The HINDU Notes – 18th June 2020 - VISION

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 18th June 2020

📰 Is China’s ‘peaceful development’ over?

What makes the current stand-offs different is China’s readiness to use force in addressing challenges

•On Tuesday, the same day news broke about the violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh, in which at last 20 Indian soldiers died, a Chinese J-10 fighter briefly entered Taiwan’s air defence zone, prompting the self-ruled island to scramble its aircraft in response. This was the third Chinese incursion into Taiwan’s airspace within a week. Two months ago, Chinese vessels had entered the waters of Malaysia and Vietnam. Last month, Chinese Coast Guard ships pursued Japanese fishing boats in waters claimed by both countries. All these incidents point to a newfound aggressiveness in China’s approach towards its already troubled neighbourhood, from the Himalayas to the South and East China Seas.

•Tensions in the neighbourhood are not new for China. The roughly 4,000 km-long India-China border, which is not clearly demarcated, has seen occasional flare-ups. In 2017, troops from both countries were locked in a face-off in the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction of Doklam for over two months. China has claims over the South China Sea, and “reunification” with Taiwan is one of its self-declared goals. But what makes the current stand-offs different is China’s readiness to use force in addressing these challenges. This was the first time in 45 years that blood was spilt on the India-China border. Last month, in an annual policy blueprint, China dropped the word “peaceful” in referring to its desire to “reunify” with Taiwan, ending a nearly 30-year-long precedent.

Sharp turn

•This sharp turn marks China’s most major policy decisions post-COVID-19. Relations with the U.S. are particularly bad, with the Trump administration now openly targeting China for its handling of the pandemic. When Australia pushed for an investigation into the pandemic outbreak, Beijing punished the country by imposing trade curbs. In Hong Kong, which has been seeing anti-China protests for a year, Beijing has introduced a new national security law, granting itself broader powers in the Special Administrative Region. If Xi Jinping was facing one the biggest crises of his Presidency early this year, in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak, he now appears to be firmly in control, overseeing an expansive foreign policy that pushes the boundaries.

•“The ‘peaceful rise’ is now out of the question. They think they have arrived,” said Alka Acharya, professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. President Hu Jintao, Mr. Xi’s predecessor, had adopted the “peaceful rise” (or “peaceful development”, as the the Chinese later called it) policy to assure other countries, especially the U.S. and China’s Asian neighbours, that its rise did not pose any threat to others. China came out of it long ago, Prof. Acharya told The Hindu . “The whole series of positions China has taken with respect to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, national sovereignty or whatever problems they have with the U.S. are nothing new. The question is what are the elements in China’s behaviour today which are different from what had happened in the past,” she pointed out.

The virus factor

•In Prof. Acharya’s view, COVID-19 has brought on a “sharper turn” to China’s foreign policy because: “suddenly, it was quite obvious that China was on the back foot. It was getting very bad press all around. Other countries were speaking out against its handling of the outbreak. The Americans are now open about building a coalition against China. So a lot of China’s response is part of their way of tackling this crisis. We are going to fight back is the message from Beijing.” But China has always contested such analysis. In its version, China is a rising, responsible power and some tensions are part of its rise. The “China Dream”, laid out by President Xi after he took power in 2012, seeks to turn the country into wealthy, strong and modern global power by 2049, the centenary of the Communist revolution.

Differences and disputes

•“I would like to think of China’s diplomatic situation as something a growing country has to meet and deal with day-to-day,” said Qi Haotian, assistant professor, School of International Studies, Peking University, Beijing. “It’s easy to get amplified. However, I think what we have been seeing is not surprising or dishearteningly alarming. As long as China takes it seriously that peaceful coexistence and development serve her interests ultimately, tensions of any kind should probably be taken as temporal processes,” he told The Hindu .

•“I personally do not see current tensions, clashes, disputes or conflicts between China and other countries as existentially alarming for any side, as long as we faithfully attempt to address the issues with everything in our toolkit, bilaterally and institutionally. There will be troubles. They are also good learning opportunities ,” said Prof. Qi.

