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Comment: Dealing with China in post-Covid times

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xi jinping

There is no doubt that China is where the coronavirus originated. There should be doubt and concerns, however, about China’s actions at that time and since. Much can be learned by analyzing what China did at the onset of the virus; what it did as the coronavirus spread and became a pandemic; and how China has interacted with the US as this evolved. Finally, it is worth considering what this could mean for future relations between China and India.

The sequence of events at the onset of the virus reveals that China repressed communications on and investigation into it. The novel coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, spread to humans, according to different theories, either through contact with animals or an accidental spill from a research laboratory. Individual Wuhan doctors were aware of the coronavirus as early as December 12 and tried to speak out but hospitals were told not to speak publicly about it by the Wuhan Health Commission.

China advised the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of the virus on December 31, 2019. It did not confirm that until January 7 and did not provide genome sequencing on the virus until January 12.

China refused to allow the WHO to send scientific observers to the source of the outbreak. The WHO held a meeting in Beijing on January 28 and on January 30 declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). This one-month delay from the initial notification to the WHO to its PHEIC announcement gave the virus time to spread worldwide without action or response.

The Associated Press reports that China’s National Health Commission had a teleconference on January 14 saying that the situation was “severe and complex” and had prepared a 63-page document on response procedures. The Chinese public was not informed, though, until January 20 and Wuhan was not locked down until January 23.

The lockdown was complete and was strictly enforced by the Chinese government. It was in effect for a total of 76 days and, if the numbers from China can be believed, resulted in the country having a relatively low number of cases and deaths compared to many other countries. This has allowed China to claim a victory in combating COVID-19 which it has.

China has used that alleged victory to engage in what has been labeled “donation diplomacy” and an aggressive disinformation campaign. The diplomacy entails sending medical aid and equipment and sometimes health experts to countries to help them combat and try to control the coronavirus.

China has reached out to provide assistance around the globe with a particular emphasis on hard-hit countries in Europe such as Italy and Spain. The goal of this is to position China as the global leader in responding to the coronavirus and to change the narrative from China being the source of the pandemic to China being the ally and partner that has stepped up to enable nations to fight COVID-19.

China has used its state and social media and various Chinese officials have employed twitter to tout their accomplishments and contributions. Part of this public relations effort includes celebrating the success of China’s communistic approach to governance over that of the democracy approach employed by the US and India.

And, it is in the head to head conflict with the United States that the disinformation campaign kicks into high gear. Part of that campaign is focused at other countries where China has circulated a conspiracy theory that the virus actually originated in a US bioweapons lab and was carried abroad by the US Army. This preposterous theory was published on a website in Montreal and several Chinese embassies tweeted that story out.

It was recently disclosed by those in the US intelligence agencies that the Chinese also brought their disinformation campaign to American shores. They did this in mid-March as the US citizens were just beginning to become concerned about the virus by sending out tweet messages attributed to the Department of Homeland Security that President Donald Trump was going to lock down the US to prevent looting and rioting.

This disinformation campaign has done an unusual thing. It has caused those Republicans within the Beltway to speak out openly against China’s behaviour and to question US’ diplomatic and trade relations with it. More importantly, it has caused Republicans and Democrats across the country to agree that Chinese President Xi Jinping is not a trustworthy source of information, that the Chinese government is responsible for spreading the virus, and that the US should be tougher in future negotiations with China.

The bottom line is this. China has been less than truthful, manipulated messages, behaved autocratically, turned the pandemic into a geopolitical football game of blame and shame; and, not been forthcoming about how the novel coronavirus started nor accepted any responsibility for its consequences. Those are some of the major lessons to be learned.

What do they suggest in terms for India’s future relations with China? In my humble opinion, they suggest be cautious, be very cautious.

The Modi administration already knows that. But, China’s self-centered response to the coronavirus has magnified the type of autocratic nation it is and its desire through its Belt and Road Initiative to become the dominant superpower in the world.

It is a bit ironic that the 70th anniversary of the bilateral ties between India and China took place on April 1 while India was in its own COVID-19 lockdown. India and China exchanged obligatory congratulatory messages and said nice things to each other on that day.

President Xi said India and China had reached a “new starting point” and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he is looking forward to taking the Closer Developmental Partnership to “even greater heights in the years to come”. I believe both of those comments to be accurate.

