing shore of Taiwan. As well, China stated that the People’s Liberation Army is preparing for another beach-landing drill to be staged near the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan, in July or August. China’s prime naval assets, its two aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ship and landing craft are to feature prominently in the war games. Beijing has plans now for an air defence identification zone to cover the Spratly, Paracel and Pratas islands. There are increasing calls from within China for Taiwan’s forced reunification with China that Xi promised would start this year. Lastly, China recently threatened force to “resolutely smash” any move by Taiwan toward declaring independence. Taiwan’s response was to announce the purchase of new heavy torpedoes and mobile ground-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the United States, geared to defeat a Chinese invasion. The United States Pacific Fleet Submarine Command took the unusual step of announcing that all of its submarines had been forward deployed to the Western Pacific in a clear warning to Beijing. Incidentally, Japan has decided to base anti-ship missiles of its own, including hypersonic glide variants, on such disputed islands as the Senkaku, to deter China.

Threatening Hong Kong’s freedom
Probably the most worrisome of China’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic is its move to end Hong Kong’s relative freedom and eliminate its democratic movement while the rest of the world is distracted by the virus. China’s newly legislated national security law strips the people of Hong Kong of their freedom and brings in China’s secret police and likely the People’s Liberation Army, now largely restricted to garrisons on the island, to enforce it. According to interviews given to The New York Times, Global News, CNN and others, some leaders and protesters of the pro-democracy movement have been arrested, jailed and tortured, despite protests by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The 1997 agreement governing the transfer of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese stipulated that China would agree to let Hong Kong keep its democratic system and rights for its residents. Now, suddenly, those guaranteed freedoms are being removed and there are 300,000 Canadian citizens resident in Hong Kong who are watching their way of life change in what has been described as Beijing’s “Rhineland moment.”
The U.S. acted quickly to threaten to remove Hong Kong special trading status with the United States and the United Kingdom offered a route to citizenship for three million Hong Kong citizens and extended visa access to 350,000 overseas British citizens and passport holders.
Beyond the Far East, China is clashing with India and both are reportedly sustaining casualties in a growing border war. On May 5, 5,000 Chinese troops crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into the Galwan River Valley, followed by another incursion in the Pangong Lake sector on May 12. At about the same time, there were smaller Chinese incursions near Demchok, in Southern Ladakh, and in Naku La, in North Sikkim. At one point, there were as many as 10,000 Chinese troops believed to be in Indian territory. This is land that in the past China accepted as being Indian territory, but India’s construction of a road and transportation infrastructure in the area has been viewed by China as a serious threat to its border security. Chinese troops, by all accounts, then dug in and brought up artillery and armoured fighting vehicles. One serious brutal border clash has taken place near Pangong Lake, where 250 Chinese troops attacked an Indian army outpost of 50 soldiers with clubs studded with nails, rocks and metal bars wrapped in wire. Approximately 20 Indian and 43 Chinese soldiers were killed in the mêlée, including senior officers.
The territorial dispute along the China-India border falls across three different areas, the eastern sector, about 90,000 square kilometres under Indian control; the western sector of Ladakh, about 33,000 square kilometres and under Chinese control. The central sector of the border, west of Nepal, is approximately 2,000 square kilometres, and control is divided between India and China. After the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the LAC served as the de facto border in all three sectors. Unlike previous border incidents between the two nuclear-armed great powers, China is simultaneously putting pressure on the LAC in multiple areas in the western sector. The standoff, at the time of writing, started to show signs of possible resolution after both sides reportedly pulled back from the disputed territory by at least a kilometre in three places in Ladakh, including the tense Galwan River Valley. Having said that, China has reinforced its positions along the LAC and Pakistan has moved two divisions of 20,000 troops to its shared border with India, leaving India to face a potential two-front conflict. It is believed that the Pakistani military has 4,500 insurgents ready to cross into Kashmir to further complicate any Indian military response.

