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US-China Relations: When will the tit-for-tat games abate BY Olalekan Babatunde

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Recent happenings amid the coronavirus pandemic have seen a pattern of tit-for-tat diplomatic relations between the United States and China.

The latest last week were the retaliatory moves by the two ordering the closure of consulates in each other’s countries. Though the first move used to be taken by the US and immediately retaliated by China in what most media practitioners termed tit-for-tat move.

Within the third week of July 2020, the Chinese government ordered the closure of the US Consulate in the south-western city of Chengdu in direct retaliation to the early one given by the President Donald Trump administration to close down the Chinese Consulate in Houston, Texas, within 72 hours. The question of when it will subside has received less attention.

Rather than focus on cooperation and global leadership to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, the two superpowers seem intent on combating each other.

While the US through its Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Chinese Consulate officials of “stealing” its intellectual property and aiding economic espionage, China said its move was a “necessary response” to the US, which ordered China to close its consulate.

Interestingly, relations have sunk to their lowest level in more than four decades after the two countries normalized diplomatic relations.

The deteriorating relations are now becoming the “new normal”. Sparked by the trade tariffs, defence, technology, media and diplomacy crises, the Cold War has intensified since the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic. Observers will be intrigued by the recent exchanges.

First, the US has accused China for allegedly responsible for spreading the coronavirus, and therefore China should be made to pay compensation for its inability to contain the spread.

China has also posited counter-theory that American soldiers may have been the original source of the virus during a visit to Wuhan last October.

Secondly, Hong Kong’s security law has made Trump administration to sign legislation to penalize Chinese and Hong Kong officials and end the city’s preferential trading status with the US.

China denounced the measure and vowed to retaliate. Third, the US sees China’s occupation of the South China Sea as assertive and vehemently opposed its claims as “completely unlawful” and thereby setting up potential military confrontations between the two in the Pacific.

Fourth, the crisis over the accusations by US that China was stealing its technology, which escalated with the blacklisting of Huawei, China’s largest technology company and detention of Meng Wanzhou, its chief financial officer.

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For assisting the US to arrest Meng, China retaliated by arresting two Canadians in its territories. Last week, Britain, in a move seen as siding with the US, barred Huawei products from its high-speed wireless network.

Fifth, TitTok, a Chinese valuable digital property is threatened with a ban by the US.

Sixth, the two countries have placed some political officials with travel ban to each other’s countries.

Not only that, but the Trump administration has also limited the number of Chinese citizens who could work for Chinese news organizations in the US. Chinese researchers are arrested and facing trials in both Houston and San Francisco.

China retaliated by ordering the expulsions of American journalists.

Seventh, US has taken steps to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese students and researchers in the US which have ties to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army. China’s response is being expected.

Lastly, besides the grievances over Taiwan and Tibet, the issue of China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang has attracted sanctions from the US on a number of Chinese officials.

China promised retaliation against American institutions and individuals. According to the BBC, “the US is hostile and calling the shots while China is not backing down.”

According to Orville Schell, the Director of the Center of the US-China Relations at the Asia Society, “I think we’re in a dangerous and precipitous spiral downward, not without cause, but without the proper diplomatic skills to arrest it.”

He remarked that the confrontation “has jumped the wall from specific and solvable challenges to a clash of systems and values.” The rapacity of the retaliation is a profound shift from what we used to know.

If both do not exercise restraints, it could have a long-term effect on the world’s peace, stability and development. Both US and China represent 40 per cent of global economic output.

The tit-for-tat actions highlight the world’s political failings. Which among the G7 countries, Russia or multilateral institutions can mediate between the two belligerent parties? None.

Instead, the display of complacency, greed and self-interest are offshoots of authoritarianism, populism, Brexitismand right-wing nationalism. This portends evidence of cracks in international consensuses and is very concerning.

If this cat and mouse relations where one tries to manoeuvres the other were left unmitigated it would leave the rest of the world more vulnerable.

