Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, the relationship between the United States and China has entered a new critical phase that is characterized by the polarization of the confrontation between the two countries at the economic, societal, political, and technological levels.
The post-pandemic world will lead to a different global system, where the ties between Beijing and Washington will be furtherly redefined. Some observers in the US have emphasized the need to accelerate the decoupling between these two countries, while others argue that the interconnectedness which moves the actors in the international arena makes it impossible to completely erode the foundations of the US-China interdependence.
However, the geopolitical moves of the two superpowers will dictate the major dynamics which will shape the global stage even after the pandemic. In order to interpret the future scenarios that we are likely to see, Wikistrat interviewed experts from around the world to hear their thoughts about the US-China relationship in a post-COVID-19 world.
The relationship between Beijing and Washington is at its lowest level since its normalization 40 years ago: COVID-19 has actually accelerated the deterioration of the relationship between China and the United States. The relationship between the two countries is at its lowest level since the normalization 40 years ago. Beijing and Washington refuse to subordinate their bilateral frictions to global imperatives. The longer COVID-19 persists, the worse the relationship is going to get, and transnational emergencies of the future could be weaponized. However, If Joe Biden wins the election in the US, he could inject some normality into the bilateral relationship with China. In contrast, under the Trump administration, the US foreign policy appears to be unreal and unconventional.
Completely eroding the interdependence between China and the US is not possible: Pressures to erode some of the foundations of interdependence between China and the United States are likely to intensify well beyond trade and technology. However, this is not feasible due to the significant ties between the two countries.
The Belt and Road Initiative could represent an opportunity for China and the US to cooperate: The pandemic could represent an opportunity for a joint American-Chinese partnership. The Belt and Road Initiative could be an effective platform for China and the US to work together and to supercharge the economic recovery in a post-COVID-19 world.
The WHO will continue to be supported by China in spite of pressures from the United States: The World Health Organization will continue to operate with the support from China and other countries in Europe and the developing countries that disagree with the US action.
Mercantilist approaches will shape the actions of states in the high-tech: China and the United States will increase their presence in the technology minefield, adopting mercantilist approaches which culminate in the rise of techno-nationalism. This, in turn, could severely impact the business environment with strategically positioned tech companies used to attack foreign ambitions in the technology sector.
Download the report here, or scroll down to read the analysis by experts:
Analysis by Expert
“In a strange way now, the United States wants countries to stand by it as it faces China. And it’s distrustful. It feels that people are not being loyal to it. And so, there’s this fight for loyalty. And I think that America is willing to question some of its security in other relationships if people aren’t loyal to it about their work with China.”
Read the full analysis by Prof. Kerry Brown:
“The future of the world is going, especially after the pandemic, to depend largely on the two superpowers and the largest economies in the world, namely the United States and China. It makes no sense, absolutely no sense, for the two to have a conflict with one another.”
Read the full analysis by Prof. Sarwar Kashmeri:
“I struggle to see how, given all of those internal and external constraints, which the pandemic is only exacerbating, how China would be able to overcome all of those to replace the United States as the world’s preeminent power. And that’s why I think that when we assess China’s prospects for global leadership or global preeminence [...] we have to look not only at intent [...] You have to assess capacity as well.”
Read the full analysis by Ali Wyne:
“I think what I want to see is US and Chinese leaders wake up to the fact that these two countries need to work together to join the global campaign to contain the virus.”
Read the full analysis by Prof. Yawei Liu:
“Trump is standing for US decline, and he can make all the noise he wants to on FOX news or anywhere else. America is, at least under him, declining. Whether this trend will be changed, whether Joe Biden will be able to unify the country a bit more and will be able to make the country less divisive and re-inject some normality into American foreign policies remains to be seen. But I’m optimistic.”
Read the full analysis by Prof. Axel Berkofsky:
“China doesn’t want to join the tech race, it wants to win it and knows quite well that this is the right moment to acquire some advantages, while major countries – and specifically the United States – are still heavily handling the virus emergency.”
Read the full analysis by Federica Russo: