April 19, 2020
In the field of international relations, some nations’ drive for hegemony resulted in the global devastation of the community of states, of their economies and societies. Such events are rare and they usually happen only once every century, although Germany tried it twice in the space of a few decades.
In the past, hegemonic aggressions involved large standing armies, millions of soldiers and provoked huge economic losses for all belligerents concerned. Not entirely so this time around. China’s rise as an economic powerhouse and its latest drive for global hegemonic clout is taking place in the nuclear age. As a result, it cannot rely on military means to achieve its goals. Our century is one in which weaker nations and rogue non-state actors such as Islamic terrorists are using asymmetric means in order to fulfill their geopolitical agendas.
In the case of Islamic extremists, they have a preference for violent terrorist actions. In China’s case, it is trying to provoke the economic downfall of the West – and take revenge against Western nations’ pushback efforts aimed at containing its hegemonism – through bioterrorism.
The current pandemic is the first such action taken by China against Western nations and very likely not the last. If carefully planned and executed, a bioterrorist attack is likely to lead, like now, to worldwide disruption of economic life, millions of victims and tens of thousands of casualties. It is relatively inexpensive, if compared to classic warfare. Furthermore, the Chinese authorities can claim ignorance of the potential to destabilize countries around the globe by posing as the first victims themselves. Their political allies in the West are relied upon to savagely attack anyone within their own societies suggesting that Chinese authorities might have deliberately unleashed the virus upon the world.
It is largely irrelevant now, in the light of the consequences, whether the virus in question originated in Wuhan’s wet markets or in a specialized research lab there. What matters most is what the Chinese Communist Party did after the epidemic started in 2019 and, more importantly what it did not do to prevent the virus from spreading worldwide. In this respect, the Chinese authorities are as guilty as sin. First, they used Wuhan as a natural, albeit gigantic incubator of the coronavirus. Second, they suppressed all relevant internal information regarding the virus and punished all those doctors who tried to alert the population. Third, during the first few crucial weeks in January 2020, they allowed 5 million unsuspecting Chinese tourists, some already infected with the virus, to travel internationally. The highly transmissible virus did the rest for the regime.
No responsible government in its right mind would have allowed its citizens to board planes and go abroad once the epidemic started. Alas, China is a communist dictatorship and is not responsible to anyone, not even to its own people. It is very likely that the Chinese communists viewed the epidemic as a perfect opportunity to engage in asymmetric warfare against the West and then refuse to accept responsibility for it. In other words, the Chinese leaders seem to believe that they were able to commit the perfect crime, in which the criminal could pose as one of the victims. In fact, in legal terms their act amounts to genocide against the Chinese people and crimes against humanity towards the international community of states, especially Western ones.
There is another peculiarity of this pandemic, namely the geopolitics of the spread. Indeed, whilst China’s capital Beijing and its financial centre Shanghai have experienced only mild outbreaks of coronavirus, having been immediately insulated against further infections, the West’s main financial centers like Milan, London and New York and political capitals like Paris and London have been devastated by the virulence of the pandemic and the huge human and economic losses incurred.
For myself as an historian specializing in geopolitics and international relations, there is no doubt in my mind that China’s actions in December 2019 and early January 2020 amount to state-endorsed bioterrorism. This should be responded to with appropriate sanctions, namely its exclusion from the Security Council on the grounds of gravely affecting the biosecurity of the world. Its actions have been those of a rogue state and it is very possible that if it continues along this road it will end up as a pariah state like North Korea.
It is, however, likely that the best course of action would be to bring Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court in The Hague and charge him with crimes against humanity. As a communist dictator, he should be held – like other former dictators condemned by the court, such as Muammar Gaddafi or Omar al-Bashir – ultimately responsible for the spread of the virus outside China’s borders. It is unacceptable for him to merely force some underlings from the Chinese Health Ministry to claim negligence and gaps in the prevention of epidemics, in order to escape punishment for his actions. In other words, if China benefits from immunity against international prosecution, it turns out its dictator does not.
Unfortunately, over the last 3 decades the West has not been blameless in creating what is about to become its own nemesis. Among the political forces which carry the most responsibility for the undeserved status China achieved both economically and politically, are America’s Democratic Party during the Clinton presidency and, more generally, the Western left of center parties. They have aided and abetted the rise of China fully knowing that accepting this country as an equal, in spite of its communist regime, could prove disastrous. In countries like Australia, for example, political leaders like Keating and Hawke had even inaugurated the official policy of Asianisation, confusing the country’s proximity to Asia with its national interest. Such policies were the product of the poor education of many of Australia’s labor leaders and their total lack of grasp of geopolitics and of the country’s national interest. The consequences are now clear for all to see.Spotlight on Geopolitics