1 July, 2022


China’s Long March To Taiwan & Sri Lanka: What’s The Endgame For The United States? 

By Patrick Mendis and Dominique Reichenbach

China is utilizing the novel coronavirus as strategic leverage to vie for global leadership in a post-pandemic era. Meanwhile, due to a lack of visionary leadership, the US continues to falter and maim its international reputation, which could lead to a significant shift in the world order.

Even with its series of initial mistakes in handling the epidemic, China has effectively used a scientific and health-driven approach to combat Covid-19. President Trump’s economic-fueled approach has undermined scientists and health professionals and rejected his own intelligence and military briefers.

China’s sweeping geopolitical strategy provides opportunities from Europe to Africa; whereas, Trump White House’s provincial approach uses Taiwan and Sri Lanka as pawns. With his lack of diplomatic acumen and strategic vision for the United States, President Trump’s range of deflections, failures, misgivings, and utter incompetence in the face of Covid-19 presents a victory for China by default.

Evolving Covid-19 Response  

To deflect blame, President Trump recently announced a halt in World Health Organization (WHO) funding while a review is conducted to evaluate its role in “mismanaging” pandemic response. Continuing the pattern of diversion, his own White House trade adviser Peter Navarro was recently humiliated for misrepresenting historical facts to conceal mistakes. Yet, to remind Americans he is a “cheerleader” for the United States, Trump also ensured that his name is printed on stimulus checks, an unprecedented form of retail politics with inferiority complex.

Meanwhile, Beijing continues to pursue geopolitical ambitions and has emerged as the perceptive leader in humanitarian response. Its “donation diplomacy” has provided thousands of masks, ventilators, and even doctors as well as millions in relief aid from Europe to Africa. President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to initially halt export of 3M facemasks to the neighboring Canada and beyond. Ironically, the US itself has accepted more Chinese aid than it provided to its own people as the “White House airlifts medical supplies from China in coronavirus fight.”

Indeed, Chinese aid to the US and beyond comes after its initial Covid-19 cover-up that endangered the world. Some even suggest that China’s generous aid is an attempt to blur this memory. However, the aid indeed represents a strategic opportunity to transform the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) into a new Health Silk Road, bolstering its global reputation. 

Sino-American Tensions In Taiwan 

Beijing and Washington spent weeks casting accusations at one another, involving Taiwan and the WHO; however, surprisingly, they seem to be moving towards cooperation. On March 26, Trump tweeted that he finished a “very good” conversation with President Xi Jinping, stating “we are working closely together. Much respect!” 

Ironically, President Trump slighted China by signing the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative or TAIPEI Act into law on the very same March 26. The legislation, which China has called “evil,” all but recognizes Taiwan’s independence. It encourages other countries to establish relations with Taiwan, promising to increase US “economic, security, and diplomatic engagement” with nations that do so. It even threatens to punitively “alter” its engagements with nations that undermine Taiwan. Given China’s “one country, two systems” policy and its reunification desires, the TAIPEI Act is considered sabotage against China. 

Ultimately, the Trump administration hopes that this act will bolster democracy abroad and pressure other countries into choosing partnership with the United States instead of China. The Trump administration believes that the economic and diplomatic benefits in this legislation and the Taiwan Travel Act will serve as a more attractive alternative to China’s BRI.

While this act may enhance US-Taiwan relations, it is nothing more than a lame attempt to curb China’s growing influence. China’s BRI— estimated to incorporate up to $8 trillion in infrastructure development projects and connecting more than 100 countries— is far more attractive than the futile TAIPEI Act’s subtle threats and vague promises. At this point, there is virtually no benefit for most countries to join US ranks, which suggests that China is successfully shifting the global order.

Action Speak Louder Than Words 

Sri Lanka, for example, is a country becoming increasingly more important to US and Chinese foreign policy goals. US Ambassador Alice Wells called Sri Lanka an important piece of “real estate” given its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, which would allow the US to sustain maritime supremacy and contain Chinese expansion. However, the US is losing its grip over Sri Lanka made evident by its failure to renew its Status of Forces Agreement, even after pledging $480 million in development aid via the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC). The US and Sri Lanka spent months debating the strings-attached MCC compact, which the Colombo administration ultimately declined to sign. 