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The ever-increasing conspiracy theories are worsening the geopolitical realities. I think it is time for the propaganda to stop. Both countries need not pretend otherwise.

Also, as the tit-for-tat relations deteriorate, one would wonder what effects they could have on the global scene. Their worsening rows portend serious adverse implications for the economic, financial and technological development.

As the world needs the multilateral cooperation and support in the fight against the ever-spreading COVID-19 pandemic, such initiative and leadership cannot be garnered just because the two are in a brawl.

An example of this problem is the neglect of support that needed to be given to the World Health Organization and other initiatives to mitigate the spread of the virus and assist the developing countries in overcoming the impact of the pandemic on their financial and economic challenges.

Were the support given, the world can adequately prepare for the next crisis.

Ironically, President Trump appears to adore President Xi due to how he repeatedly expressed admirations for the Chinese leader. For instance, President Trump often refrained from criticizing President Xi even when the media pressured him to make one.

Traditionally, China rarely makes sensational statements on the international stage but full of actions. Perhaps due to this pragmatism, it is difficult to pinpoint any major statement to President Xi except maybe on the Belt and Road Initiative, and a few other issues like hosting world leaders.

Conversely, it has been President Trump’s tactics to accuse, condemn or evict China most especially due to his narcissism and populism. According to Rick Gladstone of the New York Times, “Mr Trump has repeatedly described the virus in racist and stigmatizing terms by calling it ‘China virus’ and ‘Kung Flu.”

Once President Trump announced his Make America Great Again mantra and eventually won the election, I foresaw that his administration’s inward-looking would portend serious challenges for his country.

The US pushback from the world stage has enabled China to assert itself on the global scene. The void left behind is gradually being filled by China in international trade, industry, humanitarian assistance, cooperation and other engagements.

For its part, China has criticized the America’s poor handling of the virus. Most commentators agreed that President Trump’s response to the pandemic has been a tragedy of monumental proportions.

At the moment, the US with about 340 million people has recorded more than 4 millions caseload of the COVID-19 infections, more hospitalization and more death (almost 150,000) than China’s 4,200 with 1.4 billion population.

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Similarly, the administration’s response to the protests of the Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd in the hands of a white police left a big void in the national leadership.

So for sowing chaos in trying to make America great again, President Trump’s America would score no consequential point because China will continue to push back at any bluff that would threaten its sovereignty and foreign interests.

This might further escalate the crises. So it is not yet clear when the two would shield their swords.

But saving the world from tit-for-tat politics requires realism and not any game of brinkmanship. Tit-for-tat moves are a sign of weakness and not strength.

The US and China must be pragmatic in their foreign relations in accordance with the international law, basic norms, customary relations and practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic should force a rethink among the two to lead exemplary global leadership that will deliver high-level and coherent result on the scourge and its social, economic, cultural and political implications.

The European Union leaders have set a vivid example on how leadership ought to cooperate during this global emergency when it agreed on recovery packages for its members.

The power of multilateralism is what should be forged between supposed the US-China.

One should hope that the US and China will eventually realize the need to bury the hatchet and arrive at an understanding that tit-for-tat exchanges will not only escalate into direct war but endanger the Pacific region and leaves the world in peril.

Though it would be a long and bumpy journey, but its destination is worth every step of it.

Today, the US can no longer contain China.

Neither of the two can self-isolate from the other. But seems that the COVID-19 only exposed their weakest links. To China, and even most watchers of the diplomatic deterioration, President Trump is using the intensified diplomacy to campaign for re-election in November.

If that is the case, then the world should not expect any abatement in the tit-for-tat games until after Trump’s presidency in either 2021 or 2025.

Olalekan A. Babatunde, PhD, is a fellow at Nigeria’s Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja. He can be reached on Twitter @olaaustinebabs.

