MS Risk Blog

Malawi Elections, Take 2

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On June 23, 2020, Malawians cast their vote for a new president in fresh polls that facilitated a rerun of the highly contended presidential election results from the May 2019 poll. This election was significant for the precedent it stood to create in relation to the country of Malawi and the continent of Africa.

The dual significance of the election results was that they were a moment of firsts for both Malawi and Africa.  A first election in Malawi that was the result of intervention from the judiciary which the opposition also went on to win. This represents another watershed moment in the democratisation process in Malawi. For Africa, Malawi is the only country on the continent to have achieved such a feat, the only other country to have come close is Kenya in 2017- although the incumbent won the election rerun. This is a highly symbolic victory which gives other opposition parties in Africa the hope that they too could set precedents in their own countries. Well wishes from current and former opposition leaders in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe attest to this. More importantly, in the wider context Malawi’s astounding results at its second go at the presidential elections is a welcome break away from the worrying trend of elections in Africa that seem to further entrench authoritarianism rather than further the democratisation process.

The election results follow a landmark ruling from February 2020 where the constitutional court annulled the presidential election results from 21 May 2019. Fresh elections were ordered to be held within 150 days, according to the court ruling. The court also judged that the first-past-the post system was unconstitutional; a gain of more than 50% would be required in future elections. That ruling in of itself represented a watershed moment in Malawi’s history because the May 2019 election was the first to be legally challenged since Malawi’s independence in 1964 and all future elections would not be contested in the same manner which has implications for how political parties will contest elections and possibly make alliances, as evidenced by the June 2020 elections. This was significant because it demonstrated that the judiciary could be politically impartial, and more importantly could make and enforce a judgment that would not be undermined or ignored by the president or ruling party as has been the case in some African countries when it comes to court rulings. The months of unrest and instability, even after the constitutional court ruling demonstrated the vested interests many Malawians, particularly some sections of its civil society had in ensuring that this historic ruling and moment would not be lost or wasted by attempts to undermine and reverse the ruling; calling the months since last year’s election “the year of mass protests”. This period was notably marked by former President Peter Mutharika’s attempts to reverse the constitutional court ruling with stalling tactics such as his refusal to assent to Parliament’s electoral reform bills and rejecting the recommendation to fire the MEC commissioners, including launching appeals to challenge the ruling from February 2020. This period has been a threat to Malawi’s long-cherished domestic stability. A petrol bomb thrown into the opposition United Transformation Movement (UTM) party headquarters on May 5, 2020, killed three innocent people. While largely peaceful, ongoing protests since the announcement of the 2019 election have, on occasion, turned violent with stores being looted and cars set on fire. Police have arrested over 200 people in connection with these crimes. Police have also been accused of sexually assaulting 17 women while cracking down on post-election protests.

The June 2020 elections resulted in the opposition led by Lazarus Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) winning 2.6 million of the 4 million votes cast, which represents about 59%. Contrastingly, the incumbent Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) only managed to secure 1.7 million votes, which is about 39%. After 26 years in opposition Chakwera’s MCP party unseated the incumbent DPP to win the presidency in a united 9-party coalition, the Tonse Alliance, that also included Saulos Chilima who was Chakwera’s running mate and formerly Mutharika’s vice president until he left the DPP in 2018 to form the United Transformation Movement. Chilima has been widely credited as having played a critical role in both Mutharika and Chakwera’s successful campaigns for the presidency, his savvy marketing strategy and ability to appeal to voters in all regions of the country is what arguably makes him kingmaker of sorts in the Malawian political landscape. Traditionally Malawian elections have historically shown regionalised and ethnic voting patterns, with presidential candidates drawing on compartmentalised strongholds, therefore Chilima’s ability to generate a crossover appeal was a critical advantage in the Chakwera camp.

Ultimately Malawi’s second go at the elections represented a strong political will to implement and deliver democracy at all costs, including the total neglect to maintain preventative measures to halt the spread of coronavirus as large rallies were held all over the country, with little social distancing in sight. Furthermore, the events that led up to the elections and the subsequent result is perhaps the amalgamation of deep-rooted frustrations with a struggling economy, rampant corruption and lack of police reform that are yet to be addressed in a meaningful way, and this will be one of Chakwera’s greatest challenges in his presidency.