•Prof. Acharya, however, sees a clear shift. “This [aggressive] narrative is being built up very systematically. Between India and China, they used to say ‘don’t let differences become disputes’. What’s happening now is that, across the spectrum, where differences which predate COVID-19, that predate even the ‘peaceful rise’ policy, are now literally becoming disputes. Let’s face it.”

📰 Multilateralism post COVID-19

India should neither permit capsizing of the order nor allow it to be captured by any superpower

•Change is often touted as being the only constant. However, in the hard-nosed world of multilateral diplomacy, seasoned practitioners often say that only babies with wet nappies delightfully accept change. The rest, they say, usually display differing degrees of tepid enthusiasm for any type of change.

•Even at the best of times, when there was great power cooperation rather than great power rivalry like now, multilateralism has belied the ability to update swiftly. For example, Resolution 50/52 adopted unanimously during the 50th session, “to initiate the procedure set out in Article 108 of the Charter of the United Nations to amend the Charter, with prospective effect, by the deletion of the ‘enemy State’ clauses from Articles 53, 77 and 107 at its earliest appropriate future session” awaits action, nearly 25 years later.

Multilateralism 0.1

•The COVID-19 outbreak has placed all international institutions under a magnifying glass. By any measure, most have performed below par. Such is the caution espoused that multilateralism today seems to have reverted to its version 0.1. The General Assembly now passes resolutions through no objection procedure. The Security Council has been found wanting in no small measure. The 75th session’s ‘leaders week’ runs the risk of being reduced to a video playback session.

•It is true that functioning of multilateral institutions, like much else, requires reform. They need to adapt to new realities, just as their headquarters staff have quickly adopted the new normal of ‘work from home’. However, the pursuit of change by threatening to leave multilateral institutions is a phenomenon we witnessed only during the period of the League of Nations. One state followed another in bidding goodbye, until the League’s final demise.

•The post Second World War multilateral institutions have survived such departures. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris and the Human Rights Council in Geneva have survived the departure of the U.S. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna continues despite the withdrawal of the U.S. and many others. The World Health Organization (WHO), notwithstanding its visible shortcomings, will survive U.S. threats. The reasons are simple. Multilateral organisations serve desperately felt global needs of the vast membership. The pandemic has reinforced the desire for greater global cooperation amongst most states.

Gulliver and the Lilliputians

•So, as the current multilateral order is unlikely to capsize, will it fall prey to the ‘wolf warriors’ of China posing as the new defenders of the established order? It is true that Chinese nationals head four multilateral organisations. It is also true that Chinese nationals have failed in campaigns to head UNESCO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

•Despite contributing nearly 10% of the UN’s budget, Chinese nationals are not exactly overrepresented in terms of staff positions, unlike many other countries whose personnel occupy more than half of the percentage of their financial contribution. Take the Chinese language interpreters out and there is a further decline. If the head count of senior staff from UN regular and peacekeeping budgets is taken together, that percentage falls dramatically, although China contributes 14% of the peacekeeping budget. Of course, Chinese announcements of voluntary contributions made at international organisations need to be taken with a pinch of salt. They usually encompass all contributions — bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral — on a specific theme. By those indices, many contribute much more.

•China has certainly risen up the multilateral pantheon and is able to better promote its interests. It has warded off attacks against it in multilateral fora, at times with the aid of the heads of these organisations. However, it is yet to display an ability to set the multilateral agenda and dominate the discourse on an array of issues, in the manner that the U.S. once indispensably did. China’s flagship venture, the Belt and Road Initiative, remains only on the fringes of multilateral fora. Neither in monetary terms nor in substantive inputs are there portents of a ‘Chinese takeover’.

•Amidst this, multilateral bodies are populated by a plethora of small and middle states quietly working to restore equilibrium, when the balance tends to shift. Capture of the existing multilateral order by a new hegemon is antithetical to the ethos of multilateralism. Multilateralism thrives on the notion of the Lilliputians tying up Gulliver — old or new.

