The fix is in: Stings in the time of the coronavirus?


Rajeev Srinivasan


The more I think about the COVID-19 pandemic, the more I am reminded of the great Paul Newman-Robert Redford movie The Sting (1973), in which an elaborate charade is run to gaslight and then relieve a mobster of a very large amount of money. 


Because it just doesn’t add up. There are too many loose ends, all of which suggest that an Occam’s razor-type simple explanation may not cut it. There’s something fishy.


Information Warfare?


But first let me point out something remarkable: the role of Indians in what amounts to information warfare. There is the Hyderabad-based conspiracy theory site GreatGameIndia, which filed a series of sensational exposés, starting with

Coronavirus Bioweapon – How China Stole Coronavirus From Canada And Weaponized It  


Among other things, they published stories about the Harvard University chemistry/chemical biology head who was being paid $50,000 a month by China, and a Chinese scientist and her colleagues at a level 4 high-security Canadian virus lab in Winnipeg, who was expelled for stealing samples. 


Other Chinese were also accused of similar attempts to steal samples of deadly diseases.


Furthermore, there was the sudden, and suspicious, death of well-known virologist from the Winnipeg lab, Frank Plummer, while on a trip to Kenya. 


Even if you discount all this quite a bit, there are too many things that just don’t add up.


Then there was the unrefereed, preprint paper published on 31 January on bioarxiv,

Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag by Prashant Pradhan et al, biomedical scientists from IIT Delhi, which bluntly states that the odd characteristics they found are likely to be man-made. 


They found proteins very similar to those in AIDS in the surface ‘spikes’ on the spherical virus that enable it to target host cells. This was nothing AIDS-like in earlier coronaviruses and it makes it far more infectious. 


“This uncanny similarity of novel inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag is unlikely to be fortuitous”, says the paper. [Emphasis added]. This is ominous.


Chillingly, Chinese have been using AIDS drugs to combat the coronavirus Coincidence?


I have no idea if the IITD paper is correct (after a lot of pressure on social media, it has been withdrawn pending peer-review), but from a geopolitical perspective, it, and the GreatGameIndia exposés, raise large question marks about China.


This is also just about the first time I can remember that Indian groups have put forward compelling stories that have a material impact on the fortunes of a major rival like China. This is a good trend: let us not only be victims of information warfare, but also perpetrators.


But the core of the story is the question of how the virus came to be. There are three possible scenarios.


Was the virus was passed on to humans from an animal carrier? 


It was a natural mutation passed on to humans. A carrier animal is unaffected but it is deadly for humans. 


This was the original story and the most plausible, given the mode of transmission in other diseases, eg. the HIV virus jumped to humans from the green monkey in Africa. 


Given the taste Chinese have for wild animals, and the fact that there is a ‘wet market’ with exotic meats in Wuhan, this makes intuitive sense. 


Except that it appears that Patient Zero and most of the first infected had no link to that market. 


Besides, nothing has been proven regarding speculation that it might have been transmitted via peple eating snakes or bats. 


At this point, it appears that this simple and relatively comforting theory may not be enough.


A Chinese bioweapon? 


There is the Chinese concept of unrestricted warfare (popularized by two colonels who wrote a book with that title) wherein nothing is off the table, literally nothing. 


It is not hard to believe that they would pursue biological weapons, despite the fact that they signed a treaty abjuring them. Chinese also ignore other global treaties that they are party to (eg. the Law of the Sea).


There was a report about a blowhard Chinese general proclaiming that bioweapons are the best way to conquer other countries. Yes, buildings remains intact, only people die: the whole attraction of the neutron bomb too.


It’s entirely possible that, as the IITD paper alleged, gung-ho biomedical scientists thought they could use their new found gene-splicing skills (eg. CRISPR-Cas9) to induce HIV spikes. 


Such an enhanced biological weapon would be terrifying to a targeted country (say, India). 


No vaccine (except secretly with the Chinese) available. Panic, as lots of people die in the early stages even before the disease is identified. Unquarantined flight from epicenter, spreading it.


And then the virulence will die down relatively quickly, so that the conquest can proceed. 


It is entirely possible that they created this weapon, and then it escaped accidentally and infected the Wuhan population.


