Friday, May 01, 2020

China returns to its confrontational bullying ways

China started off the COVID-19 outbreak with a relatively positive image for its aoparently sharing details early, and a grudging respect for the depth and strictness of its lockdown procedures. The more that we have learned since - or pieced together from sparse, censored or politically-massaged information - has irrevocably tarnished that image, to the extent that we are all the way back to the dubious, suspicious attitudes the West used to have towards China. And perhaps even a bit further back.
I'm not talking about Donald Trump's repeated blatherings about the coronavirus originating in a Chinese lab. China says that other Western countries are merely lapdogs of the US, and that America is guilty of gross political manipulation (a pretty rich accusation coming from Beijing!) But the the truth could not be further from that: hardly anyone takes Trump seriously any more, and the USA has long lost any respect or international influence or moral authority it might ever have had.
But, as China gradually becomes the first major country to return to economic growth (having had a significant head start over the others), it is returning to its confrontational bullying ways with a vengeance. Literally with a vengeance, as it perceives itself to have been egregiously wronged by a number of countries who have been publicly questioning its sincerity and transparency throughout the pandemic period.
For example, China has public questioned why Chinese students should go to such a "hostile" country as Australia, or why China should buy Australian beef or wine (very thinly-veiled economic threats); it has accused the French media of "malevolence" and "lies" in no uncertain terms; it has threatened to suspend medical supplies to the Netherlands for its media coverage "full of prejudice, discrimination and malice", and for its recognition of Taiwan as an independent country; another (unnamed) country was given a stark demand to rededicate itself to the one-China principle (under which Taiwan is merely a wayward province of the greater Chinese nation) in order to receive masks and other protective equipment from China; and China has painted Western democracy in general as having lost confidence and become "psychologically fragile" in the face of the obvious superiority of an authoritarian approach to dealing with emergencies of this nature.
I suppose we should be grateful that things are returning to business as usual. But not everything about the old order was good, and the huge reset that the pandemic has necessitated seems like such a good time to reset international relations too. The constant antagonism and back-biting of Trump, Putin, Xi and others is just so exhausting.

No comments: