World Review: America and China, Austrian vaccination and India’s farmers

It has been an interesting week for Sino-American relations and China in its own right. It started with the two countries agreeing to cooperate on climate change policies. There were no details in this proposed pact, but a start had been made. This was followed by a three-hour virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. Both sides basically re-stated long-held positions on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and human rights. But it was done in a friendly manner which meant another reasonable start. Then things started going downhill. The Americans are very upset about the new Chinese hypersonic missile and are being loud in their condemnation. Then Biden said he was considering refusing to send a diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics. The athletes can go, but the normal contingent of accompanying politicians are now expected to stay at home to protest Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Where America goes, Europe and its allies are likely to follow which will take some of the gloss off the opening ceremony. Finally, there is the case of missing tennis star Peng Shuai. She alleged that she was coerced into an affair with Vice President Zhang Gaoli, a close friend and ally of President Xi. Shortly after making the claim, Ms Peng disappeared. All mention of her on the Chinese-controlled internet and media has been removed. An email was sent out—purportedly from the tennis star—withdrawing the allegations and saying that she was safe and well. Friends and family have dismissed the email as fake or—at best—coerced. The likely fate of Peng Shuai underscores the dangers of crossing the Chinese Communist Party. Zhang Gaoli is a prominent party member and ally of the President. Xi Jing Ping is the head of the party. Xi, Zhang and the Chinese Communist Party have been conflated to represent Chinese national interests so that anything that damages their reputation damages Chinese national interests.

The Austrians have come up with a novel way of combatting their anti-vaxxers (roughly a third of their population). They have ordered them to stay at home until they are properly jabbed. The police will be patrolling the streets with covid test kits. If they find someone who tests positive and is unjabbed then that person can be fined up to $1,500. There has been the anticipated outcry about individual liberties and body invasion from the anti-vax brigade. There has also been a reported rush for vaccinations. Meanwhile wave four (or is it five or six?) continues to gather pace as winter descends on Europe. The Austrian government is planning a full lockdown if the moves against anti-vaxxers fails. Germany is also talking about a full lockdown as are Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands. The British are carrying on as if the pandemic has ended. Few wear masks. Football matches, night clubs, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, planes and trains are carrying on as if life is normal while the number of covid-related deaths rise.

A year ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the state-run farmers’ markets that had for decades provided minimum support prices to the country’s agricultural community. In doing so he threw the nation’s farmers to the wolves of the market place. The result was demonstrations, riots and a rowdy farmer’s market on the outskirts of Delhi. This week Modi did a U-turn. He scrapped the three new market laws that ended support prices. The farmers rejoiced. An abashed Modi (not a common sight) admitted: “We have failed.” Of course, the reason for the U-turn was not all down to the farmers’ protests. Early next year there will be key elections in the big agricultural states of Utter Pradesh and Punjab. Modi needs to win them, or at least not do too badly. Punjab is especially important. It has a large Sikh population which has had historically troubled relations with the Delhi government. Modi has been bending over backwards to improve relations with the Sikhs, but has also added a string of other political failures which has damaged his credibility. His government has failed to pass controversial new citizenship laws, implement a land acquisition law and new labour laws have fallen by the board. Modi’s reputation is as an acute legislator and strong man. That now appears to be slipping.

* Tom Arms is the Foreign Editor of Liberal Democratic Voice. His book “America Made in Britain” has recently been published by Amberley Books. He is also the author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War.”