A SovereighPH.com EXCLUSIVE
A survey of Covid-19 implications from an international perspective
by Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan
West mopes as China economy recovers
Herman Tiu Laurel, chairman of the Philippine BRICS Strategic Studies, came up with an interesting rejoinder on the short-term prospects of economics past the pandemic.
In a column published in SovereignPH.com, one tremendous source of Covid-19 updates since February of this year bearing the title above, he quoted Kenneth Kang, deputy director of Asia and Pacific department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as saying “news of the widespread re-opening of (Chinese) firms and the return of employees to work give us hope that we will see a recovery in the second quarter.”
The IMF World Economic Outlook spring report showed an astonishing projection for the Chinese economy at the end 2020 and 2021:
“China’s economy will likely grow at 1.2 per cent this year and rebound strongly to 9.2 per cent in 2021.”
In sharp comparison, Moody’s Mark Zandi writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer said the American economy will not fully recover until the mid-2020s on account of not just the Covid-19 damage to its service sector constituting 70% of its economy, but even before that the massive US government and household debt and collapse of US fracking oil.
Laurel prognosticates this as a snapshot of what the world should expect in the coming years and mark as an imperative to factor in for the economic and welfare planning of every region and nation.
China, the global heavy-lifter
In 1998 and 2008 China has been the heavy-lifting rescuer of the Asian regional economy and the global economy, and few Filipinos know and appreciate this. In 1998 China maintained the value of its currency hence supported the value of other Asian currencies under financial attack by the West, organized the Chiang Mai Initiative funds swap.
In the 2008 financial crash of the US and Western banking system China supported those economies by pump priming the global economy with a multi-trillion Dollar domestic infrastructure investment raising imports and global commodities prices for its domestic construction and consumption needs.
Today, China is again the main supplier of goods the world needs to survive the pandemic while becoming as promised the largest importer of consumer goods from the rest of the world, $45-trillion of goods and service as promised by President Xi Jinping in the two China International Import Exhibition of the past two years.
China’s plan for regional recovery
Last April 14, 2020 the ASEAN plus 3 (China, Japan and South Korea) or “APT” met via video for the ASEAN Summit on Covid-19 crisis. In the conference Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged the following:
1) China will provide another 100 million face masks, 10 million protective suits and other urgently needed medical supplies to ASEAN countries as grant assistance and via commercial channels;
2) China will support ASEAN in setting up a Covid-19 ASEAN response fund and provide the necessary support through the ASEAN-China Cooperation Fund and APT Cooperation Fund; and
3) China will also support the establishment of an APT reserve of essential medical supplies to make responses faster and emergency supplies more readily available.
To facilitate regional economic recovery, Premier Li suggested the following: further ease tariffs, eliminate barriers, boost the flow of trade and investment, and keep markets open to each other;
APT countries should open a “fast-track lane” among themselves to facilitate the entry of essential personnel on urgent visits in the fields of commerce, logistics, production and technological services;
APT countries should work toward signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement within this year as agreed, to take regional economic integration to a higher level, and APT and China should use mechanisms, such as, the Chiang Mai Initiative towards multilateralization and leverage the APT Macroeconomic Research Office.
China also leads the way in supporting the recovery plans of ASEAN countries, with the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) preparing a $ 10-bilion fund for a Covid-19 recovery facility” to support a quick recovery after the current crisis.”
Threats of fresh tariffs
Agence France Presse reported that US President Donald Trump threatened China with fresh tariffs as he stepped up his attacks on Beijing.
The diatribe from the Republican incumbent came as data showed 30 million jobs has been lost in six weeks in the United States, as lockdown measures began to bite across the nation.
The depressing US jobs data compounded the tough message from European Central Bank Christine Lagarde.
“The euro area is facing an economic contraction of a magnitude and speed that are unprecedented in peacetime,” she warned.
ECB economists expect output in the 19-nation currency club to shrink by “five to 12 percent” this year, she added. Eurostat figures showed the eurozone economy was estimated to have shrunk by 3.8 percent in the first quarter.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier warned that Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, “will experience the worst recession in the history of the federal republic,” predicting it would shrink by a record 6.3 percent.
The Decline of the West
Xie Tao, a professor and dean of the School of International Relations and Diplomacy at Beijing Foreign Studies University, quotes Samuel P. Huntington saying: “The power of example works only when it is an example of power.”
He then asks: “There is renewed discussion in some corners of the world about the decline of the West, does that mean China is poised to lead?”
For at least half a century, the West, led by the United States, has been viewed by most developing countries as an example to emulate. The West has led the world in nearly every crucial aspect of national well-being: political stability, economic development, educational achievement, social welfare, public health, technological innovation, and military power.
The “example of power” generates widespread expectations of responsibility and leadership in global governance, and the West has mostly committed itself to meeting those expectations.
It established a dense network of international organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, which have evolved to be the underpinnings of the widely celebrated liberal international order.