The new starting point for India will be a deeper understanding of China and its intent as a communist country. The “even greater heights” can be reached by using that understanding to keep India a fully functioning democracy and to leverage the China relationship to help solve the tremendous damage that was caused by having to lock down the Indian economy because of COVID-19.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington D.C. The views expressed here are personal)

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India at Afghan crossroads as Taliban cocks its guns

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India Army on Desert

New Delhi, July 3 : With Chinese bellicosity reverberating across the world, South Asia is bracing for another jolt — the epicentre of which is neighbouring Afghanistan. The tremors from Kabul will pass through Islamabad and hit Delhi, yet their intensity is not known. To what extent is India prepared is a question mark.

It all began on February 29, when the US signed a deal with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, to withdraw its forces from the war-torn country after almost 19 long years. Strangely it chose to leave out the elected Afghan government from a deal that impacts the future of Afghans.

The peace deal between the US and Taliban, remains a misnomer. Contrary to the spirit of the deal, the Taliban has increased attacks and the violence has engulfed the landlocked country – right from the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul, to a gurdwara in prayers; from a funeral site in Nangarhar to a court in Paktia. And, not to mention dozens of Afghan security check-points where many hundreds of security personnel have died.

On its part, the Afghan government is implementing various provisions of the deal, like the release of Taliban prisoners, and President Ashraf Ghani has committed to join the intra-Afghan talks in Doha.

Doha is where the Taliban maintains its political office, and where the US-Taliban deal had been negotiated this February. The US Special Representative for Peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad has been chasing diverse parties including Pakistan for the intra-Afghan talks, reducing violence and release of prisoners. In his recent talks with Afghan leaders, Khalilzad reinforced that peace in Afghanistan is equivalent to peace in the region and the US is ready to invest in this sphere.

However, going by the high levels of violence inflicted by the Taliban the future looks bleak for the nation. It is not difficult to understand why the Taliban has stepped up its deadly attacks across the country – it is looking forward to an American withdrawal to enable a complete takeover of the country. The World Human Rights Watch Report has said that the Taliban”s widespread human rights abuses in areas under its control raise concerns about its willingness to adhere to future agreements.

Besides the two key nations — the US and Afghanistan, there always has been a high-stakes player — Pakistan, with its behind-the-scenes shelter and support to terror groups. In its efforts to control a resource-rich but unstable neighbour, it has played a pivotal role in keeping Afghanistan on the tenterhooks and vulnerable to attacks through battle-hardened terror groups. It has also put in considerable efforts to keep India at bay.

Indian intervention in Afghanistan has been diametrically opposite Pakistan”s — it has pumped in $2 billion aid and assistance for the Afghan people to rebuild the war-ravaged country and promote democracy. India has built dams, power stations, roads, hospitals and trained Afghan people in various aspects of administration and security.

With unprecedented developments happening in Afghanistan, many including Khalilzad are urging India to talk to Taliban. This is a view which even Zamir Kabulov, Russia”s special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, holds. The million dollar question is — how does India view the Taliban, which India has kept at an arm”s length for close to two decades now.

India still looks at Afghanistan as a democratic country that elects a people”s government, while the Taliban is still viewed as a terror group, power hungry and a Pakistani stooge. Indian thinking is still governed by the good old-fashioned theory of an ideal Afghanistan where all tribes come together to hold elections, where terror groups drop their arms and the Afghans climb up the development charts with roads, dams, schools and hospitals with Indian support.

With unbelievable violence engulfing Afghanistan, this looks like an impossible reality. An Indian pipe dream. But what is still possible amidst these impossibilities is that India opens up a window to talk with the Taliban.

The Taliban has made reconciliatory gestures towards India which have been surprising. It has already said that the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir was an internal matter of India. And, it has said a couple of times that it is open to talks with India. In fact, even the Afghan government has indicated that India should join the intra-Afghan talks as the country has always been supportive of peace in Afghanistan. It wants India to drop its opposition to the Taliban and lend strength to the peace process.

While calls for India”s role in the peace process echo from all sides, the only opposition has come from arch enemy Pakistan, which is still busy playing its ”running with the hare and hunting with the hounds” game. Even as it poses with the US as an ally in the Afghan peace process, it has been sheltering and training various terror groups in attacking both Afghan and Indian interests.

However, the good news for India is that the terror groups are mutating in the Afghan battlefield. While the Taliban is warming up to India, the formidable terror group, Haqqani Network, shares Pakistan”s line of thinking.

