OPINION: Global community must guard against China's strategy of using BRI to expand influence over vulnerable economies

33
Global community must guard against China’s strategy of using BRI to expand influence over vulnerable economies

” They say a tiger never changes its stripes. Like with SARS, the world unnecessarily lost significant lives to coronavirus since China habitually hides facts, silences doctors and whistleblowers, and recklessly continues BRI-related manufacturing and cross-border movement….”

By Sennge Hasnan Sering

14 May 2020,

Coronavirus has changed our lives for good. Global resentment is growing against China as facts pour in, and many countries now hold the Communist Regime accountable for criminal negligence that led to the viral spread. One Italian journalist, Francesca Marino, even said that China should be sued for war damages citing global recession after the lockdowns.

However, due to a multi-trillion dollar connectivity programme called Border and Roads Initiative (BRI), China continues to prey on weak nations with weaponised healthcare and enhanced strategic depth while the rest of the world mourns lost freedoms and economies. As China embarks on purchasing troubled and marked down assets and stocks, countries like USA and Greece could be gearing up to brace new waves of economic refugees resulting from coronavirus-led demographic changes.

They say a tiger never changes its stripes. The London-based Henry Jackson Society, while assessing China’s potential culpability in spreading pandemics, has identified ten counts of infectious disease control violations, some that were in place after the SARS outbreak. As we speak, China’s wet markets are back in business in no time while the rest of the world is preparing for multiple relapses and waves of the coronavirus outbreak. Like with SARS, the world unnecessarily lost significant lives to coronavirus since China habitually hides facts, silences doctors and whistleblowers, and recklessly continues BRI-related manufacturing and cross-border movement.

Once called the conduit of prosperity, BRI for countries like Iran and Italy has turned into the vehicle of terror which brings economies to its knees. Ali Reza Raeesi, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister points at Chinese students and workers for spreading coronavirus in Iran. A member of Iran’s COVID-19 Committee has stated that in Tehran alone, 23,000 people were hospitalised for acute respiratory infections between 19 February and 20 March and only 9,000 were discharged during the same period. During the same time, Golistan province with just 1.9 million inhabitants indicated a staggering number of 327 doctors and nurses testing positive for coronavirus. On 17 March, Los Angeles Times reported that Iran was home to ninety percent of 18,000 coronavirus cases across West Asia. Given the enormity of the crisis, Iran for the first time since Khomeini’s 1979 revolution, applied for an IMF-loan.

Gilgit-Baltistan, known to the world as an important staging post on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has also become the epicentre of coronavirus infections in Pakistan. Ignoring Indian claims on the region, China is building rails and highways and placing pipelines through Gilgit to import energy resources from West Asia and Africa. According to Pakistan’s National Institute for Health, Gilgit reported 36.7 coronavirus cases per million on 21 March compared to the national average of 3.07. Almost all of Gilgit’s patients, comprising of religious students and pilgrims, contracted the infection in Iran. Balochistan, which is a transit point for residents of Gilgit, has been placed on high alert after passengers in its quarantine centers were suspected of having infected local people.

Pakistan while brushing aside local concerns wants to go ahead with the completion of CPEC. Shafqat Inqalabi, a local author and historian, calls China’s presence in Gilgit and Muzaffarabad an invasion. He says, “China, which is using the coronavirus pandemic to fulfill its global ambitions, is illegally exploiting Gilgit’s land routes and natural resources. If locals are not getting jobs or revenue from CPEC, then why should they let Chinese workers return, especially since they could be potential carriers of the virus?” Tahira Jabeen, a prominent activist from Gilgit says, “The conduit has brought both comforts and troubles. In addition to Chinese workers, it also brings epidemics of narcotics and terrorism to Gilgit. Nagar Valley along the CPEC is worst-hit by coronavirus and government has locked down many villages here. We are constantly exposed to inherent vulnerabilities of a global structure which is aimed at serving Beijing”. Gilgit’s other neighbours like Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have shut down border trade zones and transport links with China to circumvent the pandemic.

Upbeat due to increased strategic clout, China is employing BRI to browbeat Western democracies and to hijack decisions in multilateral organisations like the United Nations. Ethiopia, which currently heads UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), is a prominent BRI beneficiary. Ethiopia’s Tedros Ghebreyesus, who sought China’s help to become Director General of WHO, is viewed as guarding Chinese interests by underplaying human-to-human transmission of coronavirus and misguiding countries into keeping borders open. While terming China a victim of coronavirus, he calls President Xi Jinping a hero for playing politics of generosity, not realising how many countries admonished China for sending faulty testing kits and masks.

China’s obsession of installing friendly regimes is undermining democratic institutions in many BRI-member countries. The Pakistani regime, for instance, is often found suppressing voices criticising CPEC. Dependency on China to fight pandemics dampens Pakistan’s leverage to negotiate debt terms, and like Sri Lanka, could eventually result in confiscation of assets. Other BRI-members which owe large portions of GDP and sovereignty to China include Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Myanmar, Maldives, Mongolia, and Montenegro.

Like a Trojan horse, BRI is invading and inflicting economic terror on vulnerable neighbours. China’s rising demand for animal protein has turned BRI-members into conduits of trafficking of a variety of exotic animals, which hastens wildlife extinction. Embroiled in a debt trap, these countries would fail to respond fittingly as new pathogens sprout future pandemics.

If past behaviour is a predictor of the future, then the world should not allow an irresponsible country like China to employ BRI to expand its control over global supply chains and let the West sustain the grave consequences of its policies and practices. Countries desiring to immunise their economies must detach from BRI module and seek help from international consortiums to rebuild local manufacturing and human resources.

The Writer, Senge Hasnan Sering, is a Social Rights Activist from Gilgit Baltistan. based in USA. He can be reached on his twitter handle: @SengeHSering This article was originally published in Firstpost.