Covid 19 can divide but not destroy the US China relationship and Southeast Asia yet
Sino US relationship, is a dyad, driven by a combination of factors that divide them. Among which includes what Graham Allison at Harvard University calls the “Thucydides Trap,”; or David Shambaugh at George Washington referred to as the belief that the “usual cycle of soft to hard authoritarianism” (2nd minute in his interview in You Tube), that barely lasts few years, “has now stretched to more than eight years and counting under President Xi Jin Ping”
(Sources: 180820-Destined-for-War-Graham-Allison.pdf; https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QdOjoqd6kNk).
Dr Lyn Kuok, a eminent Senior Fellow at the Institute of International and Strategic Studies in Singapore, added another factor that continues to pull them apart, Covid 19. The latter has triggered the latent nationalism that each country has responded to the pandemic, which verges on either blaming the other side of triggering the outbreak, whose origins remain unknown, or, alternatively, using the opportunity to seize on the weaknesses of the other to augment their military activities
(Source: https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2020/06/geopolitics-covid-19-indo-pacific _cldee=cGhhcmtiN0BnbWFpbC5jb20%3d&recipientid=contact-cdc08a841fcfe71180d5005056be3f90-0571bb6ee80d40749716e2076e363b50&esid=919c9cc0-9dac-ea11-911c-0050560310e7).
In the case of Kuok, quoting Greg Polling at the Asia Transparency Maritime Institute, which is part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, she offered the incriminating evidence of the almost permanent maritime presence of the Chinese military and illeg fishing vessels in Thithu Island; an area closest to the Philippines in South China Sea
Else where, China has had it’s brushes with Vietnam in April 2020 if not earlier, and the oil drilling ship of Petronas (Malaysia), named West Capella, in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Malaysia
But these claims, even if they run parallel to what Dr Michael Pillsbury, a Chinese advisor to President Donald Trump, have been saying, that China has been dogged in intention to insist that it was the United States that has always wanted a Cold War with China, and not the other way around, have missed their marks too.
To begin, even if China wants to be the leading country in the world, by 2045, if not earlier, other adversaries to China are themselves falling at their own responses to a series of public health crisis, not surprisingly including Covid 19
Even Brazil, one of the pivotal states in Latin America is failing, oddly enough by denying the seriousness of health risk posed by Covid 19 (Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2020/06/coronavirus-health-workers-brazils-river-communities/612931/).
In Indonesia, another pivotal state, there are murmurs from top analysts like Joshua Kurlanzick, at the Council for Foreign Relations, that Indonesia is coming short on its response to Covid 19
Elsewhere in Malaysia, as it emerges from it’s Movement Control Order stage by stage, the Director General of Health Datuk Dr Nor Hisham, has suddenly announced that Covid-19 patients do not have to show a double negatives in one day prior to their discharge. All they need to show is the condition without fever three days prior to their fourteen days stay at the hospital.
(Source: https://m.malaysiakini.com/news/529986). These confusing responses to Covid-19 go on and on. Including the Philippines (Source: https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/the-philippines-pandemic-response-a-tragedy-of-errors/).
To the degree Australia and New Zealand have remained unscathed from the ravages of Covid-19, the tussle of the former with China on the origins of the virus, an initiative supported by New Zealand, has has Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Jacinda Adern unable to lead the Indo-Pacific in any way, either to declare that they have done themselves done well.
In Vietnam, while they have totally tamped down Covid 19, despite their role as the chair of ASEAN they have shown no leadership at all on guiding the rest of the rest of the region on how to put a handle on Covid 19.
Thus, their brush off with China in the South China Sea is the manifestation of their traditional rivalry with Beijing, not because of Beijing’s attempt to bully Vietnam in the South China Sea as yet amidst the health crisis face by all. More over, when Vietnam, for that matter, Singapore, both of which are supportive of the enhanced presence of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, observes increased commitment to the region, even from the Congress, there is no sign of alarm that China will be disturbing the military balance of power in South China Sea yet.
If anything, the aging of China itself a head ache to the top leadership of China, when it comes to how China can exercise it’s clouts regionally or globally, especially when the research of Professor Alaistair Iain Johnston at Harvard University has found out older generations of China tend to be more nationalistic than the younger ones in the prominent journal of International Security.
(Source: Alaistair Iain Johnstone, Is Chinese Nationalism Rising : Evidence From Beijing ? Volume 42: 3, Winter 2016/2017; https://inks.tn/71t6).
To the degree China has crossed the line on South China Sea amidst the Covid 19 crisis, the evidence would suggest that China is merely augmenting their jurisdictions on various claims in the Nine Dash Lines; a plan that precedes even the outbreak of Covid 19.
Are they being driven by the “Wolf Warriors” of China, that remains an issue that remains to be seen as legalization of the jurisdiction does not amount to militarization of the South China Sea issue .(https://amp.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3085856/chinese-foreign-minister-wang-yi-defends-wolf-warrior).
Besides, China’s military, endeavors or otherwise, are as usual still counter checked by various forces, especially the US and Australia, both of which, continue to believe in the “freedom of navigation” over the South China Sea as late as April 2020 to shadow the Chinese maritime coast guard of Haiyang Dizhi.
But neither have engaged in the activities to “lock their radars,” on Chinese ships; which is considered by China to be an act of war. Be that as it may, China in it’s exuberance, that it has handled Covid 19 well, has crossed this very own line, as when it locked it’s radar on a Philippines vessel.
But for every aggressive action, there seems to be the awareness that China cannot antagonize Malaysia and Indonesia too deeply
But if one observes carefully, although Indonesia has recognized the verdict of the UN Tribunal on South China Sea on the Nine Dash Lines recently, China continues to try to work with Indonesia, rather than to spurn it altogether.
The fact is, South China Sea now falls under the Indo Pacific Command of the United States. The latter is bound to show more engagement and seriousness, either from the Taiwan Straits, from within the Nine Dash Lines itself, or, even by increasing it’s presence in the East China Sea, or, Indian Ocean and West Pacific. (Source: https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/us-china-step-activities-south-china-sea-amid-covid-19-pandemic).
China is bound to respond, given a tough 2019, riding into 2020, due to the proliferation of the HK protests, leading up to the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021. The United States, on the other hand, cannot sit idly by when an important re-election in November 2020 is coming up pitching Presidential Candidate Joe Biden from the Democratic Party and the incumbent President Donald Trump who seems to have raised enormous anger with his irreverrential antics either on Covid 19, Black Lives Matter, or, even the polarization he has caused within his own military, as when some senior commanders, both current and retired Defense Secretaries, have spoken up against his attempt to deploy US military against the protestors whom Trump described as “terrorists”.
The fact remains China can misbehave abroad, as can the President of the United States engaged in unbecoming conduct within the United States too, if not against its own allies, as when President Trump suddenly called off the G7 meeting, even suggesting that Russia should attend.
With these haphazard signals, China has behaved with extreme caution too, sometimes going not merely against US, and Australia, but potentially, even India.
(Source: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3081932/looking-beyond-pandemic-military-powers-jostle-dominance-indo; https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/china-india-checking-dragon).