This remains the most likely scenario.


A bioweapon ‘gifted’ to China?


There is an alternative possibility that frankly is a bit of a conspiracy theory, but it cannot be discounted.


There is a famous question: cui bono? Who benefits? Who has the motive and the means to commit any crime? Sherlock Holmes might pursue this angle.


Indeed, who has benefited from the coronavirus? If you look at it dispassionately, the US has benefited. They are in the midst of a general competition with China, and some would say there is the Thucydides Trap effect in motion. 


Let’s look at what China is facing now: a trifecta with the Hong Kong uprising, the ongoing trade war, and now ‘instant decoupling’ as the rest of the world distances itself from China.


All of this is quite convenient for the US, and indeed some say they instigated the Hong Kong protests. 


The decoupling, though, has the biggest long-term impact. China’s status as the factory of the world was already in jeopardy as wages rose there, and there is pushback (eg. the Huawei case) against the legendary Chinese habit of predation.


For instance, it is alleged that Intellectual Property theft by Huawei eviscerated and bankrupted the Canadian firm Northern Telecom. 


All of a sudden, CEOs whose supply chain strategy was total dependence on China (eg. Apple’s Tim Cook) are looking like poor risk managers, as China manufacturing has ground to a halt. A second source seems imperative. 


I don’t think anybody will ever go back to a China-only supply chain strategy, even if the ‘China price’ is attractive. Besides, near-shore manufacturing (eg. Mexico for the US) looks more appealing, as the carbon footprint of long-distance shipping becomes an issue.


Thus, the decoupling that the US had threatened as a punitive measure is happening much more broadly, with the possible effect of crippling Chinese GDP growth and creating a massive loss of face and loss of trust. 


In passing, the brutality with which Chinese citizens have been treated (some had the entrances to their homes welded shut to prevent their escape; there were scenes of people being dragged from cars and assaulted) is likely to create a chink in Xi Jinping’s armor.


Thus the US had the motive to create a false-flag bioweapon and attribute it to China. 


They also had the means. There are many reports of Chinese researchers in US labs stealing research (possibly with a little prod from Chinese intelligence or appeals to patriotism). 


Imagine, then, that US military biomedical researchers created this little monster COVID-19, and then just left it around temptingly for Chinese researchers. Naturally, they would spirit it off to Wuhan (China’s only level-4 bio lab). 


The rest is history. The Chinese had no idea the US had left some little trapdoor open whereby the virus would get out of control and go on a spree of infection. (Remember, in a different context, the Stuxnet computer virus that decimated Iranian nuclear centrifuges? The virus was spread by leaving thumb drives temptingly all around the place.)


Such an act would be diabolical, but the US Deep State has been known to do similar things before. Hewlett Packard printers, it is said, were bought by the Iraqi air defense agency. They didn’t know that the printers had chips in them that would be homing devices that announced the locations of targets to US fighter jets in the air. 


Targeted assassinations are also par for the course. The American virologist who died suddenly in Kenya probably knew too much for his own good. So did Iranian nuclear engineers, as well as Indian space and submarine engineers who ended up in body bags. 


We also know how Nambi Narayanan and his cryogenic engine project were crippled and delayed by 19 years with a fake Maldivian spy case. Fortunately Nambi Narayanan wasn’t bumped off.


The resourceful Deep State and what it will do to us


The Deep State is nothing if not resourceful. I remember in the 1980s, when it looked as though nothing could stop Japan from taking over the world. I am not sure exactly how they did it, but clever Americans weaponized finance, and brought Japan to a grinding halt. 


What is truly diabolical is how somebody’s weakness is exploited to destroy them. The Chinese have this known weakness about pilfering others’ secrets, and the Deep State figured that out as their fatal flaw. This may well halt the Chinese juggernaut.


And just incidentally, Gilead Sciences has just announced they have a candidate vaccine. This is a sure-fire money-spinner, and it’s astonishing how quickly they were able to do this. No, I am not insinuating anything. 


There is a lesson in this for India. In the wake of the Trump visit and the concurrent riots, it is worth remembering that India is also on a trajectory to challenge the US, and the Deep State is not going to sit by idly. Hark back to George Kennan on what the US does: it wants 50% of the world’s resources for itself. It does not brook competition well.


