The Corona pandemic caused by a new contagion -- yet another virus in the form of a ''non-living'' free-floating protein molecule -- hit the entire world, including both developed and developing countries, affecting humans regardless of whether they were from the east or west, young or old and rich or the poor. The virus did not ''attack'' anybody by ''intention'' -- the best people could do, therefore, was to avoid coming in its way while in travel or at the workplace by maintaining social distancing and not touching a suspect surface.
It was not as simple, though, and the pandemic took a huge toll globally -- India just about managing to moderate the loss of human life by enforcing a prolonged lockdown. The world economy, already on a weak wicket before the Corona crisis, took a beating -- India being no exception. The big challenge everywhere is to set off the process of economic recovery in a situation of utter uncertainty about the resurrection of the global supply chain. Societies scared into becoming inward-looking and locally dependent entities, have brought down the ''demand'' on which all business rests. The lasting impact on such vast segments as travel, tourism, hospitality, entertainment and food has produced a crippling effect on national economies and, because of the huge layoffs, given rise to unprecedented human distress that even drew a parallel to the Great Depression.
Further, the global economic downturn has run into the ''geo-politics of the pandemic'' because of the origin of Coronavirus in Wuhan in China and an emerging consensus in the world on the point that President Xi''s regime had deliberately suppressed the facts about the spread of the contagion for its own reasons. President Donald Trump, who was already in a messy tug of war on trade issues with China, has blamed the unprecedented troubles of the US created by the pandemic on that country and even raised the question of desirability of an international probe to ascertain if the research work in Wuhan laboratories led to a ''man made'' calamity.
In this context, the present Secretary General of the WHO has also been denounced by President Trump as an accomplice of China -- in no uncertain terms. A distinct fallout of the Corona pandemic is a perceptible shift of the global scene towards a new ''Cold War'' between the US and China in which the economic rather than the military contest is in the front. Although Prime Minister Modi''s foreign policy favoured bilateral relations with all countries -- including the US and China -- keeping the national interests above everything else, it is becoming clear that the convergence between the US and India on global matters touched a peak in the Modi regime and that the two countries were on the same side of the fence on the issues of criticality of Chinese role in the saga of Corona pandemic and the present state of US-China trade relations.
There is little doubt that the People''s Republic of China (PRC) had taken important lessons from the demise of the USSR and opted for combining a controlled opening up of the Chinese economy with a harsher version of Democratic Centralism or one party rule. It had noted that the Soviet Union was strong militarily but was having chinks in its economic armour. The Chinese leadership evidently tried to take the economic route to becoming a superpower against the US and succeeded a great deal in this strategy -- securing knowledge transfer from the West, particularly the US universities over the years.
Having made China the second largest economy of the world -- on the strength of its hold on the global supply chain -- President Xi has been working on military consolidation to establish China as the second superpower. The BRI initiative planned by Xi Jinping was a well thought out strategy of expanding the Chinese area of influence and giving China an increasing number of strategic alliances based on economic assistance and collaboration in development projects -- not only in Asia but in other continents as well. China was following the new recipe of ''economic security being inseparable from national security'' and it is now to be seen how it is able to negotiate with the significant economic isolation that the Corona pandemic and American hostility may land it in, during the days ahead.
In the current geo-political scene where the US and China hold pivotal positions -- Russia is now just a major power much like the leading countries of Europe besides Japan -- the Indo-US ''strategic partnership'' and the Sino-Pak ''military alliance'' have in recent months emerged as counter balancing factors in South Asia. The fallout of Corona pandemic has accentuated Sino-Indian contradictions that had been aggregating for some time notwithstanding the two summits held at Ahmedabad and Wuhan between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi in 2014 and 2018 respectively. A process of well established global companies shifting their operations from China to places outside of that country, has begun in the wake of the Corona crisis and India has made it clear -- at the policy making levels -- that it would welcome the enterprises that wanted to move into this country.
At the same time, India also took a decision to centrally scrutinise all portfolio investors from China before giving them clearance to do business here. It may be mentioned, however, that business houses are attuned to taking major decisions only on a rigorous evaluation of the ease of doing business in a country and much will depend, therefore, on the ability of the Indian government to provide the right environ and framework of support to the potential investors. The adverse economic impact of Corona is quite unsettling for China and since that country had taken the Indian market for granted, it would not take kindly to India gaining from this change of business scene at the global level.
In the months following the abolition of Art 370 of the Constitution by India, Pak ISI had stepped up cross-border infiltration of terrorists in J&K. Pakistan has also made troop movements in the Gilgit Baltistan area. The current attempts of China -- the all weather friend of Pakistan -- to flex its muscles on LAC in Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal could be aimed at disturbing the atmosphere of peace for India. China''s implicit message for India is that economic gains alone would not add to India''s security. It may be recalled that after the Doklam standoff in 2017, President Xi had given charge of border management directly to the PLA. The Chinese had taken note of the firm resolve of India not to tolerate any highhandedness of the opponent at the border. The response of India to recent acts of hostility by Chinese patrols has to be demonstratively firm so that the memory of Doklam remains in place.
China''s brazenness is India-specific but President Xi also knows that he cannot afford to create an escalation or military conflict anywhere in the present times. The response of President Trump in taking cognisance of the Sino-Indian border situation in Ladakh will not go unnoticed by Xi Jinping. India has done the right thing in moving closer to the QUAD for ensuring maritime security of the Indo-Pacific region. China would not miss the point that the Modi regime would not accept any highhandedness of China in the Indian Ocean, much less on the land border.
China apparently wants India to let Pakistan get away with the illicit award of territory in POK to China for CPEC -- India must stick to its opposition to the act and keep up the work of upgradation of the border infrastructure on our own territory, particularly in Ladakh. Our defence forces have, in their strategic planning, covered the contingency of a coordinated mischief by the Sino-Pak axis on our periphery. India''s success against China lies in making a fast recovery from the economic damage that the Corona pandemic had already caused at home and, in particular, becoming a part of the global supply chain in every field of production and service. India should bring out the best in internal governance in the post- lockdown period- taking lessons from the administrative flaws that showed up earlier on that front.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)