Meanwhile mere days after an urgent request from the Colombo administration, China extended a 10-year $500 million concessionary loan to help Sri Lanka manage Covid-19. China has the power of the purse and Sri Lanka is shifting alliances accordingly like many other countries. The TAIPEI Act will be unlikely to sway Sri Lanka from Chinese partnership. Similarly, Taiwan is losing diplomatic relationships to China, now only possessing fifteen. 

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, the US’s reputation was losing to China. For instance, the United States failed to persuade its closest intelligence-sharing alliance of “Five Eyes”—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK—to choose 5G development partnership with Washington over Beijing’s Huawei. 

 China has taken advantage of Covid-19 to pursue economic partnerships that advance its foreign policy goals. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s shortsighted policies that use Taiwan as a pawn are leading the United States into a natural defeat in geopolitics. If President Trump  continues to pursue failed policies, distrust allies, and shirk global responsibilities, China will be well-poised to replace the United States as the global leader in a post-pandemic era—not by design but by default. (Courtesy of The National Interest in the United States).

*Dr. Patrick Mendis, a former American diplomat and a military professor, is a Taiwan fellow of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China and a distinguished visiting professor of global affairs at the National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taipei. Dominique Reichenbach, an American David Boren scholar, served as a research intern and teaching assistant at NCCU. Their views expressed in this analysis do not represent the official positions of the current or past affiliation of their institutions nor the respective governments.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    “China is utilizing the novel coronavirus as strategic leverage to vie for global leadership in a post-pandemic era.”

    It is true China is utilising Coronavirus as strategic leverage to vie for global leadership in post-pandemic era but Mahinda family is utilizing Coronavirus as an opportunity to create a family dictatorship and to put the country in poverty.

    • 8

      A free for all and a new world order will set in place. China may have had a head start in this game, but will be counteracted by other forces acting together. All this strategic silk road initiative will be in vain. Countries are going to demand compensation from China for this human and economic disaster. While China will be checkmated by USA and allies in south China sea, it will be checkmated by India with the blessings of USA and West in Indian ocean. India should seek damages from China and for it take over Hambantota harbour and Colombo port city for itself. If Sri Lanka tries to resist, I will not be surprised that the entire Island will be annexed on the basis of Indian security concern. Sri Lanka which will end up in dire economic state similar to pre 77 era, will be powerless with no country able to help or willing to help. To think that China will control Indian ocean with the help of Sri Lanka is foolish. Only powers that controlled Indian ocean in the past are Tamils (Pallvas and Cholas) and Europeans (Portuguese, Dutch and British). Prior to Corona outbreak, western countries trusted China to do business, but not no more. China will have to be satisfied with selling cheap goods to poor countries and being confined in their own territory.

      • 9

        The Cholas (and the Pallavas?) controlling the Indian Ocean? The Cholas had a trade route that reached South China. There was Chola influence as far as today’s Indonesia. The Pallavas (FYI) hardly crossed the Palk Strait.
        The Chinese, during the Ming Dynasty and centuries after, had trade routes stretching across the entire India Ocean.
        The Chinese aim, unlike that of the US (and before it the UK and France and before them Holland and Portugal) is not to control any ocean. They do good business and have outmanoeuvred the US in Africa. They do not bully countries and that is how they win.
        The poor hallucinating doctor needs help.

        • 3

          Please do not use words if you do not know the meaning. Hallucination refers to perception of senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, whereas delusion refers to thought process. You are suffering from delusions (unshakable false beliefs) and need psychiatric help. Please read about history before commenting. “Pallavas hardly crossed the palk straits” shows your delusion. Pallavas (mix of Tamil, and Kalinga and cousins of Cholas) ruled south-east Asia as Sri Vijaya empire with its capital in Palambang in Sumatra. They have built several archaeological monuments in those countries. Sailendra dynasty of Pallavas built Borobudur complex (Buddhist) and Sanjaya dynasty of Pallavas built Prambanan complex (Hindu). Another Pallava king Jayavarman built Angor Wat in Cambodia which was originally Hindu but later turned into Buddhist. Cholas on the other hand had a large naval fleet called “Kadal Pura”, which controlled trade in the Indian ocean. They ruled Kadaram (present day Kedah in Malysia) and the bell used by Cholas there is now in Sydney Museum. Incidentally Pandyan had ruled Champa region of Vietnam, and their descendants are still there as Hindus. It is only after Sri Vijaya empire split up that Chinese and Arabs started moving into Indian ocean only as traders and not as conquerors. This continued till the arrival of Portuguese in the region, who took control of the trade.