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Corona party and a foolish, restless generation BY Fola Ojo

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My wife and I are very fond of this young white boy in our neighbourhood. He was born about two years after we moved to the city 20 years ago. We have been neighbours for that long. I love the boy. His biological father, whom I learnt was a member of a street gang and shuttling in-and-out-of-jail, has been out of his life since he was born. His step-father is not forthcoming raising his stepson; and I still wonder why. With no father-figure in his life, the young man’s struggles seem to have doubled. For the purpose of this write-up, I’ll call the boy Isaac, and his mum, Sandra. These are not their real names.

Sandra had several times suggested that Isaac is free to go anywhere my family goes, even if we intend to move out of state. She has spoken loftily how much she loves my boys; and wanted Isaac modelled after them. Isaac, now 18, graduated from High School about two weeks ago in the same class with one of my sons. But during the graduation ceremony, Isaac was conspicuously absent. That was when I sent a text to Sandra why her son was not at the event. My heart dropped when she messaged me back about this boy whom I love. Before I relay the contents of the message from Sandra, let me give you a backdrop to the story. My intention sharing this is that some young people out there reading this may learn a lesson from it.

In April, I took Isaac along with my boys for my birthday celebration in our home in Texas. We stayed together for over two months and I got to know him better. He is a very intelligent boy; and just like a typical young man with some peculiar surmountable behavioural challenges. Isaac loves partying, drinking, and ‘chasing’ girls. How many of us in our younger days successfully dealt with this youthful lifestyle? Isaac takes a few wrong steps; but he sincerely doesn’t see them as wrong because he has no guide or guardian. But he will respond to help and guide, especially from a father-figure. I have promised myself to be there for him as he grows. After my birthday celebration in Texas, we returned to Wisconsin in June and I asked Isaac on the airplane if he would stay in my house for the rest of the summer. He agreed. Barely two hours after we got home, he took off. He said he wanted to go pick up his pay-cheque at work. That was around 7.30pm. I waited for him till around 1am to return home. Isaac did not show up. My boys and I had not seen or heard from him since then until about 30 days after when I asked after him from his mother. She sent me this text message in reply: “Thank you for thinking of him. He had got sick with COVID-19…”. Coronavirus? Oh my God! How and where did Isaac get it? What I heard was an earful.

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In this pandemic, young people in America organise parties they call “Corona Party”. They’ll invite two or three people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and shut themselves for hours in a rambunctious house party, dancing, singing, and drinking alcohol with COVID-19 carriers. Their actions are deliberate. The foolish thought behind this is that “Corona Party” is a test of their manliness. It makes them feel like ‘real men’; whatever that is. They believe they are too strong and immune to COVID-19. That was exactly what happened to Isaac. He does not drive, but his friends drove him 40 miles from home to attend a Corona Party in another town. There, he caught the virus! His parents decided to quarantine him in the basement of their house for 10 days after he had tested positive. But on the fourth day, he got sicker and was having problem breathing. He was then taken to the Emergency room.

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Younger people are making up a growing percentage of new coronavirus cases in many cities and states around the world where the virus is surging and not abating. For example, in Arizona, United States, people ages 20 to 44 account for nearly half of all cases. In Florida, which breaks records for new cases nearly every day, the median age is 35. In Texas, young people now account for the majority of new cases in several urban centres. People in their 20s and 30s are also more likely to go out socialising, raising concerns that asymptomatic young people are helping to spread the virus. They restlessly flood bars, beaches and restaurants as if the coronavirus has decided to take a vacation.

“What is clear is that the proportion of people who are younger appears to have dramatically changed,” said Joseph McCormick, a professor of epidemiology at UTHealth School of Public Health in Brownsville. Now that the US and many nations are contemplating reopening schools in the Fall, the behaviours (or misbehaviours) of young people could easily complicate plans to return to normal classroom settings come next calendar year which begins later this month. Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, recently concluded that younger people have helped fuel the increase in known coronavirus infections.