The fast-paced developments in Afghanistan have left the field wide open for India to drop its nonchalance and join the talks, paving the way for a bigger Indian role once the US completely withdraws from the region. As the various players in the Afghanistan theatre know, India”s stand at the talks will only be from a point of peace and from a perspective of the Afghan people.

We know that there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in international relations. People evolve, entities change but peace still remains a goal worth pursuing. India has pursued that goal for millions of Afghan people for long. It should not give up now.

By : Rahul Kumar

(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

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Saroj Khan will live in history of choreography for Indian cinema: Subhash Ghai

She was an integral part of our Mukta Arts family-She was my strong partner in grooming stars like Madhuri Meenakshi, Manisha and Aishwarya. Master of masters.

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Saroj Khan Death

Mumbai, July 3 : Filmmaker Subhash Ghai has described prolific choreographer Saroj Khans death as a “personal loss”, and said that she will forever live in the history of choreography in Indian cinema.

Almost all the biggest films in Ghai”s career had Saroj Khan calling the shots for some of the biggest dance hits in his films. These include “Hero” (1983), “Karma” (1986), “Ram Lakhan” (1989), “Khalnayak” (1993), “Pardes” (1997), “Taal” (1999), “Yaadein” (2001) and “Kisna” (2005).

On Friday, Ghai shared an emotional video talking about Saroj Khan, who passed away after a cardiac arrest in the early hours at the age of 71.

“Saroj Khan. My biggest personal loss. An integral part of my journey in cinema — Sarojji. Keeping alive classical dance in Hindi cinema was Saroj Khan. Change has come and change will come, but Saroj Khan will not. We all have become masters by becoming her students. Cinema will always remember her. What do I say, I have no words. I am saddened,” he said in the video.

Alongside the video he also shared a message, where he said that she was a strong partner in grooming stars like Meenakshi Sheshadri, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Aishwarya Rai.

Meenakshi Sheshadri became an overnight star after “Hero”, Ghai”s musical blockbuster of 1983. Madhuri worked in the Ghai hits “Ram Lakhan” and “Khalnayak”, both of which had superhit dances choreographed by Saroj Khan. Manisha Koirala made her debut in Ghai’s 1991 hit “Saudagar”, which had several hit song-and-dance sequences, while Aishwarya Rai’s dances in “Taal” continue to be a rage to this day.

“An era has gone. Absolutely my personal loss. She was an integral part of our Mukta Arts family-She was my strong partner in grooming stars like Madhuri Meenakshi, Manisha and Aishwarya. Master of masters. Saroj Khan will live in the history of choreography for Indian cinema indeed. Bye Jaan. RIP,” said Ghai.

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No Chinese goods in food ministry now: Ram Vilas Paswan

After the incident, there is a wave of anger all over the country against China and people are boycotting Chinese goods.

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Ram Vilas Paswan

New Delhi, July 1 : Union Minister for Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan has said that his ministry has closed the door for Chinese products. Paswan said that no Chinese goods will come to his department anymore and a circular to this effect has already been issued.

In an exclusive interview with IANS, Paswan said that from now on foreign products will also be tested as per the standard set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

After this decision, the purchase of goods directly by his Ministry and the departments and organizations under his Ministry will not include products from China.

The Food Corporation of India and the Central Warehousing Corporation also come under the Union Food and Public Distribution Ministry.

The circular issued by the ministry on June 23 stated that no goods manufactured in China would be purchased from the Government e Marketplace (GeM) portal or any other source.

This decision comes after the incident in Galwan Valley in Ladakh in which 20 Indian soldiers, including an officer, were killed in a clash with Chinese troops last month.

After the incident, there is a wave of anger all over the country against China and people are boycotting Chinese goods.

Paswan said “Rules are being framed to check foreign goods standards. These rules will apply not only to Chinese products but also to products coming from other countries.”

He said the way Indian goods are tested on foreign standards in the same way, foreign goods will be tested in India. “We will stop foreign goods if our standards are not met,” Paswan said.

Paswan has been active in delivering foodgrains to every nook and corner of the country by implementing the free grain distribution scheme – Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) during the corona crisis. So far, 1,03,53,715 tonnes of foodgrains have been distributed, which is 87 per cent of the total quota for three months.

The scheme has been extended till November. Expressing happiness, Paswan said this will provide great relief to more than 80 crore poor people of the country in this hour of crisis.

Paswan said there is enough stock of foodgrains in the country. He urged the states to lift the grains for the months ahead to ensure smooth distribution under PMGKAY.

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