Must China Replace the Incapable US?

(Abu Hassan, )

Ehtasham Amir

You are mayor of a large metropolitan and it is on fire. A real ravaging fire thatis to burn down large area of your city. While you are focusing all your energies on fighting that fire, you come across the reports that your Fire Chief is downright incompetent and hasn’t prepared his department well for the gigantic task at hand. Right in the middle of this ordeal, what should you do first? Fight the fire or fire the Fire Chief?Obvious answer would be to fire the Fire Chief first and then handle the fire. No. Sure? You wouldn’t go down that path? You are right. Any sane person would not. Correct approach is to handle the emergency at hand first and sort out institutional matters and incompetence of departmental chiefs later.

But how else would a US president stand out from the crowd if it followed the logical and obvious path? Americans are known for “adopting the right option after exhausting all other options”. The world order, put in place after WW-II, seems to have reached its shelf life. Signs that it is crumbling are visible all over to an even casual observer. All systems and global structures require constant monitoring of health by effective and visionary leadership. Which in itself is no mean task. The world of 200 plus states and territories is big messy place and cannot settle its disputes by itself in absence of strong and purpose driven leadership. This leadership is both by individuals and countries, who have to rise above petty tactical gains to look deep into future.

COVID-19 has presented humanity with an unprecedented challenge in known history. All countries irrespective of geography or wealth have been affected by this pandemic. Left unchecked or fought half-hearted, it would wreak havoc of unimaginable magnitude to individual states and the global order due to interconnectedness. Countries have to put in all their resources and energies to fight it internally and coordinate their efforts globally to stem its further spread.Sharing of knowledge has never been more important in human history than it is today.

But the United States seems oblivious to the magnitude of the problem it is facing. World is always held hostage in the American election year – an irony of international politics and diplomacy. Problems of any magnitude have to wait for the dust of USA’s domestic politics to settle before any solutions can be found. 2020 is another American election year, which isproving to be equally devastating.President Trump had to find a scapegoat for devastation caused by COVID-19. His incompetence in handling the crisis is being seriously questioned,so he has chosen World Health Organization (WHO) to deflect the blame. This is to soothe his domestic audience. What effects would it bring to global fight against COVID-19 is not his priority in the election year.

Coronavirus is public health crisis of global proportions. Instead of making global health institutions stronger,Trump has chosen to hit them at the most inappropriate time and manner. WHO is the only legally mandated UN body to coordinate public health issues and crises.All countries are its members and required to share information pertaining to various diseases and actions to contain them. Its effectiveness can be questioned and improved with times. Right now, WHO is fighting the toughest battle of public health in modern history. Cutting down its resources in the middle of the war is the hardest blow. It is difficult for WHO to perform its functions without adequate resources. Why did USA choose this time for such an action? This clearly signals that the USA disregards its global responsibilities and the so-called world order put in place since 1945.

American action amounts to abdicating one’s responsibilities in the middle of crisis which is likely to severely affect the global response to the pandemic. There is no other country, except China, which can replace USA at this point of time. Whether the western world allows that to happen is another issue. More important question is whetherChina is really prepared and ready to take this role and lead the world response? Frankly, there are no easy answers to such questions. China has been battered in trade war with USA since last two years and has been hit even harder by COVID-19 due to disruption of global supply chains and markets. Trajectory of Chinese global rise perhaps does not see China taking up leadership role so soon and especially amidst thecurrent crisis.

But opportunities have to be grabbed;this is the best time for China to prove to world that it is a responsible state and it cares for global issues. Looking inwards would not bring China any more glory than it has already attained. China is an economic giant.Is it ready to play a role commensurate with its clout and size to coordinate and lead the world in times of crises? The Chinese leadership would have to choose very wisely.

The pandemic would pass and may become history, notwithstanding the devastation left in its wake. All countries and global institutions would explore ways to cooperate with or without a global leader. China would perhaps not find an opportunity so ripe, so perfectly timed and presented to it in a platter to assume the global leadership role. This is its leadership’s test. The current king has relinquished the job, and thethrones are not kept vacant for long. If natural heirs don’t claim, someone will. That’s the lesson of history.

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