2020 has been all about China, but only for the wrong reasons. Chinese President Xi Jinping wanted 2020 to go his way. He even had specific plans up his sleeves, but every one of his nefarious designs has backfired badly.
So, 2020 was supposed to be China’s year but it has turned out to be the year of China’s undoing instead, on all three fronts- economic, military and diplomatic. So, here is a small recap of how 2020 turned out to be probably the worst year for the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in a long time.
Xi’s ‘debt trap’ traps China
Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was the centrepiece of Beijing’s ‘debt trap’ diplomacy. With numerous infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, Beijing wanted to chip away with the sovereignty of low-income countries. Chinese infrastructure projects mostly came with heavy commercial loans and a number of countries realised the perils of getting associated with Xi’s BRI the hard way.
However, halfway through 2020, ‘debt trap’ diplomacy started backfiring badly. The Chinese virus ruined the global economy, China’s BRI partners included. Soon, China’s BRI partners started demanding a delay in debt repayment. Xi couldn’t say no, given that Chinese goodwill is already at a record low and cannot afford further damage.
So, Beijing had to pause debt repayment for 77 countries. 40 out of them are located in the African Continent. In 2019, Beijing’s debt claims stood at well over 5 trillion US dollars, a major portion of which is going to get compromised.
Chinese belligerence proves counterproductive
As the Pandemic sent the entire world into a tizzy, Chinese President Xi Jinping wanted to step up military aggression and take control of the entire Asia-Pacific region. Soon, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was pressed into service. Chinese vessels started intruding into the Continental Shelves and territorial waters of other nations in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The PLA also locked itself into a standoff with the Indian Army in Eastern Ladakh.
Yet, the world pushed back against the paper Dragon. On June 15, there was a major clash between the Indian Army and the PLA at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh. India inflicted massive casualties upon the PLA during the massive bloodshed.
As China’s bloody nose became visible to the entire world, the Southeast Asian nations and Japan also started taking the paper Dragon head-on. Vietnam led the ASEAN front against Chinese belligerence, whereas Japan bolstered its military preparedness in face of Chinese intrusions near the Senkaku Islands. To top it all, American military presence in the Western Pacific kept the PLA Navy on tenterhooks.
Wolf-warrior diplomacy rendered ineffective
While the world was battling the Chinese virus, Xi was preparing a group of loudmouthed diplomats dubbed ‘wolf-warriors’ who would misbehave with other governments and force them into submission. But China’s wolf-warriors have been beaten back time and again.
Take the case of Australia. China called it a “chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes.” The ugly remarks came after Australia’s PM Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry against the spread of the novel Wuhan virus from China. Yet, the Morrison government remained undeterred by China’s obnoxious remarks and continued to condemn Beijing’s belligerent authoritarianism.
Even a small European country- Sweden, has shown zero tolerance towards China’s diplomatic aggression, amidst frosty relations between the two countries due to the arrest of a Chinese-origin Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai by Chinese authorities.
Similarly, when Chinese wolf-warriors tried to strongarm the Indian media against referring to Taiwan as a “nation” or violating the “One China” policy ahead of Taiwan’s National Day, the people of India literally poked the paper Dragon in the eye. India celebrated its Taiwan friendship even more emphatically in face of Chinese threats.
Similarly, China’s threats of plucking out the ‘Five Eyes’- Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the US has also proved counterproductive. Such violent remarks only embolden China’s adversaries to work against Beijing in sheer cohesion.
In terms of soft power too, China is at a nadir. China was supplying masks, PPEs and testing kits in order to improve its image which had taken a bit due to the Pandemic. However, Chinese medical equipment became a symbol of the Communist nation’s poor quality controls and substandard manufacturing. Xi’s ‘mask diplomacy’ thus has also failed spectacularly.
2020 has been a year of disasters for China- a few of them natural, but most of them man-made. Xi wanted 2020 to be China’s year but it has turned out to be exactly the opposite.