We need to think hard about how they will attack India. 


One line of attack is already visible: continuous, vicious demonization of Hindus and Prime Minister Modi by pliant western media and politicans such as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, as well as free agents like George Soros. 


There is a manufacturing of consent for the genocide of Hindus.


Hindus are demonized in terms not seen since the ‘yellow peril’ meme for the Japanese, or the depiction of Jews by Europeans bent on pogroms.  


This is followed by induced riots and targeted violence by the device of Deep State’s friends inciting Muslim separatism and terrorism.


Remarkably, India may be able to control and absorb this threat because we are a flexible civilization that can learn, not rigid adherents to texts. 


We have an 800 year history of dealing with the Muslim threat, and yes, we have taken a beating, but India is the only civilization that was able to fend it off. Persians and Egyptians, for instance, crumbled instantly.


There is a more insidious line of attack that may be more effective. It is a character flaw among Indians to be willing to betray the country for petty personal gains. Let’s call it the ‘Jaichand syndrome’.


Pretty much any bureaucrat or diplomat or politician is liable to sell India down the river in exchange for something as trivial a scholarship to (usually) Harvard for offspring, or a cushy post-retirement sinecure in some multilateral institution.


I am sorry to say they sell themselves for peanuts, not even large sums of money. 


I predict this is the mechanism by which the Deep State will attempt to cripple India in a few years. Alas, they will probably succeed.


1970 words, 28 Feb 2020

Why is Trump coming to India?


Rajeev Srinivasan


President Donald Trump is preparing for a bruising battle later this year to be re-elected. So why is he wasting time on a trip to India?


Given Trump’s transactional nature, his principal agenda is re-election; for which he will make any deals. What might that deal be with India? 


First, what it will not be. Given that Trump has blown hot and cold with friend and foe to create a trade surplus for America, it is startling that there is no trade deal on the anvil. In fact, his hard-nosed trade czar Robert Lighthizer isn’t even coming.


Yes, there is the relatively wealthy Indian-American electorate, but at about 4 million it is too small and too fragmented to make a difference. And by past form 70% of them are hard-core Democrat voters anyway.


So that’s not the attraction. Nor is it any particular need to get some brownie points with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s supporters. Given the easily-mollified Indian psyche, the spectacle of “Howdy Modi” was quite enough for that.


What, then, could be the rationale? What we have seen in the past is that Indian PMs on US visits sign a bunch of deals buying American stuff (it’s like a peace offering by a vassal to a Ming emperor). US Presidents on India visits bring a bunch of CEOs, also selling. 


It’s not clear there’s any buying of Indian goods on the agenda. The ‘Make in India’ effort seems to have faded into obscurity, although India does have a small trade surplus with the US. 


We also have to be careful about Americans bearing gifts. In 2005, there was a flurry of activity with sundry snake-oil salesmen flying in, glad-handing everyone, and waxing eloquent about how the proposed ‘nuclear deal’ was going to solve half of India’s problems.


In the event, not a single Westinghouse nuclear reactor ended up in India. Which, by the way, is just as well. The clean-up costs (and the fear of terrorists gaining access) make nuclear power unappealing. And then there was Fukushima and the slow-motion collapse of the industry.


So there’s nothing large in the offing in this Trump visit, except for a few billion-dollar purchases of helicopters and similar equipment. 


And the Americans are no longer screaming loudly about India’s plans to purchase an S-400 anti-missile system from Russia, especially after formal NATO ally Turkey bought the same. 


There is also some progress on the Quad, with the recalcitrant Australians apparently being invited to join Indians, Japanese and Americans in the next Malabar exercise.


The Quad, of course, is aimed at containing China, regardless of everybody’s disclaimers. Given Hong Kong, the trade war, and now the coronavirus, China is beginning to look a little vulnerable, and admittedly, this may well be the time to ram home the advantage in Asia.


But India needs the Quad just as much as the US, so there’s no need for the dog-and-pony show that the US President’s visit normally becomes. Especially his first trip after the impeachment circus. 


