Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Global recovery after the Covid-19


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Various geopolitical factors that influence the recovery of the world in post-pandemic period/How India could play a crucial role in forming the global coalition for faster recovery?

This article discusses the various factors with geopolitical significance. These factors would shape the post-pandemic recovery on a global scale. Though these factors have been touched upon in the previous op-eds, they are dealt with in detail here.

Post-pandemic strategic environment for the recovery

  • It’s the post-pandemic strategic environment that will dictate how soon the world recovers from this unexpected shock.
  • It must start with the international geopolitical angle, with many assumptions.
  • With some clarity in this domain, we can prepare ourselves better for the recovery phase of a near post-war situation.
  • Shortly, even as the world continues to reel under the pandemic threat, there will be more endeavours on enhancing human security through better strategic management of the world.
  • So, what will all that be about? It could be a major conference.
  • Major conference with agenda for revival: The situation is similar to the elusive efforts towards the creation of new world order after the end of the Cold War in 1989.
  • Will the world consider a major conference with the agenda being a revival after the coronavirus?
  • The 2015 Paris Summit of the United Nations, which was convened to save the world from the rapid impact of climate change, could not muster a consensus.
  • Will a potential 2020 “pandemic conference” succeed in getting big powers to jettison their geopolitical ambition?

China’s role has significance for India. The UPSC asks questions touching the economic or security aspect of China for India. So, the role played by China in the post-pandemic world is important from Mains perspective. Take note of the issues discussed below.

The US-China rivalry

  • The US-China rivalry will remain the core issue, with several other regions and nations aligning with the one who can bring them short to medium-term advantages.
  • Contingent upon how badly the US is finally affected, its current confused leadership is unlikely to inspire and its efforts at internal stabilisation may compromise US power.
  • A major turn in political fortunes in the US and its bumbling on pandemic management could throw open opportunities for others to exploit.
  • The US will perceive itself far more insecure than it was even after 9/11.

Accusations over China’s role in the pandemic

  • There is likely to be a huge effort to slander China — accusing it of being the originator of the scourge — and isolate it economically and politically.
  • The allegations on the use of biological warfare are the ones which will cause turbulence in relationships.
  • Ironically, China is also in a unique position to help the world bounce back.
  • Against the backdrop of these accusations regarding culpability, we need to be ready for changes in the norms of international cooperation and behaviour.
  • Cold war situation: A cold war of sorts could well be on the cards for some time, hampering a full recovery.
  • It will be brutal in the cyber world — fake news on social media will prevent international cooperation in crucial fields such as scientific research, patents.
  • And this could perhaps even slow down the ability to prevent the next pandemic.

The crucial role of the US

  • Subject to the US’s economic capability after the pandemic, the ability to find a consensus to put on hold defence spending for the sake of human security will be the key.
  • But the trust deficit between nations will probably hamper this to a great extent.
  • The key anchor of globalisation — the US-China trade relationship — will change even more.
  • China cannot be replaced by the US as a major industrial producer (even for the US market).
  • Other countries or blocs — ASEAN, Bangladesh and India — will all chip in but that will still not be enough.
  • Nor can any country buy as much grain from the US as China does.
  • So, an economic relationship will continue but will be politically fractured as both parties search for alternatives, which don’t exist on a scale that both of them need.

The growing influence of China

  • China’s recovery is likely to be the fastest.
  • Its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may now go uncontested by the US-led efforts to create alternatives.
  • The Chinese ability to influence politics among smaller nations in Asia and Africa could bring it strategic advantages.
  • But this influence is unlikely to be enough to replace America unless the recession-hit US remains defensively oriented.
  • Potential for conflict: Knowing the US propensity to bounce back, China’s efforts will have to remain energetic and that is where the potential for conflict is likely to rise.
  • Of course, it is not as if the US would abandon its interests for an era of only-inward economic healing.
  • Its eye on the future will remain firmly in place.

The decline in the credibility of the UN

  • Role of WHO: The UN has lost credibility with the World Health Organisation taking the worst hit any UN agency has suffered in years.
  • Its future is contingent upon how it manages the geopolitical fallout of the pandemic.
  • The sooner it can get the world leaders on board, the better.

Instability in Iran and Afghanistan

  • The collapse of the economy: Iran has been hit badly and with the US unrelenting on sanctions, its economy could collapse with frightening results as far the Middle East is concerned.
  • The threat for peace in the region: A big nation in instability mode with internal turbulence and leadership challenges could spread greater threats of an undefined kind.
  • The US may abandon Afghanistan with less commitment towards keeping its economy sustainable.
  • Possibility of IS revival: It could be a sure recipe for internal instability, which could see the Islamic State emerge a major player.
  • Russian advantage: Everything in the Middle East points towards Russian advantage and domination.

Opportunities for India

  • India without recession: Economically hit but probably one of the few nations without a recession, India’s strong central leadership could be a big advantage.
  • International cooperation: Prime Minister Narendra Modi would need to use all his influence to cobble together international cooperation to pull the world from the abyss it could sink into.
  • His credibility is already higher than most international leaders and could spell a leadership role for India not in conflict with China but in cooperation with it.
  • It is India’s established multilateral foreign policy that could eventually come to the assistance of the world.


Successful and swift recovery of the world hinges on international cooperation among the nation. This provides India with an opportunity to stitch together international cooperation in dealing with the aftermath of the crisis.

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