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Save the World from the Valley of Death: The Pandemic and the India-China Face off-

 Paper No. 6606                   Dated 21- June-2020

By Kazi Anwarul Masud (former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh)

Till today no definitive cure for the coronavirus has been found. Nor is it certain when it will be found. The failure is not due to lack of trying. The best brains of the world are engaged in relentless efforts to solve the elusive nature of the pandemic which like a magician changes its appearance frequently. The most optimistic view is that a cure may be found by September. Pessimistic view puts the period in years.

Majority of the intellectuals, however, agree that the world we had known and got used to since 1945 will not be there in post-coronavirus era. It is feared that the growth the developed countries had achieved and the developing countries were achieving would be wiped out by the global politico-economic slowdown.   Given the fact that what politico-economic advantages the developed and the developing worlds is not going to be amnesiac of the achievement gained so far they are going to build upon it in an post-coronavirus era which possibly will be more technology based. Since the developed world had the advantage of technological innovation, they are going to hold on to their lead with the developing world following their lead.

The question that arises is the division between the two worlds which would not be as defined in the centuries past. According to Global Finance (January 17 2020). to determine where a country stands in the global tech race, the Global Finance used four integrated metrics, three of which serve as standard measures of the availability and prevalence of technology: internet users as a proportion of the population; smartphone users as a percentage of the population; and LTE users as a percentage of the population. The fourth metric used was a Digital Competitiveness Score developed by the IMD World Competitiveness Center. Their competitiveness score focuses on technological knowledge, readiness for developing new technologies, and the ability to exploit and build on new innovations.

Ranking nations according to these metrics produced interesting results. For example, smaller advanced countries seem to score better than larger ones—Hong Kong and Taiwan are both ranked above Japan, the country that produced game-changing inventions like the Nintendo, the Walkman, and the VCR. This is likely due to the fact that smartphone penetration is higher in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Hong Kong, approximately 97% of internet searches are done on smartphones, indicating their prevalence.

Perhaps the biggest or most shocking anomaly is Russia’s poor showing, being ranked 47th out of the 67 countries on the list. Russia does poorly across all metrics, with low scores on smartphone penetration as well as digital competitiveness. In fact, Ukraine is ranked two slots above Russia despite having a GDP 14 times smaller. Perhaps this is because Ukraine long served as a technological hub of the former USSR and currently structures its education and business interests towards promoting its information technology sector.

Some of the rankings are less surprising. Every one of the top 20 countries has a developed economy and European countries with advanced economies lead the pack, making up four of the top five most technologically advanced. However, Asian countries including the U.A.E, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea are all in the top 12, giving the top players in the global tech race a measure of geographic diversity. Among South Asian India ranks 60 and Pakistan ranks 67 while China is at 38. Global Finance’s ranking is debatable. Many other factors have to be considered. China is the second largest economy in the world with a population of 1.3 billion. China has the largest foreign exchange reserve and a worldwide presence. In 2020 India’s GDP was  3.3 trillion with a population over 1.2 billion. Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea have already graduated to developed country status.

 Indian economy is the third largest in the world by purchasing power parity (PPP). The long-term growth perspective of the Indian economy remains positive due to its young population and corresponding low dependency ratio, healthy savings and investment rates, and its `increasing integration into global economy.   The visit by coronavirus in all parts of the world has changed the prospects for not only India and China but for the entire universe.

In the midst of this uncontrollable pandemic India and China are engaged in a border dispute.  The fights are bloody though firearms have not been used. The fights occurred in April and May in Ladakh and in Sikkim. Chinese troops occupied around 40 to 60 square kilometers of territory that India considers to be its own. The Economist (India and China have their first deadly clashes in 45 years       The border affray is a sign of worrying military escalation between Asia’s giants. June 16th 2020)   adds that “India is anxious over China’s growing economic and political clout on India’s periphery—in Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—and over the influx of Chinese warships into the Indian Ocean.       In response, successive Indian governments have tilted closer to America.... A quartet of China-skeptic countries known as the “Quad”, comprising America, Australia, India and Japan, now meet regularly. Though India is at pains to stress that the Quad is not an alliance, Australia may soon join naval exercises involving the other three countries, lending a naval dimension to the group.       The violent turn in the border dispute is likely to accelerate these trends”.

 Optimists however think that bilateral trade estimated at US $ 95 billion in 2018 compared with US $ 3 trillion economy supplying US dollar 13 trillion, consumer oriented middle income Chinese market could be a deterrent to India’s military response. Then India has to consider asymmetric power balance between the two countries. China’s GDP is five times larger than that of India and spends four times more than Indian defense budget. International mediation seems neither possible nor sought by the combatants. Yet the gory details appearing in the Indian media of soldiers mutilated bodies retrieved from the battle field and the pressure on the Indian Prime Minister to respond forcefully  to the Chinese aggression further complicated by Chinese leadership’s  belief in the (How to Prevent a War in Asia The Erosion of American Deterrence Raises the Risk of Chinese Miscalculation By Michèle A. Flournoy June 18, 2020)  “military doctrine  that the side that can make and execute battlefield decisions most quickly will gain a decisive advantage in any conflict.

 China’s theory of victory increasingly relies on “system destruction warfare”—crippling an adversary at the outset of conflict, by deploying sophisticated electronic warfare, counter space, and cyber-capabilities to disrupt what are known as C4ISR network (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), and thereby thwarting its power projection and undermining its resolve”. All said it has to be recognized that the world is now passing through a fluid situation due to coronavirus epidemic and the global responsibility lies in saving lives and distraught economies shelving muscle flexing however genuine the grievances may be.