“US-China confrontation could create a global strategic instability” – Dr. Chen Dongxiao


Prof. Dr. Chen Dongxiao is the President of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), a government affiliated top think-tank of China. He got his Ph.D. from Fudan University. His major areas of specialization are China’s foreign policy, China-United States relations and United Nations. He has published extensively on the UN reforms and China’s multilateral diplomacy.

In an exclusive interview with NEPAL FIRST, Dr. Chen discusses the future course of China-US relations and world politics in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

 How is the Covid-19 situation in China now? What could be the political and economic effects of Covid-19 on China, including the future of the Belt and Road Initiative? 

China was the first country affected by Covid-19. After being hit by the first wave of the pandemic, China has turned the tide on the virus in about two months by waging a “people’s war”. Now China is one of the countries that has done the best in prevention and control of the pandemic and is pressing ahead with full resumption of business activities. The huge impact brought by the Covid-19 poses a stress test to each country’s resilience in which no one can stay immune. Those who can act effectively and walk out of its shadow early will be in an advantageous position for a bounce-back. Otherwise, they may miss the opportunity and slide into recession.

The pandemic is still evolving, spreading from East Asia to Europe and North America and making its way to Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and others along the route of Belt and Road Initiative where public health capabilities are inadequate. International exchanges will not return to the original level in the short term. But we may not have to be too pessimistic if taking a broader picture into account. For one thing, according to a McKinsey report, as important parameters of globalization, the transnational flow of information, data, and thinking is gathering speed despite controversy over cross-border data management and the fragmentation of digital economy. For another, the human society has entered Anthropocene, in which human activities have become a major variable in the dynamics of our planet. In other words, in a system dominated by human beings, interactive relations between human and environment is ever more prominent, where human activities profoundly change the environment while in reverse the environment makes a deep impact on human beings.

There are many terms like Hyper Connectivity, Distant Connectivity, Butterfly Effect, Snowball Effect to describe the complexity of such interactions. Imagine in a world with few connections among each other, a pandemic of this scale would be impossible. Covid-19 will deepen the understanding that we are all living in a globalized system. Theoretically, the more severe the challenges faced by mankind, the more willingness there will be for international cooperation and coordination. The BRI, which champions a new type of globalization, is a good example of international cooperation and coordination. In the human social-ecological system we are currently living in, short-term adjustment to economic connections will take place, but there is no way we are going backwards to isolation and estrangement.

China has been facing a lot of criticism from the West, especially the United States on issues related to the origins and handling of Covid-19. What is the position of China in response to such accusations? 

China was the first to report the discovery of the novel coronavirus, which does not mean that the virus originated in China. Tracing the origin of the virus is a scientific issue that should be solved by scientific professionals. On June 7, China’s State Council Information Office published a white paper titled “Fighting COVID-19: China in Action”. The white paper lays out China’s actions in each stage of its fight against Covid-19 in chronological order.

It not only responds to the concern of the international community, but also strongly refutes the accusation of some Western politicians who attempted to stigmatize China and use the pandemic to spread “political virus”. After the sudden outbreak of the pandemic, China promptly notified the World Health Organization and the international community while strengthening its response measures as well as research efforts. In this respect, China has a clear conscience. What it did will stand the test of history. Facts speak louder than words. All the smear and defamation will eventually be proven as lies.

A global crisis calls upon collective efforts. Any idea and action that undermines the unity of mankind is irresponsible and against common interests. China has made its due contribution to support a global response to Covid-19 in various ways, such as providing medical supplies and financial assistance, sharing information and experiences, sending medical experts, and conducting joint research. Mankind rises and falls together.  In face of a disease that threatens all, China upholds the community of shared future for mankind and has tackled the pandemic in a responsible manner by demonstrating unprecedented solidarity and making huge sacrifice for the health and safety of all mankind.

How could the China-US relationship shape up in the aftermath of the novel coronavirus crisis and what could be its impacts on world politics? 

 The pandemic has rapidly intensified global strategic instability and aggravated tensions between China and the United States. The economy of two countries has come under severe strain, resulting in difficulties in implementing the phase one trade deal. Inherent problems have been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s attempt to shift blame to China to cover up its inefficient response to the pandemic and pursue its political goal of re-election. The Trump administration sees China as its main strategic competitor and has stepped up a “competition strategy” by stigmatizing China on ideological front and interfering in China’s internal affairs including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet; attacking and decoupling with China in terms of science and technology as well as key industries; forging an “anti-China” alliance; and disrupting China’s elevation of influence in the multilateral diplomacy arena. Adopting an approach of “comprehensive competition and strategic containment” towards China has become a bipartisan consensus.

The fast-changing world and the era of social media quickly escalate inter-governmental confrontation into hostility between civil societies. It also magnifies conflicts between different interests and values as well as the highlights the harm that both sides have done to each other on social and psychological levels. The cliff-drop deterioration of China-US relations has exceeded expectation. The Trump administration has made “all-government, all-round” efforts to keep China down, heightening the risk of reducing strategic competition to strategic confrontation and further consolidating ideological camps in international relations. If two sides fail to manage conflicts in a timely manner, a miscalculation is very likely to make matters even worse, driving the situation out of control and leading to the prospect of global strategic instability.


About the author

Nepal Forum of International Relations Studies (NEPAL FIRST) is a Kathmandu-based independent, not-for-profit and non partisan organization in the field of International Relations that focuses on issues related to Nepal’s foreign policy and diplomacy.

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