Empire Diaries Desk
Given the hectic, and often ridiculous, turn of events, the East-West flare-up can aptly be called ‘China vs US: Pandemic Edition’.
First, let’s get a lowdown of the latest timeline of events – and it’s no less gripping than a dog-eared #RobertLudlum page turner.
#DonaldTrump threatened to pull the plug on US funding for the #WHO (World Health Organization). Why? The American president complained that the world body is too “China-centric”. The American grouse is that China is literally running the global health organisation. And that the WHO is covering up China’s decision to hush up the impact of the pandemic in the initial days of the outbreak.
Unlike in the past, China retorted sharply this time round, saying that the US is engaging in mudslinging, nothing more, simply because it desperately wants to distract the attention of the people back home from Washington’s poor handling of the #outbreak in the American heartland. After all, the US is by a long way the worst hit nation with over 1.5 million #Covid19 infections and more than 93,000 deaths from the respiratory disease.
Beijing’s next move was to go one-up on Washington on the raging debate over funding for the WHO. Trump angrily announced suspending funding to the WHO till the world body toed the American line. China grabbed the opportunity. It sent out a stinging message to its rival. No problem, Beijing firmly told the WHO, we’re stepping in, and we’ll fill in the shortfall with increased funding if the US doesn’t pay up. The US, by the way, makes a payment of about $400 million to the WHO every year.
In between came what is called the #WorldHealthAssembly – a WHO-backed annual global summit attended (this time virtually) by top dignitaries and health officials from around the world over Monday and Tuesday. At that summit, America applied a lot of pressure to eventually coax both the WHO and China to agree to an independent international probe into the global response to the #Covid pandemic.
China, too, made its presence felt at the summit, and in more ways than one. First, it agreed to an independent review on the condition that it would be initiated only after the pandemic is over, not before that. Second, the country’s leader, President #XiJinping, proclaimed with aplomb that Beijing was ready to pump in $2 billion for the WHO’s global war against the coronavirus – a move that clearly took the sting out of the US threat to freeze funding.
All that was followed by yet more escalation of tensions between the two empires. In his inimitable style, the maverick US president shot off a strongly-worded letter to the WHO and its chief #TedrosAdhanom. In that explosive letter, Trump threatened to pull America out of WHO membership for good, and he also said he would ensure that the WHO doesn’t get funding from the US permanently. The US basically gave the WHO a 30-day window to either gravitate towards it, or face consequences. The good old American favourite: you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us doctrine.
The US president made sure that his letter received as much global attention as it possibly could by sharing it on Twitter – his favourite tool for venting anything and everything that’s on his mind.
That was the moment when the WHO sat up and firmly shot back at America. Its director general Tedros Adhanom openly made his displeasure felt over America’s provocations. Tedros made it known in no uncertain words that no matter what, the WHO will continue to lead the global response to the crisis and he would continue to be at the helm.
Now, this entire narrative largely gives most people the impression that America, a bully, led by the belligerent Trump, is constantly applying pressure on the WHO for increasingly siding with China at a time when the world has been looking for answers from Xi Jinping.
The narrative tends to show that America – whether one supports it in this tug of war or not – is the one that is clearly in charge of the show. The narrative ensures that Washington, DC as the domineering or hegemonic spoilt brat of geopolitics that is calling the shots and trying to bring the WHO and China to their knees.
Fundamentally, the narrative tries to establish a certain reality: that it’s America that’s in the driver’s seat. That it’s always about America winning or losing. The others in fray are only a footnote. That’s the sort of narrative that the West has managed to conjure up in United States’ latest brush with China.
If we were to reboot this US-centric narrative dished out to us by a sophisticated combination of Western press and Western social media, maybe a whole new perspective would emerge from this China-US sabre-rattling over the coronavirus crisis.
What if America is perhaps actually not in charge of the game?
What if the US is only just making all this noise to make up for its dwindling sway and say in international matters, such as whether the WHO and China should be allowed to team up in their response to the pandemic?
What if America is not in the centre of the action, but rather on the fringes, only in a defensive and reactionary position, and nothing more?
And what if America fears getting jettisoned from the ship by its nemesis China, and hence it’s taking preemptive action and pulling the plug on its already weakened position on the high table of global diplomacy?
It’s amply clear that the two most powerful empires of our times have agreed to disagree and superimpose their template of empire war on the pandemic situation. But is the fight giving us signals, or say a narrative, that we are not used to? Is it exposing right under our noses the breakneck speed with which America’s power is dwindling?
We’ve known for a couple decades now that China is the new behemoth on the geopolitical chessboard. But to be teaming up with the WHO to the extent of publicly insulting America – America of all powers in the world – isn’t that a massive, massive clue for us of how much the pendulum has swung away from the United States?
If this school of thought were to be true indeed, then in a parallel world, we would have headlines screaming out of television sets, saying: ‘China gets America expelled from WHO’!
A parallel world without the existing West-centric narrative that drives our opinion and understanding of the world.
Is it wishful thinking? A fool’s paradise? Or is it the reality that we are unable to see because we have the wrong glasses on? Glasses that only make us see Western narratives of things that happen around us.
Is America winning the war on China or is it just pretending to us that it’s winning it?