          • 3

            Pallava dynasty was 275 to 897 CE. Angkor Wat was started in the first half of the 12th century. Did the Pallava kings oversee construction from their ashes?
            Chola influence was not beyond present day Indonesia. Cholas traded as far as South China. That is not control of the Indian Ocean.
            Large scale Indian Ocean trade began around 800 CE and declined in the 1500’s with Portugal’s entry. During the time goods from Persia and the Turkish Caliphates were exchanged for goods in the kingdoms of Africa and sold to empires of India and China. That was where Arabs came in. I can say more. But this is no time for history lessons to reluctant learners.
            The Indian Ocean is teeny weeny bit bigger than the Chola lake in your mind; and do not mix up fiction by Chandilyan (far less informed than Kalki Krishnamoorthi) with history (for which you may read a serious historian, even Neelakanda Shastri, an admirer of the Cholas) before seeking to dish out BS as history.
            As for hallucination, there is ample in your imagined post-COVID-19 world order. (You may seek damage from the Chinese for your emotional stress leading to hallucination.)

            • 1

              Don’t fool yourself if have inability to understand anything. Jeyavarman, who built that temple is Jeyawarman 7. That says there were at least 7 kings of Pallava were there. All kings and queen at Angkor had only Tamil name. With in 100 years of Rajarajan, Jeyawarman had built the world largest temple. The architecture doesn’t resemble of Cholas work. This is nothing to do with Chola. Chola brought Brahmani cultures to Tamil Nadu. Further, in TN, Thiruvaham had to be revived by the Brahamins, who settled in Chidhambaram. But in those countries, they are singing Pallava time Thruvasakam. There is clear evidence Pallavas ruled that area for many centuries and transferred enough culture to build the temple with local architects. The written history is telling even Jeyawarman 7 is Buddhist. Didn’t Sinhalese believed until 2000s that they are aryans from North India? Please move your heavy bottom to understand something out of the things you are reading.

              • 1

                Thank you for a slightly serious comment.
                Pallava influence in Khamboja is not the issue raised by me. The claim that the Pallavas built the temple is what I questioned.
                Also there was the claim that the Pallavas (who did not even cross the Palk Strait) ruled the seas.
                Buddhism took over in Khamboja subsequently, and it was not Theravada Buddhism, unlike in Thailand or Burma.

                • 1

                  There is a Sri Lankan scholar Hussain Miyah who was professor of history at Brunei university, has researched extensively on Sri Vijaya empire. Sultan of Brunei is a Pallava descendant and all Royal ceremonies have Tamil and Hindu influence. King of Malacca Parameswara was a Pallava descendant who was the first person to be converted to Islam in the region and took the name of Ishkander Shah. It is said that King Jayawarman of Cambodia visited temple complexes in Borobudur and Prambanan to study their architecture and built Angkor Wat in similar style. With all these evidences, to say that Pallavas never crossed Palk Straits is crass stupid.

                  • 3

                    Very valuable exchange. We must learn our own history and be proud of it. I recently found out that ancient Tamils during the Changam period used things like web pages. Though the /Ch/ has mutated into /S/ due to northern language influence, the website is called sangam.org

                    • 0

                      I partly share your view on the shift of pronunciation of ‘ச’.
                      க, ப & த retain the phonetic value of the pure consonant and ச is exceptional. (ட & ற are not allowed initially in traditional Tamil.)
                      But I am not sure if it was Sanskrit influence.
                      If at all, ‘ch’ would suit many Sanskrit words like chandra, chitra etc. and Brahmin Tamils pronounce it that way.
                      Any thoughts?
                      BTW, we should learn history to be ashamed of bad things too and avoid them in future.

                  • 0

                    Names ending Varaman suggest Pallava origin, but the point is that the Angkor Wat was built in the 12th Century and the Pallava Empire was kaput by 897CE. Besides, the Pallavas were never a maritime power.
                    My point was about absurd claims re Pallava maritime power and their building the Angkor Wat.
                    There are many ‘Hindu’ names among ethnic Thais and Indonesians. There was Hindu influence several centuries earlier than Angkor Wat, but not through maritime conquest.
                    The Pallavas did not have overseas territory at any stage. The Sinhalse have used mercenaries from South India for centuries. But conquest was by Cholas and then Pandyas.
                    Check on these before going round the mulberry bush to defend the fantasy of Pallavas controlling the Indian Ocean.
                    You seem desperate to prove that the Pallavas were a maritime power, but lack a shred of evidence.
                    Use of words like stupid, idiot etc. do not strengthen arguments and make not the user any wiser.
                    Poorly informed delusions of Tamil grandeur has been the curse of the Tamils in India and Sri Lanka and won them more enemies than friends.

