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A senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and an experienced hand in matters of foreign and economic policy issues ruling the roost in Beijing, Brussels, Berlin, London, and Washington D.C., Andrew Small’s latest book, Rupture, is essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of China’s currently confusing, convoluted, chaotic and yet, critical role in the geopolitical prism of global polity. China, to a neutral is an incredulous bundle of apparent contradictions. Conspicuously, the most populous nation is literally the factory to the world, and the lodestar of supply chains that keeps the nuts and bolts in place and lubricates the global growth engine. The newest superstar in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Renewable Power, China is also at the forefront of cutting edge developments in Information technology. But, also conspicuously China is a surveillance state, herding its own populace into ‘re-education’ centres, euphemisms for a throwback to concentration camps, an opaque nation which astonishingly masked the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic when the virus first raised its dreaded head in Wuhan – while at the same time allowing millions of Chinese to circumambulate the world – and a contemporaneous colonial power seeking to erase a hundred years of Western humiliation by luring nations into an inescapable debt trap with its now skeptical Belt and Road Initiative.
Andrew Small in his wonderfully perceptive book, unravels the progress, or regress (as may be appropriate) of China from a trusted ally of the West to a systemic rival whose unfettered actions are threatening to cause a rupture in multilateral relationships. This negative progress is viewed from the prism of a few key paradigmatic developments. A classic basket case being the 5G imbroglio involving the Chinese behemoth Huawei and its ultimate ouster from many geographies as a ‘suspect’ service provider. Initially glorified as the ultimate low cost, high quality 5G expert, Huawei invited sanctions after unending sanctions, first initiated by the US before being reluctantly followed by the European Union. As things stand today, the Chinese behemoth finds itself completely shut out from all spheres involving 5G in most, if not all of Europe and most of the world.
Small also details out in an arresting manner, China’s controversial attempts to incorporate a ‘coalition’ of its own, a bulwark to thwart the alliances established by the United States assiduously over many decades. While civil strife torn Pakistan, war ravaged Afghanistan and an egregious Russia might not exactly be the most appropriate candidates for receiving Christmas and New Year Greetings, China invests loads of monetary and intellectual capital in building up a relationship with these nations. However as Small also illustrates in stark detail, such ambitions are no bed of roses. A classic case is the now elephant in the tunnel white project that is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Once touted to usher in untold economic prosperity to Pakistan, the CPEC endeavour and the region of its concentration Gwadar port is now a hotbed of insurgency and uncertainty. Pakistan as a country itself is teetering on the brink of an apoplectic economic crisis.
China’s extraordinary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Small illustrates, has lent itself to acclaim either. The initial beneficiary of tonnes of medicines released from some of the European Nation’s strategic stockpile was reciprocated by issue of hundreds and thousands of materials and equipment that were downright faulty. Added to this the patronizing condescension which the Wolf-warrior diplomats of China engaged in harrumphing their ‘noble deeds of altruism’, further aggravated Europe’s apparent discontentment.
As both Washington and Europe come to a belated recognition that China, which was accorded accession to the World Trade Organisation, swamped under the burden of a multitude of onerous conditions, is but a pale and weak shadow of the China under Xi Jinping today, the allies also realise that it is next to impossible to tackle the threat posed by the Asian giant in a standalone scattershot way. Dies would need to be cast and ties recast if the West has to best this new and unpredictable power to regain ascendancy in the realms of technological, military, economic and political capabilities.
Rupture – a deft analysis of the schism created by a combination of caution and complacency.