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Covid-19 different from Tiananmen, China won’t be able to tide over crisis: Ex-NSA Menon

Former NSA Shivshankar Menon says impact of Covid will lead to “huge reputational loss” for China as well as other countries. He also cautions India against aligning with US or China. 

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New Delhi: China will not be able to tide over the coronavirus crisis like it did with the 1989 Tiananmen Square episode, former National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon said Wednesday, adding that the impact of Covid-19 will continue to “simmer” leading to a “huge reputational loss” for China as well as other countries.  

“This is going to simmer, this is not like Tiananmen. This is a very different situation,” Menon said. “It’s a huge reputational loss for China. Bigger the country, the bigger the loss of reputation. The Chinese have developed a reputation over the years, which now has been turned against them. Reputation will be used as a stick to beat China with.”  

Menon, who is also a former foreign secretary, was speaking at an online seminar hosted by the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS). ThePrint was the media partner for the seminar — Looking at Post-COVID World: The China Dimension.   

According to Menon, who is also chairman of the ICS advisory board, the pandemic has also shown the “nervousness” with which governments and leaders around the world have dealt with the massive crisis, be it in their individual capacities or at the multilateral stage of the G20 or the UN.  

“If you look at the level of rhetoric, the shriller the rhetoric, the higher the claims of victory the more it sounds to me that they (world leaders) are really nervous, that they really don’t know what they are doing,” Menon said.

“There is a shouting match that is going on between the leaders now. They are not working together. You saw the G20, you saw the UNSC, they are not managing to work together.”  

Also read: Pressure mounts on India to call out China for Covid as it readies to take lead role at WHO

Growing US-China tensions 

On the growing tensions between the US and China, especially over the origin of the virus, Menon said the problems between these major powers had been rising even before the outbreak of the pandemic.  

He, however, added that the US narrative on the origin of the virus will continue to rage until the US presidential elections scheduled to take place in November this year. 

“I think we need to wait until the US elections … There is a bipartisan consensus in the US on China and it is much harsher than it has been for a very long time. So no matter what happens in the US elections there is no going back,” the former foreign secretary added.  

Menon also said despite these rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, both will find it “painful” to decouple themselves from their economic bonding.  

“Let’s not forget they are also tied to each other like the Siamese twins on the economic side and that decoupling will be really painful for both of them. There will come a time when they will follow their economic interests,” he added.  

Also read: Modi had turned his back on NAM and SAARC. Covid brings them back on his table

On Covid-19 economic front

Comparing the pandemic with the 2008-09 financial meltdown crisis, Menon said, “Unlike in 2008-end and the beginning of 2009 when for most of the powers, their leadership was secure, they knew they were either going to be there or that they were not going to be there and so they could do the right thing without any fear of any effects on their political future… Today you have an issue, which frankly, the leaders don’t understand… there isn’t a kind of scientific or expert advice that you have experience of in the economic field.” 

He said for India the challenge will be to see “where the money goes” citing the $60 billion limit that the Modi government has set for coronavirus-related relief.  

“Ultimately you will have to see what people do with their money. Why are we (India) running such a huge trade deficit with China? This is because Indians are spending their money in China buying things. That’s where I would look six months from now,” he added. 

He also cautioned against India aligning with the US or with China.  

“Nobody shares our interest entirely … I don’t see any alliance really working for us. You need to position yourself where you have better relationships with both the US and China than they have with each other,” said Menon, who was also India’s former Beijing envoy from 2000-2003.

Also read: India to push for Pakistan’s blacklisting at FATF after Handwara & Keran terror attacks



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