How was COVID-19 used by China to its advantage?

There has been a lot of talk about how the COVID – 19 pandemics brought many strategic advantages to China. The Chinese leadership saw an opportunity in the ongoing pandemic to advance its strategic agenda because the rest of the world was caught up in battling the virus. For the last three years, China was getting pressured to stop its economic aggression and unfair trade practices. After China became the first country to control and recover from the novel coronavirus, several Chinese officials were seen talking about how they can take advantage of the situation and take control of future industries.

As the world came to know about the COVID – 19 crisis originating in Wuhan, China, it also learned that the Chinese Government tried to hide and suppress crucial information about the spreading of the virus and hoarded important medicines. In the initial few weeks, China tried everything it could to control the damage. This damage control phase helped China to control the virus at home and seek favors overseas by “providing” medical supplies to other countries. Even after all this, China continued clambering to overcome the embarrassment of being known as the birth country of the Corona Virus.

Does COVID – 19 pandemic prove to be an opportunity for China?

The pandemic proved to be indeed an opportunity for China but in a relatively narrow sense. After the United States of America and Western Europe became new epicenters of the virus, The Chinese Communist Party demonstrated global leadership by supporting the international community. At the same time, the USA was busy handling the virus and its people. Apart from this, the Chinese officials took additional actions during the pandemic to save China’s damaged reputation due to its actions in the past.

These officials were found pressurizing foreign officials to release statements in praise of China and how well they handled their internal situation and stop criticism if any. They also gave a threat to the other governments with economic penalties for bans on Chinese travelers. Also, Chinese officials also took action against Australia for demanding the investigation for the birth of the Corona Virus and the role of the World Health Organisation.

China tried to use COVID – 19 pandemic to pursue ambitions  of the South China Sea

In the past months, where all the Pacific region was focused on battling coronavirus, China didn’t think twice before starting patrols and naval exercises in the most controversial South China Sea. However, the activities of the Asian powerhouse came into the eyes of Washington, which went on calling Beijing to exploit other nations as they are busy handling the pandemic.

In early April, the U.S. Department of State Aid said in a statement, “We call on the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea.”

The accusation was taken seriously by China, and at a press conference during China’s legislative meetings in Beijing, China released a statement denying all the allegations by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, saying, “There is nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea.” Wang also said that China was working to offer support to the neighboring countries in their efforts against the novel coronavirus.

Despite the allegations from the Trump administration, there began some chaos as to whether China has turned more aggressive in its actions in the sea or whether they have been a part of Beijing’s long-term plannings and strategies.

“I disagree with Trump Administration officials that China has become more assertive or aggressive in the South China Sea by taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales. “If you look at last year and this year, China is conducting ‘business-as-usual.'”

China is winning friends and influencing countries, and by this, it doesn’t mean that all the countries will join China’s camp, but most countries want to maintain good ties with both the powers U.S and China. They don’t want to get forced to choose between anyone. For instance, if China is offering 5G technology at an affordable price from Huawei, most countries would like to choose the best alternative.

While China gathered a lot of appreciation for helping pandemic-stricken countries, it was seen as very desperate to save the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s face for the missteps taken in the past by them. It resulted in a loss face in United States, Japan, Western Europe, and Australia.

However, it’s still questionable that whether China used the COVID – 19 pandemic to cover up for the aggressive foreign policy moves. Not to mention, tensions were worsened in several China-related hotspots at the starting of 2020. To support that, as stated above, China dispatched a survey ship into the waters of the South China Sea in April 2020. In the South China Sea, despite Malaysia’s approach to the dispute, foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said, “We will not compromise on our sovereignty.” The U.S. State Department released a detailed statement of support for the 2016 ruling by the Law of the Sea’s Arbitral Tribunal that China’s claim of “nine dash line” and ownership of most of the South China Sea has no valid legal proof and basis.

After this, in May 2020, an unusually large number of Chinese troops entered the disputed India-China border’s Galwan region. They also demanded the Indians to stop the construction on their side of the border. Not only this, Chineses Officials laid stress on their previous claims stating that China includes the entire Galwan Valley. To answer this, Indian troops continued to stand up to Chinese pressure. Consequently, an intense clash broke out, resulting in a higher number of Chinese casualties that are still unconfirmed and the death of 20 Indian soldiers.

Also, in May, a widely circulated report said that Beijing has decided to seize Taiwan’s Pratas Island and is preparing an amphibious assault in August.  In return, the Taiwan military also decided to deploy additional troops to Prastan as a precautionary measure. Again in the same month, the Government of China indicated that they would impose a security law upon Hong Kong that will eventually result in reduced civil liberties.  China announced some measures that violated its international commitments and proved to be a threat to political freedom and human rights.

The demonstrations were silenced by the arrival of the novel coronavirus in a way even high officials couldn’t. Due to this, China is taking advantage of the world having being preoccupied with COVID – 19 to violate its treaty commitments and impose more forced control.

Still, it is quite unfair to say that the Chinese governments knowingly released the virus into the global community. It’s because the damage was equally caused to the economies on which China depends on for their profits and for their existence, and will continue to have an effect on growth prospects in the ( PRC ) the People’s Republic of China for many years.

Though, undoubtedly the city governments have kept their silence and went through the phase of utter denial. This phase lasted for more than a month. It took a few more weeks for Chinese officials to admit that the Corona Virus fire has gone out of their hands, and they really needed to educate the higher authorities about the seriousness of the problem.

In the end, we should also remember that China has also suffered domestic disturbances due to the pandemic with intense consequences. If so, this would throw light on the notion that the COVID – 19 pandemic was a burden rather than an opportunity.