With pandemics, there is no sustainable alternative to working across bordersby Tom Clark / June 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
If the first duty of the state is the safety of its citizens, then something that puts in jeopardy the safety of citizens everywhere is bound to have a bearing on the standing of states around the world.
Sure enough, just three months on from the pandemic being declared, its geopolitical ramifications are being felt. Diplomats report that the reputation of “the west” is in freefall in those many Asian states that have contained the virus better. On the continent, from public health to border control and the single currency, the strains of the crisis will require EU member states to hang more tightly together with closer co-ordination—or otherwise hang apart. (Anu Bradford and Bruno Maçães debate which of these two directions it is likely to go.) Most palpable of all, however, is the sense of Chinese power waxing while American power wanes.
Beijing has been able to protect its people from the new coronavirus far better than today’s abjectly dis-United States: as of June, the number of Covid-19 deaths per million Americans looks to be roughly 100 times that for every million Chinese. And as our outgoing deputy editor Steve Bloomfield explains in a magisterial valedictory essay, President Xi’s regime has wasted no time in turning this relative success to propaganda advantage. As Donald Trump destroys alliances abroad, and incites violent division at home (and if you’re still scratching your head about what game he’s playing, Sam Tanenhaus does the electoral calculation), the PR war is a breeze for the People’s Republic.
All this breeds a new assertiveness in China, which has already been keenly felt in Hong Kong where after long months of a fraught and grudging stand-off, Beijing has just moved to impose a new national security law by decree, making a mockery of the supposed “one country, two systems” settlement. Steve’s darkest fear is that a confluence of events—the suspension of civil liberties in the lockdown, Trump’s destruction of democratic mores, and China’s increasing plausibility as an authoritarian paradigm—could combine to trigger a catastrophic failure of nerve in the democracies. He insists that this must be resisted not only on principle, but also because—on a long view, and a broad canvas—liberal democracy is still the best system for running things that humanity has ever devised.
While Steve hankers for high-minded leadership and a new league of true democracies…