Over the past few years the tensions between United States and China have engulfed the major and emerging countries across the world. The US-China relationship has surely evolved from the bonhomie during Nixon-Kissinger years to the Asia Pivot under Bush-Obama years-to finally an all-out trade war under Trump-Xi Jiping. Within this context, there is a larger, growing consensus surrounding the United States’ retreat from global politics. This is in tandem with the USA’s previous international diplomatic abstentions, including withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change treaty, pulling out of Aghanistan, reworking NAFTA, or issuing statements against the WHO, NATO, and the UN. The gradual retreat of the United States creates a vacuum for global leadership which China is happily to step into. During the Covid-19 crisis, when President Trump threatened to cut off funding of the World Health Organization, then China responded by granting an additional $2 billion in funding.
However, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, one realization has become widespread- that countries all over the world have become increasingly dependent on China. For instance, in Japan, China is the key source of importing protective equipment, contributing to mostly all of the 70-80% of imports in surgical masks. When Italy sought help for medical equipment, then China publicly committed to sending 1,000 ventilators, two million masks, 100,000 respirators, 20,000 protective suits, and 50,000 test kits. Similarly, China’s share of the U.S. antibiotics market is more than 95 percent, and most of the ingredients cannot be manufactured domestically. The situation is a dramatic reversal from the time when the Ebola crisis was prevalent. Then the United States rallied the global effort to fight the epidemic and support the cash-starved countries of Africa.
Due to this drastic change in global affairs, it is likely that others nations will maintain comfortable relations with both United States and China. This is because, for most nations across the world, partnership in defence and strategic affairs with the US is complementary to a trade and commercial partnership with China. Simultaneously several nations will attempt to get out of the import-trap with China and drive up their local manufacturing sector. The Japanese Government has now started working with more than 400 domestic companies to bolster domestic production. Globally, concerns have been raised about Chinese companies using this opportunity to buy up distressed assets at cheap rates. . The European Commission had called upon its member states to ensure protection of strategic assets from a likely Chinese takeover. Following suit, Australia is also taking precautionary measures aimed at preventing sales of distressed corporate assets during the coronavirus crisis.
It is undeniable that the next few years will be pivotal in determining the shift of the global order and exactly how China weathers the diplomatic and economic setback its suffered at the hands of a very indigenous virus.