Although Malawi’s elections present a welcome break away from some of the more problematic aspects of African politics and its electoral processes, this result is probably more meaningful in the Malawian context in terms of tangible gains and a symbolic victory in the African context. The Malawi example presents an insightful case study of how meaningful democracy, rather than mere window dressing, can be implemented with integrity when the political will is sufficient, however it is perhaps ambitious to assert that the Malawi example can replicated in other African countries in the same manner.  There are a variety of factors in the Malawi case that are not necessarily the same in other African countries which brought about the results of the 23 June 2020 rerun, there is no one-size- fits- all process when it comes to democratisation in Africa. Although a lot of credit has been given to sustained pressure from civil society in order to bring out Malawi’s electoral result and on 21 May 2020 the resignation of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), Jane Ansah- how the civil society is made up and operates in separate countries is not ubiquitous. Further to this there are other demographic factors such as the history of a country and its political parties and how this in turn influences the political economy of the electoral and general political landscape. Another relatively exceptional contributory factor is that Mutharika was unable to utilise the Malawi Defence Forces (MDF) to antagonise dissenters, leading him to fire General Vincent Ndundwe in March 2020 after Ndundwe was perceived to have ‘protected’ anti-government protestors. The MDF is regarded as an institution which can be counted on to uphold the constitution in times of political crisis. Malawi has been an exception for decades in a continent where armies often prop up governments, crush dissent and interfere in mainstream politics.

Malawi’s presidential election rerun, and its results have a more significant impact nationally than they do regionally, mainly because of the difficulty in replicating a similar set of events in another Africa country- owing to the range of individual country factors that are usually not ubiquitous. The highly charismatic personalities such as Saulos Chilima who are viewed as authentic and trustworthy by the electorate,  have long been in embedded in the political fabric of Malawi and his  strategic contribution is among a list of catalysts that have been part of an ongoing process which has eventually led to the 23 June 2020 outcome. Malawi’s exceptional results in the presidential election rerun is a demonstration of its democracy maturing. It stands as an encouraging positive example in the African continent , particularly for opposition parties, that where the political and public will for democratic integrity is present, change or at least steps to change are in the realm of possibility.

 

The Selective Targeting of COVID-19 Measures on Specific Groups in Eastern Europe

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In a report, Amnesty International stated that police enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns across Europe disproportionately targeted ethnic minority and marginalized groups with violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantines and fines. “Police violence and concerns about institutional racism are not new, but the COVID-19 pandemic and coercive enforcement of the resulting lockdowns have exposed just how prevalent they are. The triple threats of discrimination, unlawful use of force and police impunity must be urgently tackled in Europe,” Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s Western Europe Researcher, said.

Asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants in camps and shared accommodation were targeted in selective quarantines in Serbia. Serbia placed them under a strict 24-hour mandatory quarantine and deployed the military to monitor the curfew. The governments in Bulgaria and Slovakia brought in mandatory quarantines on Roma settlements, actions which Amnesty International called discriminatory. Over 50,000 Roma in Bulgaria were cut off and suffered severe food shortages under mandatory quarantines. The median income in Roma neighbourhoods also dropped by 61 percent between March and May 2020 according to a survey listed by AI. In Slovakia the military was tasked to enforce them. AI stated that the military is not suitable to carry out public health measures and should only be used in law enforcement settings where there is a clear reason showing that regular police officers are insufficient. No such reason existed in these cases, AI said.

An analysis by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP), “The Security Sector in the State of Emergency: Testing Democracy”, stated that “During the 52 days it spent in a state of emergency, Serbia failed the test of democracy, thanks to a series of failings and irregularities in the conduct and control of the security sector”. It states that the police did not always conduct themselves professionally, proportionately or as politically neutral agents who are primarily concerned with citizens’ needs and rights. The BCSP also writes that the Serbian Armed Forces “took on public security assignments for which it lacks training and clear procedures, which proved to be a problem particularly when it came to securing refugee and asylum centres”. Soldiers armed with automatic rifles have been seen patrolling the streets of the capital Belgrade and other cities throughout the lockdown. Their presence and the unclear rules of their engagement has raised concerns about compliance with international law on the use of force. Amnesty International recommended that military forces should only be deployed if properly instructed and trained to comply with human rights, and that they be subject to civilian command and oversight. Furthermore, Serbia has had one of the strictest lockdowns as it banned residents in centres for refugees and migrants from leaving at all, except in medical circumstances.

