Too often, we are being confronted with numerous analyses about the impact that COVID-19 is having on the economy, the healthcare system, and on societies. However, the geopolitical impact is less discussed, maybe due to the uncertainty of predicting future relations between countries. In this study of consequences of the pandemic the common denominator is that the crisis is enhancing and exacerbating underlying problems that were emerging prior to the outbreak.
In the medical aspect, it has shown how inefficient and under-financed even the most prestigious national healthcare systems were. In the political aspect, the institutions lacked planning and the flexibility necessary to implement immediate solutions to exponential problems. And in the geopolitical aspect, the crisis has underlined the past trend of de-globalization.
Instead of working to create a global governance to determine plans to defeat a common enemy, borders were closed, and people asked for isolationism. Even so, we have seen how inefficient the uncoordinated response of single countries or regions to global problems is. The best example for this is the European Union that did not have a contingency plan for shared crises, and still does not have one if not for monetary stimulus, with the exception of the newly established Eurobonds. Ian Bremmer has pointed out how lacking the global governance is in is book, “Every Nation for Itself”, published in 2012. He points out how there is not a country with enough leadership to forward a global agenda, and the world is shifting from globalization to regionalism. Economic regionalism can be defined as, “institutional arrangements designed to facilitate the free flow of goods and services and to coordinate foreign economic policies between countries in the same geographic region”.
This brings us to the essence of this article: the power shifts on the international chessboard due to the apparent loss of United States’ hegemony. The ongoing struggle for power between USA and China and how the crisis impacts a fragile power-balance. To analyze this matter, it is important to quote the latest book of Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret, “Covid-19: The Great Reset”. “In the world on international affairs, if two different observers are entitled to their own opinions, that makes them subjective, but no less real and no less valid. If an observer can only make sense of the ‘reality’ through different idiosyncratic lenses, this forces us to rethink our notion of objectivity.” The coexistence of different opinions is only the natural consequence of an intrinsic heterogeneity. The ideology in this case is irrelevant, this article wants to point out how the pandemic amplifies the ongoing conflict.
First of all, the flow of information available to people made it easy to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of both countries. The United States has faced many problems and the international spectators have had a first-row position to judge its failures. To begin with, the reaction of the Trump administration was ineffective in the first corona outbreak, creating a snowball effect. The deep crisis faced generated immense health problems to the population, and it has been proved that the virus has a more disruptive impact for the disadvantaged population. For example, African American communities have, on average, lesser living conditions, more work precarity, and lower access to medical services. This contributed to inflame the social uproar and generate tensions within the population that feels neglected and the institutions. Nevertheless, this crisis also showed the resilience of the American system. Firstly economically, with a $900 billion COVID-relief package and a $1.4 trillion government funding package it kept the trust of the financial community. Secondly, even under extreme pressure created by various social insurrections caused by the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent strike on the Capitol, the American Institution held and a democratic transition of power was achieved.
On the other side of the coin, China is also experiencing some turmoil, it, however, started pre-Covid mostly because of a more aggressive foreign policy. The attempt to reconquer sovereignty over Hong Kong and the lack of democracy are showing the true face of the red dragon to the world: a bold superpower that seizes every opportunity to extend its influence. The loud requests of help from the Hongkongers have been suffocated by the pandemic crisis, and the attention shifted to find the reason behind the outbreak of the virus. In the midst of numerous speculations about various alleged hypothesis, the international community is now aware of the reticence of China to be honest about their information. The People’s Republic has also been veiling its intention to utilize the crisis to gain a position of supremacy with the flooding of relief supplies. For example, highly advertised is the supplies received by Italy from China in April 2020, however the various shipments received previously from the EU to China are less discussed. Nonetheless, China has also proved its extreme flexibility to the world, being capable of scaling the production extremely fast and reach new peaks of productivity. It is also the only developed country to conclude last year with economic growth of 2.3%, estimated by the Financial Times.
The two superpowers have experienced important shifts in their soft and hard power. The question is not who will prevail in the future, although the observers are highly insecure of the outcome with every possibility still open. One of these being a destructive zero-sum game that will leave many nations wounded and no victor. These two countries have something in common: an extremely self-centered vision generated by their knowledge of their strengths. As a result of this, they often tend to underestimate the reaction of other countries. The recent coup d’état in Myanmar could be the first spark to aggravate the situation. The threatened sanctions from newly elected Joe Biden could push the country closer to China. An already tense geopolitical situation of the South China Sea could escalate very quickly as Myanmar has been an essential part to relieve the economic stranglehold of China in the geographic area and reduce the worries of India, South Korea, and Japan.
To conclude, as previously mentioned, it is too early to speculate on the future shape of the post-covid geopolitical system. However, we are confident in saying the pandemic crisis will be an accelerator of the past tensions. The world will plunge into deeper instability and conflict, and regionalism could strengthen under our eyes in the future years. Thus, the battle for the hegemony of the world seems less of a possibility and more of a realistic scenario.