Let us note with relief that Trump is also not making a hyphenated visit to Pakistan. Those with long memories remember that Bill Clinton, a charming rogue who hoodwinked us en masse into thinking he was our friend, made a hyphenated visit. 


To give the Trump administration credit where it’s due, they have been generally helpful in international matters. They did help India in the UN Security Council when China and Pakistan were crying bloody murder about Article 370. 


So where’s the quid pro quo? There’s no free lunch. 


Let us also not delude ourselves with all those fine, flowery words about largest democracy and oldest democracy and all that good stuff. That’s strictly for the birds. Americans look after their national interests, period, and will sup with the devil, or any dictator, as need be.


Given the animosity towards India from the US Deep State, its media (NYT, Wapo, even the MIT Tech Review), and much of its Democratic political base (Exhibits A, B, C: Senator Lindsey Graham, Rep Pramila Jayapal, Rep Ilhan Omar), there will be no Indo-US love-fest. 


Being a cynic, I can only think of one over-riding geopolitical objective. 




Why? The Democrats will get their act together. They are not going to be as hapless as McGovern-Shriver (1972) or Mondale/Ferraro (1984). A Bloomberg or a Warren or a Sanders will be no walkover, and Trump will have to work hard to defeat them. What will work? 


The one thing that will be a big hit with the voters is an exit from Afghanistan, after a fruitless nineteen years there, and countless lives and trillions of dollars spent. That can be the October Surprise. And what better than to get India to send the boots on the ground?

Let us note that Trump is going to sign a peace agreement with the Taliban on February 29th, immediately after the India trip. 


Thus, I suspect, there is a deal that will play out, and not in public. Donald Trump wants to declare victory and run like hell from Afghanistan. But they cannot leave a vacuum there with the Taliban (a proxy for Pakistan’s ISI) quickly filling it, and the Chinese moving in.


India has firmly rejected proposals by the US that India should get involved in Afghanistan, although the ‘strategic depth’ Pakistan has craved in that country is a concern, especially as it continues to destabilize India through its astroturfed low-level insurgencies.


But what if there’s a sweetener on the table now? Despite posturing by insurgents, the situation in the Indian Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir is far more peaceful than it was before special privileges under Article 370 were removed. 


The discourse on the Indian side, I have noticed under current Minister for External Affairs S Jayashankar, is no longer about accommodating Pakistan’s demands about the Indian territory of J&K, but about when the Pakistan-occupied part (PoK) will be absorbed into India. This is a quantum leap from the earlier, diffident Indian position. 


India has always claimed the entirety of Jammu & Kashmir, based on its formal accession to India, and on the UN Security Council’s resolution that invading Pakistani troops must withdraw. 


What if the quid pro quo for Indian involvement in Afghanistan is that the US helps India eject the Pakistanis from the part they are occupying? Among other things, that opens up a land border for India to Afghanistan. 


More interestingly, this would be a big blow to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship Belt and Road Initiative, because that passes through Pakistan-occupied parts of Jammu & Kashmir (PoK), over India’s strenuous objections about its sovereignty being affected.


That is not going to be easy, but if Trump really needs to extricate himself from Afghanistan, there is a price to pay. India should drive a hard bargain. He needs India more than India needs him now. 


This is Trump’s best chance to trounce China, and he needs India and others to do it. We remember how America’s best and brightest fended off the Japanese challenge some 30 to 40 years ago by weaponzing finance. Maybe in China’s case, it is a virus.


Or maybe Trump has just lucked out.


China looks more vulnerable now than it has for some time. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d wonder, cui bono?, given all the problems they are facing. 


There is a forced decoupling of supply chains. US manufacturers such as Apple are likely to reduce dependence on Chinese suppliers. Chinese tourists are being treated with suspicion. Their GDP will take a direct hit, probably shrinking, as Japan’s has.


Under the circumstances, I would not be surprised if, away from the pomp and the parades, a secret pact were to be signed linking an Indian role in Afghanistan (the US’ interest) and US support for the recapture of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the subsequent dissolution of Pakistan into three-four statelets (India’s interest). 


This would mean there’s more than meets the eye in Trump’s first visit to India. 


1350 words, 21 February 2020