                    • 0

                      //Poorly informed delusions of Tamil grandeur has been the curse of the Tamils in India and Sri Lanka and won them more enemies than friends.//
                      True, and worse, in the case of Sri Lankan Tamils, resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives.

          • 2

            I stand corrected about the use of the term.
            Thank you for that and indicating that your problem is delusion.
            On further reading I found that, although delusion sounds milder than hallucination, it can be far more dangerous.
            See the specialist soon.
            The grammarian and historian can wait.

    • 6

      Not just China, Russia and impoverished Cuba rushed in to help countries abandoned by their allies in Europe.
      Who stopped the US and EU from taking the initiative to help victims of the virus?
      There has to be a Chinese conspiracy to explain bungling by the West.

  • 5

    “Chinese aid to the US and beyond comes after its initial Covid-19 cover-up that endangered the world.”
    This statement uncritically repeats the story of the Western media that needs to divert attention from the West’s disastrous handling of the crisis. Not surprising, for a former US diplomat, I guess.
    I cannot see what is common between Taiwan and Sri Lanka to be taken together in this context.
    Taiwan is part of China as much as Hong Kong and Macau. It is the US that recognized the Taipei regime as the sole legal government of all China. The US accepted that the Beijing government was the sole legal government of all China after it took its long overdue seat in the UN in 1972. The US soon after started its two Chinas ploy and encouraged secessionists.
    The US has unsuccessfully meddled in China’s affairs for over 70 years, but has leaned nothing.
    That the US is doomed if it goes on in its present fashion is something that the writers have got right.

  • 1

    Hello everyone

  • 0

    PK, you are BACK. Welcome. Where is bro Amarasiri ??? SJ, when I wrote the comment I did pause thinking of mentioning India, but did not, because it was irrelevant to this article. Coming to US proposing initial resolution , yes TRUE but it was Richard Armitage , who connived with Rajapaksas in doing so. You keep talking about CIA and others getting involved in internal matters of so called poor countries, if so you should read all about this ex Navy guy and his involvement with Rajapaksas. By the way did you here Russian PM is now positive for Covid. I would not be surprised to know Putin may have played a role, because Putin,s modus operandi is to either poison or infect perceived enemies.( Old KGB style, just kidding). This is how much transparent Russians are just like Chinese. First we hear there is no Covid patients,(so much so Russians are helping others????)then we hear there are few isolated cases but after a lull suddenly we hear the PM him self is infected. SJ, Yankees do not claim saint hood , but people who accuse them , are not saints either. The difference is people can still question their policies, where as if anyone tried in China, Russia, Cuba or Venezuela , either the individual , will be poisoned or turn Covid positive or jailed for life on concocted charges.

    • 0

      I am not assigning sainthood to any.
      Just look at the record of invasions, wars, political assassinations etc. by the US.
      Search for William Blum to get a list. Just browse through.
      The US has destroyed in the post WW2 in peacetime far more than all imperial powers together did in several centuries.
      Transparency is no sacred cow. There are times when states hold back information to avert chaos. Truth is revealed when the critical moment passes.
      Mrs B concealed from the public reports of Sinhala-Muslim clashes in Puttalam in 1975. That averted island-wide bloodshed. Compare that with the publicity given to anti-state act of violence in the North by JRJ. That was calculated mischief.
      The charges against Putin are unsubstantiated and there is much doubt about the Yard’s inquiry, which do not even receive a mention in the West.
      It is wise not to comment on speculation about what happens to people who ask questions in certain countries. This is not the space to fight prejudice cultivated by the mainstream media, as it is crowded by many unused to rational discussion.
      However, in a country that is still witch hunting those who dared to expos the state’s snooping on its own subjects, where is transparency? Is it in the daily lives of citizens being made transparent to the intelligence services by Internet service providers, communication networks and the lot.

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