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Now, permit me to return to the story of my young man neighbour. What later happened to Isaac? I didn’t get to ask anyone how many young people who participated in the foolish Corona Party had gone for a COVID-19 test. Is it possible that it was only Isaac who fell prey to the ravages of the virus at the party? I doubt it. And those ones who caught the virus would have definitely spread it somewhere especially to their loved ones. My heart goes out to Isaac daily in prayer. So, what happened to the young man who missed his own graduation because of his foolishness? Sandra, Isaac’s mum sent me this text message on Wednesday. “We were worried for him to be around too many people yet and taking the chance of getting sick again. He has fully recovered. He moved up north to his grandparents where there are better job opportunities. He hopes to get back to work soon. Thanks for your prayers and concerns”.

– Follow me on Twitter @Folaojotweet

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Why we need to calm down BY Femi Adesina

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Enemy of the state by Femi Adesina

There’s this hilarious video that went viral recently. A boy had offended his mother and was about to get a beating. Tearfully, even before he got whipped, the boy tried to plead his way out.

As the mother told him to stretch forth his palm to be caned, he entreated: “Mummy, it must not be hard beating o…This is my last chance. Last chance in the world.”

Amidst tears, he said he had a question for the mother:

“Will you be going out today? You must rest a little…Mummy, calm down. Don’t be angry. I’m just telling you to be ‘calming’ down. You must rest a little.”

The boy then reclined on a couch, to show how the mother must calm down, and rest.

The boy and his mother became some sort of celebrity. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State asked to meet with him, and said there were fundamental lessons to learn from his tearful admonition to his mum.

Calm down. I’m just telling you to be ‘calming’ down. Hahahahahaaaaaaa.

But if the truth the told, that message from the boy is for the entire country. We need to calm down. We are too uptight, nervy, edgy. We grumble, murmur too much, call the government a lot of names, try to demonize those serving the nation, when it could be “our last chance. Last chance in the world” to really fix things.

If you listen to some people; angry youths, religious leaders, political analysts, newspaper columnists, news reviewers, so-called activists, then nothing positive is happening in the country. It is all about insurgency, banditry, killings, joblessness, corruption, lack and deprivation. True? False!

Those things are there, as they are also in many countries of the world. But they are not the only things happening in Nigeria. Only that we would not see the positive things, except we calmed down. We would never enjoy the rainfall, if we expect rainstorm to carry away our rooftop at any moment. Calm down. “I’m just telling you to be ‘calming’ down.”

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One of my favourite boyhood songs is the one by Jimmy Cliff. ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Sparrow.’

Here I stand with my head down in my hand
Wondering what on earth I have done wrong
There’s a cloud that has overshadowed me
Blocks the light from my eyes, I cannot see
But I know where I wanta be
Right or wrong, I’ve got to face my destiny

Somebody tell me to
Keep your eyes on the sparrow
Keep your eyes on the sparrow
Keep it on, keep it on now
Keep your eyes on the sparrow.

That is a song of hope. It’s a song of encouragement. The Good Book says God keeps His eyes on the sparrow, and none can fall down without His permission. If He watches over a bird, how much more we human beings, created in His image? But man has walked away from that original estate. We sit on the complaint counter. We murmur, curse, cavil. We rail against God, against man, against the government, even against our own selves. We indulge in hate speech, concoct and spread fake news. And it blinds our eyes. It blocks the light from our eyes, and we cannot see. We never see good, even when it surrounds us. We focus only on negative narratives.

Let me give a practical example. Last Sunday, one of the guests on Sunday Politics, hosted by Seun Okinbaloye of Channels Television, was one Group Captain Sadeeq Garba (Retd). He was also deputy head of safety and security at the African Union Commission, and now a private security consultant.
The retired Air Force Officer was asked to talk about the worrisome trend of killings in the country. The man said the killings were sad and regrettable, but things were not as completely negative as some people and interest groups would want to make them seem.

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Quoting what he called reliable statistics from the Centre for Research in the United States, he gave these figures of the evil development from 2011, in the number of total killings:
2011-1096
2012-3761
2013-7167
2014-15,600
2015- Not available
2016-4618
2017-5763
2018-6565
2019-8350
2020-6195, as of June.