Meanwhile migrant camps in Bulgaria were heavily policed, with authorities even using drones with thermal sensors to take temperature of residents in Roma settlements in some municipalities. While drones have been used in other European countries, Bulgaria selectively targeted the Roma population. Marinov, Minister of the Interior, threatened to implement even more coercive measures “to protect the general population” if Roma failed to comply with the social distancing measures. Furthermore, members of government have on occasions engaged in discriminatory speech. The Bulgarian National Movement party referred to Roma as a collective threat that needs to be “controlled and contained”. In response, on May 13 two UN human rights experts called on Bulgaria to stop using hate speech against Roma in its response to COVID-19 and halt police operations targeting Roma neighbourhoods. Furthermore, Amnesty International said that such coercive approaches contradict evidence-based public health best practice. According to AI, a more effective response to this health crisis is grounded in respect of human rights, including policies that increase trust in authorities. Conferring further powers to the police should be a last resort, and less restrictive measures that encourage compliance with restrictions should be tried first. Furthermore, imposing prison sentences will probably exacerbate public health problems as the risk of COVID-19 spreading in certain prisons and other places of detention is elevated.

Five Roma settlements were placed under mandatory quarantine in Slovakia which were enforced by both police and military. While authorities argued this was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Roma settlements had already been subjected to increased policing in recent years. The Slovak government has been criticised for testing Roma locations and imposing quarantines without providing them with the necessary means to protect themselves, such as providing access to water and sanitation. The residents have also complained about unlawful use of force by police officers during the pandemic and that they were not given information about the conditions and duration of the quarantine. Serious cases of unlawful use of force in addition to allegations of ill-treatment of Roma by police has also been reported in Romania. One video showed police beating Roma men as they lay handcuffed on the ground. After several such incidents, the European Roma Rights Centre raised concerns about the police violence against Roma that occurred in the context of COVID-19 emergency measures.

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional situation wherein states may be required to adopt extraordinary measures. In fact, international law allows the use of emergency powers necessary to protect the right to health in such circumstances. Such measures should however be based on credible scientific evidence and be grounded in legitimate public health goals. They should not target certain groups of people, nor be overly intrusive or left without proper oversight. Yet we have seen several examples of this occurring in eastern European countries. Lockdown measures have disproportionately restricted minority groups’ human rights. Disproportionate restrictions on freedom of movement of ethnic minority groups and refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, with no evidence of them presenting an objective threat to public health or security puts unnecessary and disproportionate burdens on these people. While authorities have tried to justify such measures by arguing that these people were not complying with social distancing rules, it is near impossible for them to comply in absence of support, especially those living in poverty.  Furthermore, law enforcement officials have responded to people breaking curfews and restrictions on freedom of movement by using excessive force.

In response to these issues, AI recommended that European states explicitly prohibit discrimination, including a system of disciplinary measures for law enforcement officials who breach the prohibition of discrimination; refrain from coercively enforcing lockdown measures and from giving law enforcement officials further powers; implement accountability mechanisms to ensure investigations of allegations of unlawful use of force by police; end discriminatory forced quarantines of Roma settlements; and review penalties imposed for non-compliance with lockdown measures, including cancelling fines against people who are not able to comply with measures because of their socio-economic status. If these recommendations are implemented, the disproportionate effect COVID-19 measures have had on minority groups, asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants can be mitigated.

 

Yemen’s second front: examining the division between Yemen’s government and separatists in the south of Yemen.

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On the 19th of June clashes erupted between Yemen’s internationally recognised government, backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Southern Transitional Council, separatists in Yemen’s south backed by the United Arab Emirates, in the Island of Socotra for a second time this year as both sides battled for control over Hadibu, the islands provincial capital. The fighting occurred after the STC’s forces dispatched large military reinforcements to Hadibu in an attempt to wrest control of the Island from the government. According to reports the STC took control of the Socotra security directorate in the western area of the provincial capital. Figures regarding casualties have not been reported. The last clash between the STC and Yemeni government in the Island of Socotra took place on the 1st of May as an armed unit loyal to the STC fought for control of Hadibu. On the 14th of June, the STC seized a convoy carrying 64 billion Yemeni riyals or hundreds of millions of dollars. The large sum of money came from Russia, where the bank notes were printed, and was on its way to the central bank of the Yemeni government in Aden, the government’s interim capital. The STC commandeered the vehicle as it was leaving the port of Aden. Fighting also took place on the 11th may in the southern Abyan province and lasted for roughly a week as government troops launched an offensive to expel the STC from southern provinces. More than a dozen people were reportedly killed in the fighting. The division between the two sides is considered another front in Yemen’s multifaceted war. Both sides are members of the Saudi led coalition fighting the Iran-Backed Houthis rebels to the north of the country making them nominal allies. However, since 2017 their division has created tensions causing fighting between the two sides as each party seeks to dominate southern Yemeni provinces hindering coalition efforts to defeat the Houthis rebels.

