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China likely to emerge out of COVID-19 a bigger global player: Report

China is likely to emerge from the coronavirus crisis as a bigger global player both in politics and economic terms, that is according to a report compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

EIU is the research and analysis division of the Economist Group, with over 70 years’ experience in helping governments, businesses and financial firms understand how the world is changing.

The observation by the EUI attempts to answer what happens next after COVID-19, which broke out in Wuhan, China last year.

The EUI says the coronavirus crisis will sharpen great power rivalries and the world will see a shift of power from the West to East.

But EUI noted the COVID-19 pandemic will not usher in an “entirely new global order”, but would make the world see how China has already established spheres of influence in parts of the world that receive little attention.

EUI believes China is working hard to repair the reputational damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak, “in particular by sharing medical expertise, sending aid and filling some medical supply shortages around the world.”

“Regardless of the criticisms made of its early handling of the coronavirus outbreak, China will use the crisis to raise its global profile and demonstrate its importance as an indispensable global player. The crisis is also likely to crystallise the development of clearly demarcated Chinese spheres of influence in parts of Africa, eastern Europe, Latin America and South-east Asia,” read the report.

The EUI said China would seek to capitalise on the failure of the United States (US) to give a lead at the start of the crisis and on its inward-looking focus during the worst of the public health emergency.

China now has an opportunity to expand its influence by providing expertise and support to countries hard hit by the pandemic, the EUI points out.

As to whether, the US’s global leadership would be diminished, the EUI said ‘indisputably’ America is the global hegemon given its economic and military clout but over the past three years, other countries, have come to view it as a “less reliable, trustworthy partner.”

“At the same time, some have become warier of China, with the European Union (EU) for example declaring it to be a ‘systemic rival’ and ‘strategic competitor.’ Faced with a less reliable US and a more assertive China, some European leaders are calling for a more ambitious common European foreign and defence policy. However, the pandemic is likely to expose the limits of such ambition,” reads the report.

Another consequence of the pandemic shall see rivalry intensifying among the major power blocs and between nation states as well.

“The US’s retreat from the world stage has given China an opportunity to fill a vacuum, particularly as the epidemic has forced the US to turn inwards even more for now. It would be a mistake, however, to underestimate the power and leadership of the US, which is certainly aware of China’s intentions and is likely to fight back. The renewed US threat of punitive trade tariffs against China shows the likely future direction of policy,” said the EUI report.

As for the EU, it would emerge weakened from the coronavirus crisis, as the EUI listed previous factors such as sovereign debt crisis, the migrant crisis and Brexit that affected the bloc.

“The failure to mobilise a pan-European response to the crisis and the tendency of member states to look after their own citizens has dealt a blow to the EU: member states did not act in concert when the crisis erupted in Europe, but unilaterally, closing borders, suspending free movement and stopping transport links without co-ordination.

“The lack of pan-European solidarity was striking, as Italy’s appeal for assistance was initially ignored by other European states, which also blocked exports of medical supplies and equipment, allowing China to step in to offer help and therefore bolster its global influence. The EU belatedly offered more assistance to struggling member states and to aspirant member states in the western Balkans, but the damage had already been done and resentment is likely to linger.”

The EUI also believes emerging powers such as Russia, Turkey, Iran and others would seek to capitalise on the crisis as they in recent years sought to capitalise on the increasing fragmentation of the global order by asserting leadership in their regional “backyards”.

These countries , according to the EUI have taken advantage of the reduced engagement of the US to increase their influence and meddle.

“For some of these states the epidemic represents an opportunity to bolster their regional and global presence. Russia has sent military and medical aid to Italy on planes branded ‘From Russia with love,’ in a snub to the EU and other traditional partners, which initially failed to help the hard-hit country; it also sent a plane full of masks and medical supplies to the US.

“At the same time some of these regional players are likely to be hard hit by the coronavirus crisis (Russia and Turkey have both experienced major outbreaks of the disease), and this may limit their capacity to extend their influence in the short term. However, over the longer term the pandemic will accelerate the fragmentation and decomposition of the global world order, to the benefit of emerging powers such as China, and potentially the likes of Russia and Turkey.”

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