It has been the most powerful champion of human rights, democracy, rule of law, and the responsibility to protect. It has changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people through humanitarian relief, poverty reduction, and foreign aid. It once stood at the forefront of combating climate change.
Admittedly, the West’s record on global governance is far from perfect. It arguably demonstrated neither responsibility nor leadership in the invasions of Iraq and Libya, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the global financial crisis, to name just the most recent examples. Nevertheless, on balance the West has shouldered more responsibility and provided more leadership than any other group of countries.
In international politics — just as in domestic politics — the law of expectations usually matters much more than objective indicators of power.
Underperformance generates disappointment and doubt, as illustrated by U.S. foreign policy in the inter-war period. Over-performance engenders admiration and support, as in the case of China’s military campaign during the Korean War. The former undermines authority and legitimacy at home and abroad, while the latter enhances them.
Thus the predominant role of the West in global governance hinges as much on its power as on its ability to meet — oftentimes outperform — the expectations of the rest.
The current global public health crisis, the worst of its kind since 1918, amply illustrates the law of expectations.
Caused by a novel coronavirus disease that was later designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as COVID-19, the global pandemic has infected over a million people worldwide and caused thousands of deaths. Many governments have imposed stay-at-home rules and closed borders, bringing much of global economy to a grinding halt.
The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, a city in central China that has over 10 million residents. To prevent its spread, the Chinese government imposed a lockdown of Wuhan on January 23, a drastic measure that initially caused much controversy within and outside China. In hindsight, it turns out to have been the single most important decision in the global fight against COVID-19. According to one estimate, the lockdown prevented more than 700,000 Chinese from being infected. Meanwhile, Chinese officials have been in close touch with their counterparts at the WHO and other foreign governments.
As the Chinese government was waging an unprecedented nationwide campaign against the novel coronavirus, most Western governments apparently did little to brace themselves for a similar public health crisis, nor did they seem interested in reaching out to China for its valuable experiences in combating COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, when faced with the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in their own borders, these governments appeared poorly prepared. Their authority and legitimacy seem to have suffered considerably from underperformance, while those of Beijing apparently have been significantly enhanced due to its overperformance.
The United States, in particular, is widely perceived to be conspicuous in the global fight against Covid-19 for its lack of responsibility and leadership.
As the leader of the West, the world’s only superpower, and the self-designated “indispensable nation,” the United States embroiled itself in a war of words with Beijing in March over what is the appropriate name to call the virus. A long list of U.S. officials have been much more concerned with blaming China for the global pandemic than with leading the American people — as well as the West and the rest — in combating the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Trump administration failed to take precautionary steps early on that could have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19 within the United States.
In light of the glaring gap between international expectations and the actual performance of the West, there is renewed discussion in some corners of the world about the decline of the West in general and the decline of America in particular. Implicit in these declinist predictions is the assumption that China will soon replace the United States as the new role model of responsibility and leadership.
The problem with these declinist predictions, which should sound like music to the ears of many Chinese, is that they are probably too early. There were many waves of American “declinism” before, and America’s relative power vis-à-vis the rest certainly has declined, but the fundamental sources of American (and Western) power — institutional, technological, cultural, and educational — remain largely unchallenged.
Undoubtedly, America’s authority and legitimacy have been seriously damaged by the Trump administration’s “denial and dysfunction” in the current global public health crisis, but a new generation of leaders might quickly restore American responsibility and leadership in global governance.
Above all, leadership in global governance requires the combination of performance (broadly shared prosperity and security), procedures (multilateral institutions), and principles (values), as pointed out by David Lake, a professor of political science at the University of California, Sand Diego.
Thus it will take much more than a global pandemic to disqualify the West — or qualify the rest — for global leadership.
In the face of a common threat that recognizes no national boundary, it is imperative that the West and the rest work together, instead of competing to score political points at home and abroad. Neither can afford to deal with the global pandemic and its devastating aftermath without extensive cooperation from the other.
The US and its minions must stop moping, stop brooding, stop cursing and start cooperating, review its socio-political system, re-emphasize the “pursuit of happiness” not just for its constituencies but for all peoples regardless of nationality, color or creed, be forward looking and help rebuild the global community with China leading the way in a multi-polar world.
Ado Paglinawan is a daily commentator at Radyo Pilipinas1, and a regular columnist at the country’s newest daily news website SovereignPH.com and its partner magazine The Sovereign. He is a former Philippine diplomat, serving in the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York as press attaché, spokesman and special assistant to Ambassador Emmanuel N. Pelaez. He has served a strategic consultant to Agriculture Secretary Luisito Lorenzo, Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon and Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo. He studied for 15 years at San Beda College from grade 1 to 4th year college majoring in English and Philosophy, minor in political science and history. He is a veteran of the First Quarter Storm, participating as president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. Ado has taken continuing studies in world politics and diplomacy, international public relations, information technology and remote sensing, and Eastern Christianity and Islamic studies, from various universities in Washington DC.