US President Donald Trump’s proposal to expand the Group of Seven to include four new countries, including India, could reshape the global economic and security architecture if it materialises.

First unveiled on May 30, it also figured in a telephonic conversation between Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 1, with Modi welcoming the proposal, and accepting Trump’s invitation to attend the next G-7 summit in the US in September.

Trump’s idea to include India, South Korea, Australia and Russia in the G-7 has its origins in the manner in which China handled the Covid-19 pandemic, deliberately misleading the rest of the world and contributing to untold death and destruction. But for the Chinese government’s deceit, the new coronavirus could easily have been contained within the country’s borders, instead of becoming the worst pandemic in living memory.

According to a report dated March 13 in the Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post, the first case of Covid-19 may have been a 55 year old man who contracted the disease on November 17 last year.

Thereafter, one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 31 the number of confirmed cases had risen to 266 – on that day China first informed the World Health Organization that 41 patients in Wuhan had contracted a new illness.

By then, doctors treating the patients in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, had privately started raising the alarm about a mysterious new pneumonia which was not responding to standard treatment.

However, they were reportedly instructed by higher officials not to disclose information about the disease to the public. Eight doctors were punished for “rumour-mongering”. As a result, as late as January 11 the health authorities in Wuhan were claiming there were just 41 confirmed cases of the illness!

The US-based Associated Press published a report on April 15 stating that top Chinese officials had secretly determined on January 14 that they were likely facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus. But they kept the public in the dark for six more days, till January 20 when President Xi Jinping broke the news to the nation. Reportedly it was only then that people were told that the virus could also spread from person to person.

During the six days from January 14 to 20, the city of Wuhan hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people, and millions began travelling through it for the Lunar New Year celebrations. More than 3,000 people had been infected by January 20.

According to the WHO, on January 10 it “issued a comprehensive package of technical guidance online with advice to all countries on how to detect, test and manage potential cases [of Covid-19], based on what was known about the virus at the time” and past experience with SARS and MERS. On January 12 China publicly shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus, and the very next day Thailand recorded the first case outside China.

This story of the pandemic’s early days in China shows missed opportunities to control the outbreak at every step. Party officials prevented early disclosure of information about the new virus, resulting in its rapid spread in Hubei province.

But after January 20, the Chinese authorities acted speedily. On January 23 China imposed a complete lockdown, stopping all flights and other transportation in Wuhan. Major cities including Beijing and Shanghai were cordoned off, resulting in few infections and very few deaths.

One crucial decision taken by the Chinese authorities has not received adequate attention in the Indian media. While China locked down all domestic air traffic from Hubei to other cities, it pressed international carriers to maintain their flying schedules until end-March. As a result, while the spread of the virus within China was contained, there was an explosion of infections and deaths worldwide.

The Chinese authorities also protested against travel bans imposed by countries such as Italy and the US, an issue that has been raised by many observers, including Trump.

China succeeded in bringing the pandemic under control by mid-March. But by then the number of cases of Covid-19 globally had grown to more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, with 4,291 deaths. The rest of the world woke up to the disaster almost two months after China announced it.

The novel coronavirus brought by travellers from China to other countries has killed thousands and caused economic damage of incalculable proportions. As of June 9 the total number of deaths globally was 408,628, with the US alone accounting for more than 113,050 deaths. India has lost over 7,470 lives, and millions have been pushed below the poverty line.

With this act of treachery China has lost the trust of the world, which it had built gradually after normalising relations with the US in 1979. Since then, China has made enormous political and economic gains thanks to the goodwill of the international community. But the country’s success seems to have gone to its head, particularly after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China began to harbour delusions of world domination.

Lately, China has also engineered incidents at Naku La, Pangong Tso and the Galwan Valley, which lie on the Line of Actual Control with India. Doing so amounts to stabbing India in the back at a time when the country is grappling with a pandemic unleashed by China, which has also been creating instability in Hong Kong, the Taiwan Straits, and the South China Sea.

It is against the above backdrop that Trump’s proposal to expand the G-7 should be seen. The world needs to come together to contain a China rampaging all over its periphery. Instead of showing contrition for misleading the world, China’s “Wolf-Warrior” diplomats are widening the trust deficit with the international community by going on the offensive.

It comes as no surprise that on June 1, Modi “commended President Trump for his creative and far-sighted approach, acknowledging the fact that such an expanded forum would be in keeping with the emerging realities of the post-COVID world.”

These “emerging realities” include threats to international peace and security by a state that refuses to respect international norms of behaviour.

As for China’s ambitions of global domination, they are unlikely to fructify. A state that deliberately harms other countries cannot lead the world.

Niraj Srivastava is a former Ambassador of India