 

The Southern Transitional Council (STC) is a successionist organization in Yemen’s south backed by the United Arab Emirates. It was formed by a faction within the Southern Movement which works towards the succession of the south from the rest of Yemen. The twenty-six-member council include governors of several provinces in the south of the country in addition to two government ministers. The STC was formed as a response to a presidential decree in 2017 given by the president of the internationally recognised government of Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi dismissing Aidarus al-Zoubaidi from his post as governor of Aden due to his close ties with the UAE. With the backing of the UAE, the STC was formed and al-Zoubaidi became its president. On the 28th of January 2018 forces loyal to the STC seized control of several government headquarters in Aden in a coup against the government announcing that the STC was starting the process of overthrowing Hadi’s rule in the south. At least ten people were killed and thirty wounded in the fighting. In August 2019, accusing the government of mismanagement and corruption, the STC took full control of Aden and Abyan provinces. On the 22nd of August the southern separatists clashed with government forces in the southern, oil-producing, province of Shabwa. By the 27th of August 2019 tensions continued to escalate in southern Yemen after the UAE backed Security Belt Forces (SBF) lost territories to Hadi’s forces. Government troops advanced on Aden but took positions outside of the city instead of engaging in street fighting to avoid civilian casualties. On the 29th of august 2019 the UAE carried out airstrikes targeting those Yemeni government positions to halt the advance of government forces. The UAE, a coalition member in the fight against the Iran backed Houthis, fell out with the Hadi government accusing Hadi of being aligned with the Islah party, a powerful party considered to be ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

In September 2019, Saudi Arabia brokered an agreement between the government and the STC in Riyadh which was signed on the 5th of November 2019. As per the agreement, the STC’s forces in Abyan, Shabwa and Aden were to return to their original positions prior to their advances into these provinces. Their places would be taken up by local security forces within 15 days. Military and security forces in Aden would be redeployed outside of the city of Aden. Most importantly, the STC’s forces in the south were to be unified and placed under the defence ministry’s control before being redeployed to fight Houthi rebels. The president would then appoint a prime minister who would form a cabinet that included  STC members. Essentially, this agreement was supposed to place the STC’s forces under the government’s control. But by late 2019, it was clear that the agreement was not being implemented on the ground. On January 1st 2020 Yemen’s southern separatists pulled out of the committees meant to implement the Riyadh agreement. According to a member of the STC’s presidential council Salim al Awlaqi, in an announcement on Twitter, that the withdrawal from the committees was in response to the violence in Shabwa province which the STC blamed on the Islah party whose forces are, according to Reuters, the backbone of the internationally recognised government’s forces. On the 26th of April 2020 the STC announced that a self-rule administration in regions under their control would be established. The group, in a statement, declared a state of emergency and said it would “self-govern” the key port city of Aden as well as other southern provinces accusing the Yemeni government once again of corruption and mismanagement. The government claimed that the move would have catastrophic consequences and that it amounted to a withdrawal from the 2019 Riyadh agreement. On the 18th of June 2020 Saudi Arabia proposed a framework to end the latest standoff between the nominal allies in the war against the Houthi rebels as violence surged between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis who currently control Yemen’s official capital Sanaa. The proposal is similar to the 2019 RIaydh agreement in that it calls for a ceasefire, particularly in Abyan province, and for a unity government to be formed by a prime minister appointed by Hadi which includes STC members. Saudi efforts yielded fruit. By the 22nd of June 2020 the Yemeni government and the STC agreed to a ceasefire and to begin talks to implement not the new Saudi framework but the 2019 Riyadh agreement.