A backlash from Western democracies
China’s actions and aggressive behaviour have shaped a backlash among Western democracies that Beijing views as unwarranted and motivated by Western self-interest, ethnocentrism and even racism. Beijing’s threats to Australia, Canada and the U.K., to name but a few, are likely to be remembered for a long time to come. China’s “soft power” clout is now in question and its image in Africa is tarnished by its treatment of the African diaspora working in China. The Chinese Communist Party has strengthened Western outrage over its swallowing of Hong Kong, and its aggression toward Taiwan. Japan, India, Australia, the United States and others in the Asia-Pacific are drifting to, at the very least, a maritime security alliance. Australia has said it plans on increasing defence spending by as much as 40 per cent over the next 10 years and acquiring deep precision-strike capabilities to defend against threats posed by Beijing. Many countries are looking at decoupling from China, gaining more control over their own supply chain and bringing home their business interests or moving them to democracies, such as India. Most damaging for Beijing’s leadership of the future world order in the near term is that COVID-19 and China’s actions have likely had the effect of killing Huawei’s drive to dominate the future 5G telecommunications sector and likely blocked it from the Five Eyes intelligence community of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Chinese authorities’ official statements:
“There is nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Wang stated that China was working to support neighbouring countries in their efforts against the virus and criticized the U.S. for “politicizing” China’s actions as well as for “foreign meddling” in Hong Kong with regards to China’s proposal for imposing new security legislation. “It has come to our attention that some political forces in the U.S. are taking China-U.S. relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War,” Wang told reporters.
Beijing has also countered that these increased incidents were a result of violations of China’s sovereignty, illegal fishing, poor navigation and dangerous operation of vessels by foreign operators. It has maintained that Hong Kong is a domestic matter and charged that its relative peace is threatened by outside forces instigating disorder.
China’s state-run Global Times quickly issued an editorial, accusing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of congratulating newly elected Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to deliberately challenge Beijing. “The U.S. and Taiwan want to play petty tricks at a low cost, which is too naive. We will make them feel pain in some places that they can’t think of,” it said in a tweet. “Washington and the Tsai administration are so narcissistic that they think they can make the mainland uncomfortable and have nothing to do, by saying a few words. The mainland’s military strength has been able to effectively overwhelm the Taiwan military and deter the U.S. The economic power between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is tilted toward the mainland. This is the broad outline of the situation across the Taiwan Strait.”

Canadians in detention
Earlier, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, told Global News that “competent Chinese authorities are handling the cases [of Kovrig and Spavor] according to law.” He then pivoted to Meng, saying her case was “the biggest issue in our bilateral relationship” amid renewed demands that she be sent back to China “smoothly and safely.” China has said there is no link between the two cases and has charged that Canada’s detainment of Meng is a politically motivated act on behalf of the U.S.’s Trump administration.
“The Canadian side should immediately correct its mistake, release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China at an early date, so as to avoid any continuous harm to China-Canada relations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian recently said. “The U.S. and Canada abused their bilateral extradition treaty and arbitrarily took compulsory measures against a Chinese citizen without cause.” China has said Kovrig and Spavor are “suspected” of endangering the country’s national security, and they’re being kept in detention facilities with 24-hour lighting and denied consular visits. “China urges the Canadian side to respect the spirit of the rule of law and China’s judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks,” Zhao said recently in response to a question from The Globe and Mail.
China Global Television Network: “As the coronavirus epidemic has afflicted Europe significantly, China has provided aid and support to a number of countries, including, as reported: Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, France, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Montenegro and the Czech Republic. This aid has come in the form of expert medical teams, ventilators, surgical equipment, personal protective gear, COVID-19 testing kits, N95 masks and more. [In March] Ursula von der Leyden, president of the European Commission, thanked China for … sustained communication and support on a high level through various phone calls. However, it is not surprising that Beijing’s support for Europe has ruffled a few feathers. In the past week, there has been an organized attempt to create a new narrative that China’s aid is geopolitically motivated and insincere, and thus is therefore a ‘threat’ to Europe.”
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa stated that the one million faulty N95 masks that arrived in Canada from China were the result of a “contractual” issue that was subsequently fixed.
Zhao levelled a string of accusations against New Delhi in late June, including an assertion that “the adventurous acts of the Indian army seriously violated the agreements reached between the two countries on the border issue.”
Chinese state media have reported the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is conducting joint military exercises “aimed at the destruction of key hostile hubs in a high-elevation mountainous region.”

Joe Varner is the author of Canada’s Asia-Pacific Security Dilemma, a former director of policy in the minister of national defence’s office and a consultant on defence policy, strategic intelligence and military operations.

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Joe Varner is the author of Canada's Asia-Pacific Security Dilemma, a former director of policy in the minister of national defence's office and a consultant on defence policy, strategic intelligence and military operations.

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