Not binary choices

•The choices for the evolving multilateral order are not binary, as portrayed sometimes. Between collapse and capture there are other pathways. Multilateral architecture places premium on structures over functions, processes over substance. It slows down change of any sort. The same processes that have stalled change in the past will militate against a takeover in the future.

•Does that mean that multilateralism will meander meaninglessly? Meander it perhaps will; meaninglessly perhaps not. The ‘pluri-laterals’ and the emerging ‘mini-laterals’ each have their place in terms of international agenda setting, but global norm-setting requires an inclusivity that they lack.

•Being able to shape the discourse at an incipient stage is a good perch to be on. Issue-specific ‘coalitions of the willing’ are catalysts. As a growing power, India needs to avail of such avenues. However, by themselves, these will not do justice to the depth and variety of India’s interests and our stakes in global cooperation. Also, they are not holistic solutions in ensuring global acceptance of norms.

•Responses of states during the COVID-19 crisis point to more emphasis on sovereign decision making than before. The imprimatur for acting on behalf of the global community is not going to be available easily. On myriad issues, from sustainable development to the environment, from climate change to pandemics and cyberspace to outer space, the demands for ‘nothing about us without us’ are likely to increase. Since stakeholders perceive that their stakes have risen, they will call for enhanced engagement. Convening such stakeholders in pursuit of global goals is the essence of multilateralism.

•Neither permitting the capsizing of the multilateral order nor allowing it to be captured is in our interest. Since we visualise the world as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam , support for multilateralism will have to remain a primary pursuit. Unlike in other realms where quantum leaps are common, in multilateral diplomacy, incrementalism pays dividends. To unseat a permanent member from the International Court of Justice took us seven decades. To get Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist took us a decade. We need to patiently promote reforms while building partnerships to avail opportunities which may arise for more fundamental change. We need to bide our time without hiding our intent.

📰 History, the stand-off, and policy worth rereading

Even as India grapples with its next steps at the LAC, it must not lose sight of renewing its compact with the ‘five fingers’

•The deadly clashes at Galwan and the ongoing stand-off between India and China on the ridges or “fingers” around the Pangong Tso are a metaphor for the wider conflict between the two countries over all the areas that Chinese strategy refers to as the “five fingers of the Tibetan palm”. According to the construct, attributed to Mao and cited in the 1950s by Chinese officials, Xizang (Tibet) was China’s right palm, and it was its responsibility to “liberate” the fingers, defined as Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, or Arunachal Pradesh). Sixty years ago, India began to set about ensuring that quite the reverse ensued, and all five fingers were more closely attached to India, not China. As the government of India grapples with its next steps at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), it must cast a similarly grand strategy, to renew its compact with each of those areas today.

India’s countermove

•In the 1950s, even after India and China signed the Panchsheel agreement in 1954 and before the 1962 China-India war, the Nehru government had begun to worry about some of China’s proclamations. Especially after the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959, China began to demand “self-determination in Kashmir”, wrote former Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul in his memoirs, detailing how the Chinese press and radio launched a propaganda war against India, while the Chinese government allowed Naga and Mizo dissidents into China for refuge and training. More importantly, school textbooks there began to depict the “five fingers” as a part of China, wrote Mr. Kaul, who was posted in Peking (Beijing) and then as Joint Secretary (East) overseeing the China relationship, in the 1950s. While Prime Minister Nehru’s military miscalculations and India’s defeat in the 1962 war have been studied in great detail, what is perhaps not so well understood is the three-pronged foreign policy New Delhi set into motion at the time, that provided an effective counter to Mao’s five finger policy over the course of the century.

Managing the borders

•The first was a push for building border infrastructure and governance. In the mid-1950s the government piloted a project to build the Indian Frontier Administrative Services (IFAS) for overseeing NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) and other areas along the India-China frontier. The Foreign secretary was the Chair of the IFAS selection board, and many who enlisted in the cadre overlapped between the Indian Foreign Service, the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service, and rotated between postings in the most remote tribal areas and embassies in the region.