 

The security implications resulting from fighting between the Yemeni government and the STC are significant particularly with regard to the Saudi-led efforts to defeat the Houthis in Yemen. Houthi cross border attacks via drones and missiles launched toward Saudi Arabia have only increased since the division between the government and the separatists started and are becoming more advanced. On the 23rd of June 2020 Houthis rebels claimed to have carried out their largest military operation ever against Saudi Arabia targeting the Saudi defence ministry and a military base in Riyadh. Houthi claims are corroborated by reports that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen shot down a large number of missiles and booby-trapped drones fired from Houthi-held Sanaa. Furthermore, despite the Saudi-led coalition’s efforts, the Houthi group have only increased their territory since the start of 2020. On the 1st of March, already in control of Sanaa, Houthi rebels seized the city of Hazm, capital of the Jawf province after weeks of intense fighting in a major blow to the coalition. The fall of Hazm means that the group is drawing nearer to the central province of Marib approaching the south where the Saudi backed government and the UAE backed STC have been fighting for dominance. Houthis then captured strategic areas within Marib including SIrwah and Tabab al-Bara allowing a tighter control over the strategic Tala Hamra hills. Prior to this, on January 28th 2020, the rebels seized a key supply line linking Marib with Jawf located along the border with Saudi Arabia. Infighting within the coalition has only helped such strategic gains by the Houthis. Furthermore, the division between the Yemeni government and the STC have highlighted strategic differences and clashing interests between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Abu Dhabi withdrew the bulk of its forces from the conflict in Yemen in late 2019 after it ensured its local allies including the STC, are practically in control of most of the south allowing Abu Dhabi access to the area’s naval facilities essential for its strategic  plans to control bases from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Saudi Arabia is not only concerned about the withdrawal of a key partner in the conflict but also has to deal with the southern threat to the Yemeni government the UAE leaves behind and continues to support creating tensions between the two Gulf states which are not only allies in Yemen but on various fronts to contain Iranian influence in the Gulf and the wider Middle East. Yemen’s second front prolongs the continuing five-year multifaceted war in Yemen. The country has been embroiled in civil war since the capture of Sanaa by the Houthis in 2014. Over 100,000 people have been killed in the war and millions suffer from medical and food shortages creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

The Emerging Fight Against Racism in Western Europe

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The Emerging Fight Against Racism in Western Europe

The death of George Floyd, a black man killed after being choked under the knee of a white police officer in the US, has sparked an anti-racism movement across the world including in Western Europe. In Belgium, more than 10,000 people rallied in front of Brussel’s Palais de Justice under the slogan of “Black Lives Matter”, calling out the country’s history of racism and demanded investigations of recent cases regarding police violence towards the people of colour. In France, protests organized by families of police brutality victims have spread within several cities and have been attended by thousands of protestors. In other countries across Western Europe such as the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, thousands of people abandoned the coronavirus lockdown to demand justice in regards to police treatment towards the people of colour and systemic racism. There are even several cases of vandalism that targeted statues of people considered to be racists, such as the statue of Edward Colston and Winston Churchill in the UK and King Leopold II in Belgium. Countries in Western Europe considered to be lacking a good track record when it comes to tackling racism or even admitting it exists, even though the political concept of imperialism and colonialism are believed to be pioneered in the region. However, this new wave of anti-racism movement might change the current status-quo in regards to this specific issue and capable of making an impact within the political sphere.

Civil rights movement in Western Europe could be seen as being less advanced compared to the US, mostly resulting from the differences in racial relations throughout the history of these two different locations. In Western Europe, most migration from Africa to Europe is relatively recent, starting in the 1960s. There are even surveys that show big percentages of Western Europeans which think positively towards the past colonialism implemented by their countries in the past. For example, a survey by YouGov showed that 32% of British people perceived the British Empire as something to be proud of and 33% believed that former colonies are better off being colonized.  The combination of these historical facts and the present point of view shaped the region’s treatment toward the issue. For instance, there are fewer institutions to support protest movements and anti-racism agenda in Western Europe. There is no European equivalent to the American Civil Liberties Union or the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. A survey by King Bauduin Foundation revealed that, in Belgium, Afro-Europeans are four times more likely to be unemployed than white Belgians even though they are more highly educated on average and 80% say they have been victims of discrimination and the target of racial slurs. Another survey by the European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights revealed that 30% of black people living in Europe had experienced racist harassment in the previous five years and 5% said they were physically attacked. Racism in Western Europe might be less visible, but no less intense than in the US.

