China has fearful leadership, lacks openness like India or US: Nicholas Burns

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New Delhi: Former US under secretary of state Nicholas Burns on Friday dismissed suggestions China is winning the battle against Covid-19 and said the crisis should have been jointly tackled by the leadership of the US, India and China within the G20 framework.

In a video conversation with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Burns said the sort of cooperation expected from US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t happen, largely because the American leader “doesn’t believe in international cooperation” and is “a unilateralist”, while Xi wanted to compete with Trump.

Asked by Gandhi why there has been no global cooperation to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, Burns said: “It is a terrible disappointment to me. I’m sure it is to you. You know, this crisis was made for the G20. It was made for Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump to be working together, all of our countries for the common global good.”

He added, “Even the US and China are at the heart of the problem here. I hope when the next crisis comes, they will do better to work together in a more effective way.”

China, Burns added, lacks the sophistication and openness of a democratic country such as India or the US and has a “fearful leadership”.

“I think a lot of people right now are saying China is going to surpass, China’s winning the battle of coronavirus, that it is gaining hearts and minds. I actually don’t see that,” he said.

“China certainly has extraordinary power in the world. Probably not equal to the US militarily, economically, politically yet, but it’s gaining, no question about it. What China lacks is the sophistication and openness of a democratic country like India or the US,” Burns added.

The remarks from the former diplomat who played a key role in finalising the India-US civil nuclear deal came against the backdrop of a border stand-off between India and China.

India and China are currently engaged in diplomatic and military contacts for an “early resolution” of the stand-off between their border troops that emerged in public in early May. Earlier this week, the two sides began what Indian officials described as a “limited military disengagement” at three hot spots along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, which has been the focus of the tensions.

Burns was extremely critical of the leadership of China, saying: “China has a fearful leadership, fearful men trying to preserve their own power, increasing the grip that they have on their own citizens. Look what’s happening in Xinxiang and the Uyghurs, and in Hong Kong, just to give those examples.”

He added, “And I actually think I’m hopeful about the future of India and the US. I worry the Chinese system is not going to be flexible enough to accommodate the desires of the Chinese people for human freedom and liberty. So I am a champion of democracy, as are you. I have confidence that democracies will survive these tests.”

Burns served in the US government for 27 years and as a career foreign service officer, he was under secretary of state for political affairs during 2005-08, the state department’s third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the India-US civil nuclear agreement.

The dialogue was part of Gandhi’s series of video conversations with global and Indian thought leaders on the Covid-19 crisis and its consequences on the Indian and global economy.

In the past, the Congress leader has interacted with former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan, Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee, Harvard professor Ashish Jha, Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke and Bajaj Auto managing director Rajiv Bajaj.

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