What is China’s position post COVID – 19?
China faced a lot of backlashes this year post the outbreak. Despite being lauded domestically for its ‘relatively’ successful handling of the pandemic, China witnessed a plunge in its international standing.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called out China for not being transparent about the virus; Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marisa Payne, set into motion an independent investigation into the Chinese origins of the virus; and former vice president for Africa for World Bank, Obiageli Ezekwesili, demanded compensation from China and wrote, “China should demonstrate world leadership by acknowledging its failure to be transparent on Covid-19”.
Caught right in the middle of the blame game, China has several issues to address going forward; not just the challenge to the credibility or concerning PR, but also economic challenges.
One of the most talked-about matters across countries has been the overdependence on China in the global supply chains; major productions had to be halted due to reliance on China for crucial raw materials. Thus, a number of countries decided to diversify their supply chains and ‘decouple’ from China. The mantra was no longer to be “produce it where it’s cheapest” (which was usually in China), but something like “DIY (Do-It-Yourself) at home”, especially for pharmaceuticals and vital medical supplies.
And up until a few months, the global sentiment of foreign organizations was to relocate their operations out of China, leading to the decline of China as a manufacturing hub. In April, President Xi Jinping announced a “bottom-line thinking […] to make mental and material preparations for changes in the external environment that will last a relatively long period of time”. While this showed that there was cause for worry, it also meant that China was not ready to give up its position as the world’s largest consumer market.
Moreover, China’s initial failures have been overshadowed by the incompetence of the Trump administration and challenges faced by the European Union; hence the “relative” success. When it came down to Trump or Xi, fewer Australians, for instance, had confidence in Trump than in Xi Jinping in terms of “acting responsibly”. And the truth is, while most countries are still attempting to control the spread, China is on the path to getting its business back to normal and reopening the economy gradually. Thus, not many countries are in the position to move away from China without suffering economically.
For instance, even though Southeast Asians’ trust in China has been declining, they have avoided participating in the blame game and tried to maintain good relations with China. In fact, 15 countries from the Asia-Pacific region (including China, Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and 10 members of the ASEAN) finally signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement on November 15, 2020. Part of the reason, in spite of countries being wary of China’s dominance, was that this would “further bolster economic recovery and […] businesses of participating countries”, as said by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Australia is looking forward to this deal as well, even with the recent Australia-China trade war. Thus, earlier predictions of Covid-19 bringing fundamental changes to China’s standing in the global scenario may prove to be just wishful thinking; China may just come out on the top in the end.
Written By- Ananya Aggarwal