Are we waking to the dawn of a new Cold War? Are we staring at the creation of a new bi-polar world? Or maybe multi-polar world? Are these tremors precursors of new tectonic shifts in geopolitics? One thing is for sure; the superpowers are flexing their muscles.
It seems that the “soon to be post Covid-19” world would not be the same. 2020 turned out to be crucial for the US, China and Europe. Covid-19 originated in Wuhan, China and at the beginning it was to be another bird flu or Asia concentrated virus. It turns out it was anything but a just another virus in terms of its severity and area.
In this case the authoritarian Chinese government system turned out to be better equipped to deal with this health pandemic. While the governments and democracies of Western countries were debating whether to enforce a nation-wide lockdown, curfews, mandate wearing protective equipment, how to keep healthy economies, etc., the Chinese central government ordered nationwide lockdown, ordered everyone to stay at home and implemented financial packages to keep their economy afloat.
At the same time, while the US was in the midst of a Presidential election campaign (potentially its most tense and polarising), the Chinese government authorities were not bothered by counting votes. After taking care at home, the Chinese are focusing on the international order and their place in it. Several years ago, President Xi Jinping started the Belt and Road Initiative, which has been a great success for China. Using its methods and strategy, he doubled down and created a new “vaccine” diplomacy.
The European Union gambled away a unique chance to show that it is a united membership of equal counties and peoples which work together toward a shared prosperity. It failed to show strong and wise leadership. Italy and Spain, for example, were begging for medical equipment back in March and April last year, while other members of the EU passed national laws banning exports of medical equipment.
Instead of coming together, EU members went back to defend their national interests. Brexit fans and politicians were all too happy to point out the faults of the EU governing system and the “unity and equality” of Europe.
The US was hampered domestically by vicious Presidential and Congressional elections and a lack of a clear strategy to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. China, having mostly recovered from the pandemic, was all too happy to seize the opportunity and donate (and sell) medical equipment to European countries.
The COVAX system proved to be inefficient, especially for smaller and poorer countries; while not the only country, China again proved to be a major donor of vaccines. At this point we should also emphasize Chinese military build-up and expansion. Ever since President Xi took over the Central Military Commission in 2013, China has placed a great emphasis on strengthening its military and improving its domestic military capacity in terms of innovation and production.
While unable to follow the Chinese example of medical equipment donation strategy, Russia has tried to mimic its neighbour’s vaccine diplomacy. Russia is however flexing its military muscles. Unlike China, Russia is unable or unwilling to promote soft power. Hence, we see a military build-up in the Crimea. Is this a real threat or just a way for President Vladimir Putin to test President Joe Biden? Russia has had more than enough time to warm up to the Western ideas of democracy, peaceful (co)existence, and friendly international partnership. Yet, Putin has been strengthening and painting his country in war colours.
China has become a global superpower and will soon try to assert its seat among the few most powerful global heavyweights. The sooner politicians, government officials and analysts come to term with that fact, the better.
Both the US and China need each other in order to prosper; China’s enormous and constantly enriching population, production capacity, crucial membership in international organisations, etc. are something desirable for the Americans. While leading technology, purchasing power, brands, internationally respected image are some of the few things that China craves. The US is a founding and dominant member of the only and most powerful military alliance in the world, NATO. China on the other hand realises that it is standing alone and cannot take on the world by itself, especially when it is surrounded by so many neighbours and countries in Asia with political and military inclinations towards the US and the West.
In a world where the US is pulling out of Afghanistan, the war in Syria is far from over, the war in Yemen is aggravating relations in the Middle East, a world with North Korea and Iran constantly reminding the world of their nuclear capabilities, the conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, Al-Qaeda and ISIS… international cooperation and partnership are crucial.
Although the idea of a European military is far from a reality, we should not forget the European tradition of romanticising of strong and powerful leaders. Will the enemy of my enemy is my friend and a balance of power strategy prevail? Or the world will go towards disorderly military muscle flexing and disarray?
There is a need to go back and revisit Henry Kissinger’s strategy on China and Asia. Finding an idea that unites and common interests that bind the West and the East would be a challenging ordeal, but political manoeuvring should not stop any time soon.