SYED SUHAIL YAQOOB
Can Covid-19 change the world order in China’s favour? The answer cannot be but yes. Three things are needed by a country to become dominant in global power equations: economy, military, and leadership. China has all three. It is already the second-largest economy and the largest trading nation in the world. Its economy is growing at more than 6 percent right from 1980s and sometimes touching even double digits. It has dramatically reduced its poverty levels and it is investing a lot of money in undeveloped and developing countries. The most important investment perhaps is the China Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC), and the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative. The aims of these investments are to checkmate the influence of USA in Central Asia and weaken the position of India. China has almost encircled India.
On the military front, the country has the world’s biggest army with an estimated 1.6 million troops. China was the second largest military spender in the world after USA. The official defence spending of the country reached 250 billion dollars in 2018. It is a layman’s guess why USA is worried about rise of China and in some instances has tried to portray India as the leader in Asia. USA is trying to check-mate China by using the Cold War tactics against the Soviet Union. It will not be easy. The contrasts between Soviet Union and China are stark. China has a well developed economic system, efficient bureaucracy, and a different type of communism which is fuelled by controlled capitalism. Moreover, USA’s policies towards Iran have come under huge criticism, that too from its allies.
Now the spread of Covid-19 has provided China one more excuse to act as a world leader. Although every country is grappling with the virus, the world is all praise about the quick and efficient response of China to contain it. The country showed remarkable brilliance and governance in controlling the situation. Within less than 10 days a huge hospital was built for the patients and now the country has reported zero new local Covid-19 cases. Almost all countries are looking towards China. The response has provided a clout to Chinese authorities to deepen their ties with different countries. In the last few weeks, the country has donated coronavirus testing kits to Cambodia, sent planeloads of ventilators, masks and medics to Italy and France. It has pledged to help the Philippines, Spain and other countries, and deployed medics to Iran and Iraq. China has positioned itself as a leader and benefactor in public health, building a kind of soft power Beijing needs at a time of intensifying US-China rivalry and scrutiny of Chinese influence around the world.
While USA is still not sure about how to contain Covid-19, China has relaxed the curfew-like situation in Wuhan – the city that was taken over by the virus. Despite all this, China will not provoke USA. It will not try to look arrogant. The country has a deeply ingrained culture of humility and tact.
The intense fight for global leadership between USA and China has been tilted in favour of the latter thanks to the outbreak of the coronavirus. The world is now in debt to China for its aid to affected countries. More countries, especially European countries, have come into its orbit. Beijing has used Covid-19 to establish itself as a global leader.
—The writer is a PhD scholar at Aligarh Muslim University. [email protected]