This has been an extraordinary month for geopolitics. In moves reminiscent of Cold War days, the United States and China have indulged in tit-for-tat closures of consulates – after China’s facility in Houston was ordered to shut down, Beijing duly retaliated by ordering the US to shut its consulate in Chengdu. Two US aircraft carrier groups have been war-gaming in the South China Sea at a time when the Chinese navy is conducting its own live-fire exercises in the same waters. At various times, the US Navy has been joined by Japanese, and no fewer than five Australian navy ships, even as Canberra lodged a statement with the United Nations last week saying that most of China’s claims in the South China Sea had “no legal basis”.
Elsewhere, France effectively instructed its telecoms companies to weed out Chinese equipment from the networks within seven years, following a British decision to do the same in less time. Chinese students in several countries are under watch and some have been picked up for questioning about their alleged military connections. Hong Kong is another sore point. Britain suspended its extradition treaty with the territory while China threatened to stop recognising British National (Overseas) passports in retaliation for London advancing plans to open its doors to Hong Kongers holding the status. Can the world afford these tensions at a time of a devastating pandemic and the worst economic crunch in memory?