•A special desk was created in the Ministry of External Affairs for officers who would tour all the regions from NEFA to Ladakh in order to make suggestions for the rapid development of these areas. While India’s border infrastructure is only now catching up with the infrastructure China built in the course of the next few decades, its base was made during the brief period the IFAS existed, before it was wound up in 1968. An idea before its time, the IFAS’s role has since been transferred to the Indian Army and the Border Roads Organisation, but it is an idea worth revisiting, especially as areas along the frontier continue to complain of neglect and a lack of focus from the Centre (in 2019, the Chief Ministers of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram called for the resurrection of the IFAS).

Outreach and treaties

•The second prong were a series of treaties that were signed around that time with neighbours such as Nepal and Bhutan, and the consolidation of control, militarily and administratively, of other territories that acceded to India, including Ladakh as a part of Jammu and Kashmir (1947), and NEFA (1951). In 1950, India signed a treaty with Sikkim that made it a “protectorate”, and by 1975 the Indira Gandhi Government had annexed Sikkim and made it the 22nd State of India.

•Each of these treaties built unique relationships with New Delhi, tying countries such as Nepal and Bhutan in ways that were seen as a “win-win” for both sides at the time. However, over time, the treaties have outlived their utility, and the benefits of unique ties with Nepal and Bhutan, including open borders and ease of movement, jobs and education for their youth as well as India’s influential support on the world stage, have waned in public memory.

•One of the reasons that China has been able to make inroads into Nepal and not with Bhutan, is that the government renegotiated its 1949 Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship between the Government of India and the Government of Bhutan of 1949 with the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty in 2007, dropping an article that had committed Bhutan “to beguided” by India on its external affairs policy. This has held India and Bhutan ties in good stead thus far, even during the Doklam stand-off between India and China in 2017 in the face of severe pressure from China.

•However, despite years of requests from Kathmandu, New Delhi has dragged its feet on reviewing its 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the Government of India and the Government of Nepal, and on accepting a report the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) on Nepal-India relations has produced that recommends a new treaty. New treaties may not, in themselves reduce India’s security threat from China in its neighbourhood, but they create space for a more mutually responsive diplomacy that is necessary to nurture special relationships.

The Tibet issue

•For the third prong, India’s policy towards the “palm” or Tibet, itself should be looked at more closely as well. While New Delhi’s decision to shelter the Dalai Lama and lakhs of his followers since 1959 is a policy that is lauded, it does not change the need for New Delhi to look into the future of its relationship, both with the Tibetan refugee community in India, which has lived here in limbo for decades, as well as with its future leadership.

•At present, the Dalai Lama has the loyalty of Tibetans worldwide, but in the future, the question over who will take up the political leadership of the community looms large. The Karmapa Lama, who lived in India after his flight from China in 2000, and was groomed as a possible political successor, has now taken the citizenship of another country and lives mostly in the United States. Meanwhile, China will without doubt try to force its own choice on the community as well. Given that it is home to so many Tibetans, India must chart a more prominent role in this discourse.

On J&K

•Finally, it is necessary to introspect on how India’s own reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 has changed the security matrix and threat parameters for India, and its neighbours. While Pakistan’s extreme reaction to the move was expected, China’s reaction was perhaps not studied enough.

•Beijing issued a statement decrying the impact on Jammu and Kashmir, and another one specifically on Ladakh, calling it an attempt to “undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law” and warning that the move was “unacceptable and will not come into force”.

•Home Minister Amit Shah’s vow in Parliament, in August last year, to take back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Aksai Chin was not taken lightly either, as China’s stakes in PoK now go beyond its historical closeness with Pakistan, to its investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that runs through it. The impact of the new map of Jammu and Kashmir on ties with Nepal as well, is no coincidence. There is proof enough that now more than ever, as the government readies its hand on dealing with China, it must not lose sight of every finger in play.

