US-China: No Holds Barred

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Is the recent flight ban a harbinger for the 21st-century cold war?

China finally flinched succumbing to the massive pressure from the US government when they announced on 4 June 2020 to mitigate restrictions on the foreign airline’s en routing to the country. The decision came a day after the Trump administration declared blocking the Chinese flights entering the US from 16 June, in reciprocation to the Chinese restriction to foreign flights, which could affect Chinese carriers like Air China, China Eastern Corp, China Southern Airlines Co among other airlines. China imposed restrictions on the number of flights they were offering as of March 12 at the behest of COVID-19 pandemic. By that time, most of the nations including the US had already barred air services to China.  China continued with those restrictions while the US opened up to the Chinese aircraft which ultimately miffed the Republicans. Although, as per the announcement foreign flights will operate with more liberty from June 8, China hasn’t removed the restrictions on its domestic flights. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) released a notice and stated, “each domestic airline can only keep one route to any country, and each route cannot operate more than one flight per week”. It is the same number of domestic flights that were operating in the US since March. After announcing the policy adjustment, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a press conference that Beijing is hoping the US does not create “obstacles for resolving this issue”.

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The obstacles and issues between the two countries commenced with the onset of the pandemic when China very consciously concealed the information about the virus from the world. The US and WHO had a major fall out because of China’s questionable transparency. On 30 May, Trump in a press briefing unflinchingly attacked WHO and China for their role during the pandemic. Trump announced the termination of US-WHO relations and major policies changes to debilitate China on a diplomatic front. Many of the newspapers have already declared it as a cold war. Trump in that press briefing launched a series of visceral attacks on China even accusing it of theft and elicit espionage. The devastating announcements could clearly, as the Chinese foreign minister once said, “push two countries to the brink of a new cold war”. Some of the startling statements include:

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1. “Suspend the entry of certain Chinese nationals who we have identify as potential security risks”

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With the beginning of Trump’s rhetorics, he charged China for stealing intellectual property. The country has long been notorious for stealing ideas from other countries and using it for its own benefit. Trump claimed that the US has lost billions of dollars at the hands of China’s theft. According to the National Bureau of Asian Research in 2017, the US currency suffered a loss of around 225–600 billion dollars every year due to intellectual property theft by China. A survey done by CNBC CFO in 2019 found out that “every 1 of the 5 corporations surveyed had their IP stolen by the Chinese”. Trump further added that China has over the years carried out “elicit espionage to steal the industrial secrets” and to secure the National University Research the US will ban the entry of certain Chinese nationals. Here, the US president was referring to Chinese students and researchers who have strong affiliations to the Chinese communist government. According to statista.com, almost 400,000 Chinese students study in the US which makes the country more susceptible to such thefts. But, it is not clear how the procedure to identify someone as a ‘potential threat’ will be carried out.

2. “Study the differing practices of the Chinese Companies listed on the US Financial Markets”

Trump alleged that Chinese companies do not play by the same rules when it comes to transparency. He said, “Investment firms shouldn’t be subjecting their clients to hidden under risks associated with financing Chinese companies”. He, on 5 June, issued a memorandum to protect US investors and stated that the Chinese firms have been reaping benefits from the US markets but at the same time are not abiding by the critical protections that the investors rightfully deserve. It can be believed that the US national security will now track the movements of Chinese firms and may blacklist those who do not comply with Trump’s discretion. Interestingly, on 20 May 2020, the US Senate passed a bill that can block Chinese companies from the list of US stock exchanges. As of February 2019, there were 156 Chinese companies listed on three major US stock exchanges with a “total market capitalization of 1.2 trillion dollars”, according to USSC.GOV.

3. “Sanction People Republic of China(PRC) and Hong Kong officials directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s freedom”

Trump has always been critical about China breaching the ‘One country, two systems’ principle and has often interfered in China’s internal affairs. Trump’s decision to sanction leaders of China and Hong Kong came when Beijing unilaterally imposed the highly controversial National Security Law which undermined the freedom of China’s Special Administrative Region. Speaking about the National Security Law, he said, “It extends the reach of China’s invasive State Security Apparatus into what was formerly a bastion of liberty”. He announced that Hong Kong is no longer an autonomous region, hence, he also pronounced major revisions of former US policies with it. It included US extradition treaty with Hong Kong, exportation control, dual-use technology, and elimination of other such “policies exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special status”. There was also a mention of revising state department travel advisory for Hong Kong to “reflect the increased danger of surveillance and punishment by Chinese state security apparatus”.  Most of Hong Kong’s Pro-democracy leaders supported the US decision to sanction Chinese officials including student activist Joshua Wong. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South China are the regions that China desires to forcefully occupy and the US is relentlessly trying to globalize the issue. The back and forth between the two economic giants which started as a trade war is seeming to culminate in a cold war. China, which has been facing backlash from the globe for its poor handling of the COVID-19 outbreak is trying hard to allow the friction but the US with the loss of more than 111,000 lives will clearly seek retribution. 

Image Source – Financial Express

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