Originally started with a target of 1,00,000 signatures, the Stop Communist China campaign has registered more than 3,50,000 names. With this online petition, Republican leader Nikki Haley has offered a serious alternative to the vexatious issue of nomenclature. After all, the one to be named is not the rose but a virus that has ravaged the world.
The urge to call coronavirus the Chinese Virus is understandable. COVID-19 pandemic is a serious matter of academic investigation but it must not influence state behaviour. Especially when that would stigmatise a people and leave them with no choice but to further embrace their Orwellian state. The Radical Chic may rant about it as whataboutery but impartiality is a legitimate demand in discourse (de)construction. This principle of neutrality is summoned when Bill Maher argues in favour of "Chinese Virus". But coronavirus should not be called Chinese Virus just because Ebola and Zika have also been named after their places of origin.
The difficulty faced by the villagers of Korauna in India is evidence of how people can suffer due to an ill-conceived proper noun. The politics of nomenclature that Haley has unleashed puts the blame exactly where it is due. As the case of Soviet Russia reminds, violent strategies of information suppression are not new in fascist lands.
In the middle of the 20th century, Mao Zedong ordered the Four Pests Campaign. Despotic identification of the sparrow as pest had a severe impact on agriculture. With the bird exterminated, the food chain was disturbed and crops were devastated by insects. The Great Chinese Famine followed under the infamous circumstances of "The Great Leap Forward". The brutal suppression of screams allowed gullible commies in India to dance to "Chin-er Chairman Amader Chairman" (Chairman Mao is our Chairman too). In recent years, Chinese economist Mao Yushi has estimated that the state-driven famine wiped out nearly 4,50,00,000 humans – more than the entire population of Canada today. In 2014, the Chinese government banned the publication of his books. In 2017, it took down his website. Yang Jisheng has suffered the same fate as he has seconded Yushi's claim in his book Tombstone.
In 2009, Chinese gynaecologist Gao Yaojie fled her country. The octogenarian had exposed state complicity in a shadowy blood collection industry. The unhygienic market has led to 5,00,000 HIV infections since the 1980s only in Henan province. Medical researcher Shuping Wang who exposed the same tragedy has also been hounded by the Chinese state. The proprietary tendencies of the communist regime towards public information have started to take a toll on mental health. In his research published as 'The Unknown Virus', Kevin Carrico of Monash University has investigated the curious case of the "HIV negative AIDS" in China. It turns out that individuals who have had a risky history of sexual behaviour refuse to believe that they have not contracted the HIV virus. Patients suffer from anxiety as they cannot trust a totalitarian regime which is given to disease suppression.
The 2002 SARS cover-up is relatively recent and too well publicised to demand elaborate attention.
Besides concealment of information that would have served as an early warning about COVID-19, communist China has not only subdued whistleblower doctors but also big brothered academic research on the origin of the virus. First, it shot down such publications from the websites of Fudan University and the Chinese University of Geosciences. Next, China made it prohibitively bureaucratic. Yet the silence of their excellencies in the Indo-US academia – who frequently play fire on neo-red websites – suggests that such freedom of speech is being violated in some utopian dictatorship of the proletariat.
In fact, the danger is closer than China. The manner in which the federal state in West Bengal has doctored data on Covid-19 indicates that Didi may well deserve a doctorate in Dadagiri. Once again, it proves the difficulty of dismantling the red rust of an iron-gloved infrastructure that refuses to go even though the CPI(M) is gone.
So far, India has done well to respond to the dystopia that threatens the world. The military face-off in Doklam in 2018 and the revision of FDI regulations in the past weeks have demonstrated the cold resolve of India against China. This has communicated to South Asia that the trunk of the elephant can douse the dragon's flames.
Post COVID-19, the global balance of power is sure to shift. If it favours China, then India has greater strategic tenacity to display. An energetic Quad gives India military confidence. The much-touted exit of industries from Corona-hit China may also benefit India. But these are transactional units among faraway lands. It can be complemented with cultural cohesiveness that can encourage a South Asian mindscape or what Benedict Anderson has canonised as "horizontal comradeship" in an "imagined community". India must recognise that it has several advantages to play the 'hota' (director) of this 'yajna' (experiment). The power sport will play out on a turf where the Chinese stand discredited already.
Traditionally the Anglo-American world and now West Asia too are the hubs of international news organisations. The efficacy of such information flow on the manufacture of consent (or dissent) is well established. India can explore the viability of a media hub with a focus that is smaller and sharper – ASEAN and BIMSTEC. Most nations in these conglomerates are worried about an aggressive China that threatens their economies and territories. India must convey the apprehension that "we are all on the same boat". In addition, India should not shy away from popular communication that reminds the region about a shared history of spiritual exchange. At a time when the West has turned towards what Charles Taylor has identified as 'believing without belonging', India may want to reassure South Asia about the philosophical roots of such practice. The shared experience of colonial rule is another axis along which a new community can be forged.
The Study in India initiative indicates that India has identified knowledge exchange as a tool to spread influence. Aung San Suu Kyi could have been a case in point. To realise such potential, India may explore the creation of an elaborate mechanism that can convert intellectual exchange into political gains for South Asia. The collaboration in areas of higher education such as cultural studies, defence, medicine and international affairs should be complemented by job-oriented training that attracts masses from the region. To effect such infrastructure, the HRD Ministry has to work in tandem with the External Affairs Ministry. With Dr S. Jaishanker, India has a tested policymaker to chart this course. But the HRD Ministry needs to be leaner and agile. An unconfirmed report about the induction of Dr Swapan Dasgupta as junior minister to Ramesh Pokhriyal is welcome in this regard.
As sentiments grow wearier against communist China, India must carry out an information stitch which can create a ring in South Asia to counter the String of Pearls. It will contribute to the containment of an ideology that is as deadly as the one which was defeated in WWII.
(The author of this article is a Doctoral Candidate in JNU. He is also Assistant Professor of Sociology in a private university. Sangita Dutta is a student of MA Sociology in JNU.)