📰 A prescription of equitable and effective care

In handling the pandemic, there is a clear need to get the public and private sectors into a functioning partnership

•Medical care has been disrupted by the novel coronavirus. Fear, anxiety, uncertainty and confusion have all overtaken clinical services. The private sector, which delivers the major part of medical services, is now functioning at a skeletal level and patients have considerable difficulty in accessing medical care. Tamil Nadu has one of the better health systems in the country and has demonstrated that it can provide high quality care through public-private collaboration in the areas of maternity, cardiac and trauma care. As the number of COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu has crossed 50,193, with 576 deaths (June 17), there is a need to pull together the resources of the public and private sectors into a functioning partnership, to provide good clinical care, ameliorate suffering and prevent deaths.

A neglect of the primary task

•Until now, the focus of the government has been on prevention of the epidemic through testing of suspects, isolation of cases and institutional quarantine of contacts. Hospitals have focused their efforts on prevention by admitting asymptomatic contacts and mild infections. With the focus on prevention, doctors have been unable to attend to their primary task of providing good clinical care to reduce morbidity and prevent deaths.

•The majority of COVID-19 infections are mild and resolve on their own. Serious illness occurs in the elderly and those with multiple co-morbidities such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems. The primary cause of death in COVID-19 pneumonia is respiratory failure. The mainstay of treatment in moderate and severe illness is clinical monitoring, oxygen therapy to correct hypoxemia (low oxygen levels in the blood), and good supportive care. Even in those above the age of 80 years, the mortality rate is only 15%. Patients who require ventilator treatment have a mortality rate of over 50%. Good supportive care for sick patients is essential in preventing deaths.

•Hospital services have to focus on in-patient management of moderate and severe pneumonia, prioritising intensive care unit (ICU) beds for potentially reversible illness. We need to ensure that every patient with moderate and severe COVID-19 pneumonia has access to the optimum level of care, to prevent deaths and ameliorate suffering.

Combating fear

•Because of the labelling and stigmatisation of those diagnosed with COVID-19, the public are reluctant to come to hospital and may come late or die at home. We need to send out a clear message that hospitals will provide good quality care for COVID-19, at affordable cost and ensuring confidentiality.

•For this to happen, the government must work with the private sector to make care accessible and affordable. The Tamil Nadu government’s efforts to cap the cost for different levels of COVID-19 care in private hospitals is a positive step. The government should financially assist the private sector by reimbursing basic patient care costs for providing COVID-19 care.

•Medical staff taking care of COVID-19 patients are anxious that they may acquire the infection and transmit it to their family members. Deaths of hospital staff due to COVID-19 have been reported, although the mortality risk is lower than that of the general population. Medical staff involved in COVID-19 care should be adequately protected with appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE, and should be trained in infection control and clinical care protocols. They should be encouraged to communicate with a patient and the family within the restrictions.

A wish list

•In Tamil Nadu, we should shift the discourse from the focus on prevention and reducing the number of cases to an equal priority for providing COVID-19 care. Every citizen in Tamil Nadu who has serious COVID-19 pneumonia should be able to access high quality care. In order to implement a universal COVID-19 care programme, the government health system should collaborate with private hospitals.

•Towards this we suggest that: all private hospitals which have the potential, should take care of COVID-19. They should be given requisite incentives and subsidies to that end; every patient should be able to access medical care for COVID-19 from a private or public hospital; only patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 pneumonia should be admitted; ICU care should be prioritised for COVID-19 patients who have potentially reversible illness; confidentiality of the patient should be protected; the government should support the basic cost of COVID-19 care in private hospitals as well; city hospitals should pool their ICU resources for the care of COVID-19 pneumonia; staff providing COVID-19 care, should receive adequate training and be provided appropriate PPE, and, finally, families of staff who die due to COVID-19 should receive appropriate compensation.

•These initiatives can only be realised with appropriate leadership from the government. The private sector has to be fully involved in clinical care of the COVID-19 epidemic. We should work towards making COVID-19 treatment available, affordable and effective. Our response to the epidemic must combine good science, clinical reasoning and a humane response to save the lives of the people of our country.