The new wave of anti-racism movement across Western Europe has shown some promising results, which could really improve people’s awareness towards the issue within the region. In Belgium, the statue of King Leopold II in the city of Antwerp has been removed by the government after being defaced and set on fire by protestors. A petition to get rid of all statues of the former king, whose rule over the Belgian Congo generated mass wealth for Belgium and killed up to 10 million people, has gathered more than 80,000 signatures. In the UK, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to increase the representation of people of colour in the public realm such as street names, public squares, and murals. In France, the police force has now been banned from using chokeholds to carry out arrests to reduce the possibility of police brutality. The interior minister also announced that 30 investigations have been launched regarding the allegations of police using racial slurs throughout the year. In the Netherlands, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte promised that in a few years there will be no more “Zwarte Piets”, which is a blackface festival in the Netherlands. In General, this new wave of anti-racism protests has contributed towards the increase of people’s awareness regarding this issue, especially within the political sphere.

India and China act out their rivalry in border skirmish

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited Neighbouring China on five occasions since his election in 2014 – the most by any other Indian Prime Minister. Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited his Indian counterpart on two occasions. For the two neighbouring Asian giants, with approximately  a quarter of the World’s population, huge economic might and potential, coupled with grand aspirations and ambitions for economic and military dominance, one could be forgiven for interpreting the portrait painted as a backdrop for a benign, and mostly mutually beneficial partnership as they chase the stars.

That Veneer was shattered in the last few weeks, as troops from both countries squared-up on different sites in the amorphous parts of the border between both countries in the Galwan Valley, close to the Mountains of Ladakh. The clashes that occurred without the use of conventional weapons of war, but still resulted in the reported deaths of 20 Indian Soldiers, and unspecified casualty numbers on the Chinese side – was carried out deploying sticks with nails attached, and rocks. This was the first combat related fatalities between both countries in 45 years. Both sides had mobilised thousands of troops and heavy weapons towards disputed parts of the border prior to the latest flashpoint.

News of the deaths of Indian Soldiers ignited Nationalist and Anti-Chinese rhetoric, coupled with protests and incidents of burning the Chinese President’s effigy on Indian streets. “We should bleed China with a thousand cuts,” said Ranjit Singh, a retired army major who is calling for a boycott of Chinese goods. “We need to hit them where it hurts most, and that is economically.” This might well be an acknowledgement by the army major that India might have to adopt asymmetric measures in its response to deliver a more meaningful impact on China. The New York times reports that India had a trade deficit with China last year of nearly $60 billion.

China and India fought a war in 1962 over its disputed Himalayan borders, and over the decades, there have been skirmishes and clashes, but none quite at the scale of the latest episode. So, why? aspiration and ambition sometimes spark, or rekindles rivalries and suspicions – if history offers us a useful guide to these matters.

India has always seen itself as holding sway in the sub Indian continent. But as China has become economically more powerful, it has attempted through the Belt and Road initiative, and other economic co-operation pacts to extend its hegemony into Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and even Nepal.  It has been reported that China is building infrastructure projects for Pakistan on territories that India lays claims to – a fall-out of another border dispute – this time involving Pakistan. India probably views China as encroaching on its sphere of geo-political influence. Analysts see it as China’s attempt to counter India’s aspirations. As Constantino Xavier from the Brookings Institute puts it: “India went from having a monopoly of political and military power in the region to dealing with a marketplace of competition where China is increasingly predominant,”

China too has its gripes with India. Probably the sore point being India’s growing closeness with America. As the Chinese Communist Party proxy – Global Times, opines: “What the U.S. would do is just extend a lever to India, which Washington can exploit to worsen India’s ties with China”

Aside from Indian officials making unflattering comments about how China has not shared information sufficiently regarding the coronavirus out-break, China views in askance India’s alignment with countries it deems hostile to its interest: Australia, Japan America – referred to as the Quad. India has signed defence agreements with these countries to share the use of military bases; and Australia has been invited join naval exercises India conducts with Japan and America.

The Chinese State media reports that the Peoples Liberation Army staged a drill involving thousands of paratroopers being whisked from Hubei province, to a Himalayan mountain range “within hours” – to underscore the point that China has the capability for rapid reinforcements if matters escalate.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. The global economic downturn emerging as a consequence of Covid-19 makes the prospects for escalation more financially expensive, and therefore unlikely. Both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi both understand posturing and maintaining the status quo is a smarter, and more cost-effective calculation than an escalation. But current Sino-Indian relations speaks to the cautionary tale of how aspirations and ambitions lead to rivalries and enmity. Hubris, they say, is the disease of ambition.