Now, one life lost is already too many. One single life should not be taken wantonly, not to talk of in hundreds and thousands. It is bestial, inhuman. But why do some people want to make it appear as if we hadn’t passed through worse times in this country? Forget about who was in power as President. It is not about individuals now, it is about the descent of a country into the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short. For President Muhammadu Buhari, it’s a solemn pledge that lives and property would be secured. And a lot is being done in that direction, though we are not there yet. Unkind, negative comments can only demoralize those fighting to secure the country.

When the President said recently that things were better in the area of security than what he met in 2015, some people wailed endlessly, as is their wont to. But when the Group Captain came with facts and figures on national television last Sunday, not one word was heard. Not even a whimper! Why do people like to spread negative, rather than positive developments? Killings dropped from 15,600 in 2014 to 4,618 in 2016. But not one positive word. Simply because their eyes are blinded by negative thoughts and sentiments. And they now need to calm down. Rather than upbraid, our security agencies should be challenged and encouraged to rediscover what they did in 2016.

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During the week, the Ministry of Power said electricity generation had returned to over 5,000 megawatts. Not a word from professional complainers. If it had dropped to below 1,000 megawatts, we would not have heard anything else. Calm down. “I’m just telling you to be ‘calming’ down.”
If we calm down, what would we see? Massive infrastructural developments. Roads, rail, airports, bridges, efforts to reverse power deficit of many decades, newly approved Youth Bank to empower the younger generation, strident efforts to secure the country, N2.3 trillion stimulus package to combat the negative effect of COVID-19, and many other positive developments. There are many and many more.

Jesus looked at Jerusalem, and wept over it, saying: “if thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto thy peace. But now, they are hid from thine eyes.” (Luke 19:42).

We will see the things that pertain to the peace of our country, if we would just calm down. As the young boy said, “this is my last chance. Last chance in the world.”
It could well be.

*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity

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Investing in Nigeria BY Rosemary O. Enemuo

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Nigeria Foreign Direct Investment in the first quarter of 2020 declined 427.76 USD million from 1,266.824 USD billion in the same quarter the previous year representing a -66.2% change. A 5 year (2015-2019) analysis of Nigeria’s Gross National Income (GNI) shows that the GNI continuously declined from 522.52 USD billion in 2015 to 385.05 USD billion in 2018, but picked up a bit in 2019 at 407.93 USD billion.

Recent events such as the reduction in the value of FDIs in Nigeria and the looming exit of big markets such as ShopRite and Mr Price, alongside previously exited players like Truworths, Woolworths, and Opera subsidiaries; Opay and Oride have contributed to an increase in unemployment, decline in national revenue generation, increased inflation on locally produced goods, loss of revenue from unexplored and undeveloped sectors, and a regression to the informal economy.

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This economic downturn emerged from poor economic policies of the government; the land border closure, a badly designed import-substitution program, poor accessibility of loans by SMEs, an outdated land use act, high-interest rates amid global meltdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, low interests on savings, the CBN’s CRR liquidity control, as well as subsidies and the control of foreign exchange (FX) amongst others.

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Nigeria’s difficult business environment is the main reason for the exit of these foreign investors: an unfriendly tax system, the prohibitive cost and processes of importation, poor transport links, pervasive corruption, social unrest, terrorism and kidnap as well as bureaucracy and sudden changes in government policies without an adjustment window.

Although part of the reality for the ShopRite’s Group exit from the Nigeria market is the increased competition in the Nigeria supermarket space, local investors and SMEs have also suffered stifling regulatory policies that hindered innovation, investment plans and affected business growth.

Measuring investment with the Nigeria stock market as an index, all shares in NSE have reduced by 1984 points or 7.38% since the beginning of 2020; additionally, it is worthy to note that no state in Nigeria attracted any foreign direct investment all year. For a country that intends to diversify away from oil, a harsh economic environment will only take the country further away from growth and economic development, and on this long antiquated roller coaster of oil dependence.

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Therefore to increase revenue generation and participatory economic development of all sectors, the government will have to relax dis-incentive policies that hinder investments in Nigeria.

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