'Coronavirus challenged US/Western-dominated world order' - Professor explains | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

22 September, Tuesday

'Coronavirus challenged US/Western-dominated world order' - Professor explains

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The outbreak of the coronavirus has not only challenged the global health system but also the harmony of international relations. In particular, major powers have turned the situation into a new arena to compete for global dominance. China and the United States have escalated their rivalry into a fierce battle.

The emergence of the virus failed to unite the world but succeeded to divide it. EDNews.net asked Professor Zhiqun Zhu for analyzing the US-Chinese relation in the period of the global pandemic.

Zhiqun Zhu is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Bucknell University, USA.  He has written extensively on Chinese foreign policy and US-China relations.


- According to some analysts, the Covid-19 pandemic marks the beginning of a new world order in which political actors will be reshuffled. Do you agree?

- The Covid-19 crisis has created some serious challenges to the international system, such as global leadership, the role of international organizations, global economy, public health, and state-to-state relations.  Before the current crisis, the US/Western-dominated world order was already under fire with the rise of non-Western powers such as the BRICS. China’s rise, in particular, is challenging the US hegemony in the international system. 

Neither the United States nor China played a leadership role in the global combat against Covid-19.  There will be some adjustments and realignments in the international political economy, and the world is entering uncharted territory.  It is unclear what kind of new world order will emerge.

The world has already become more diverse.  The basic structure of the multipolar international system is strong and resilient.  Globalization and interdependence will remain distinct features of the contemporary world.  There will be temporary setbacks in globalization with the shrinking flow of people, trade, and capital in the short term, and there will be some movements toward de-globalization in some parts of the world.  But this will be reversed once the coronavirus is brought under control and when economic and human activities return to normal.


- China has been focusing on expanding its economic relations globally via the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).  How will the pandemic affect this project?

- Most countries including China have suffered enormously from the pandemic, so it will take some time for the world economy to fully recover.  China’s ability to continue to invest extensively overseas is in question now due to domestic constraints and changed international conditions.

Domestically, China’s economic growth has significantly declined with an unknown but very high number of unemployment.  Its focus will be re-oriented toward domestic reconstruction in the post-COVID 19 era.  Meanwhile, global attitudes toward China have turned less favorable as more countries are blaming China for the outbreak of the coronavirus, with some calling for an independent investigation and suing China for damages.  As a result, some countries along the Belt and the Road may not be as enthusiastic about Chinese investment as before.  Some countries already faced debt, corruption, security, and other problems even before the Covid-19 crisis.  With many daunting challenges ahead, China may have to curtail the BRI and readjust the massive project.


- How will the upcoming US presidential election affect US-China relations, particularly their competition in the Indo-Pacific region?

- No matter who will be the next US president, the competitive nature of the US-China relationship will remain unchanged.  China-bashing is in the playbook of American politicians, especially in an election year.  In the current wave of China-bashing, hawks in American politics are conflating China's botched handling of the coronavirus at the beginning with America's failure to take effective measures to contain it sooner.  The United States has the highest numbers of both infection and death associated with Covid-19.  It is very clear that the Trump Administration has failed to combat the virus so far.  Yet, the Trump Administration has been targeting China as the main culprit and has also blamed the WHO and the Obama Administration, apparently shifting all responsibility to others except itself.

As the election draws close, candidates from both Republican and Democratic parties are likely to launch an anti-China campaign and compete with each other on who is tougher toward China.  A new president in the US does not necessarily mean a better relationship with China simply because the two countries are struggling with a zero-sum rivalry due to global power transition.

In the Indo-Pacific region, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea are the most dangerous flashpoints as US-China rivalry intensifies.  The fundamental interests of the two countries are incompatible in these areas, so actual military conflicts cannot be ruled out.


- The Coronavirus did not help improve relations between the US and China. On the contrary, it boosted rivalry for global hegemony. Do you have any predictions on the future of the relationship? Can we expect a new Cold War?

- US-China relations further deteriorated due to their differences over the origin and handling of the coronavirus.  America’s naming and shaming of China and China’s tit-for-tat response exacerbated tensions between the two countries at a time when they should take the leadership role and work together in the global combat against the virus.  It’s a lost opportunity. 

The trust level between the two countries has dropped to the lowest point since 1972 when Nixon visited China.  Hostility toward each other has grown.  Many Chinese think the United States wants to keep China down.  The fact is the United States has offered crucial assistance in China’s modernization.  The Trump administration has tried to drive a wedge between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese people.  The fact is there are over 90 million CCP members, who have extended families and friends. The party organ reaches every corner of society.  To assume that the Chinese people who are not CCP members are all against the CCP and the Chinese government is naive at best.

The two societies and economies are closely interwoven, so it is a fantasy to talk about completely “cutting off the relationship”, as Trump suggested.  However, with the global power transition taking place, the relationship between the two countries will remain difficult. The biggest challenge for the two countries is to manage the complex relationship wisely so as to avoid a new Cold War.


By Ulvi Ahmedli



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