The Pandemic And The World Order: China Expands By The US Board, The Retreating Architect

The same day that Donald Trump sent a letter to the director general of the World Sauld Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, harshly criticizing his management and threatening to withdraw his funding and leave the UN body, the Chinese president was one of the few heads of state who participated in the opening of the organization’s annual assembly. In his speech, Xi Jinping thanked and praised WHO’s management and stressed the importance of multilateralism.

The leadership model chosen by the two superpowers during the pandemic is a reflection of what has been happening in the international system in recent years. As the US gradually withdraws from the board – especially since Trump’s arrival in the White House – China gains power by playing mainly within the framework of rules largely designed by the US as a great architect of world order after World War II.

President Richard Nixon visits Chinese leader Mao Zedong in February 1972


President Richard Nixon visits Chinese leader Mao Zedong in February 1972

White House Photo Office

“Under the leadership of Dr. Tedros, WHO has made an important contribution to directing and promoting the global response to COVID-19,” Xi said in his speech. “Its good work is applauded by the international community. Supporting WHO is supporting international cooperation and the battle to save lives. China calls on the international community to increase political and financial support.”

At the other extreme, Trump’s letter: “It is clear that the repeated setbacks you and your organization have committed have been extremely expensive for the world.” “I cannot allow the American taxpayer’s money to continue funding an organization that clearly does not serve the interests of the United States,” the letter concludes after the ultimatum. Soon after, already relaxed in the media, he accused the WHO of being a “puppet” of China.

“The great paradox is that China has been successful because it has played respecting the laws of the United States,” he maintains. Kishore Mahbubani, author of the book Has China won? The Chinese challenge to American primacy. “A concrete example: the man who saved China was Den Xiaoping in 1979. He adapted to the free market system and this system is a gift from the United States to the world. China went one step further and joined the WTO accepting the strict conditions imposed by the US, “adds Mahbubani, who came to serve as president of the UN Security Council during his long career as a Singapore diplomat.

It was American President Richard Nixon who brought China into the system after a major effort between 1967 and 1972. “We simply cannot afford to leave China forever out of the family of nations,” he claimed. Various secret trips, indirect communications through mediators and a ping pong display after, the UN recognized the People’s Republic of China in October 1971 and in February 1972 Nixon visits the country, beginning bilateral relations. Although China was a founding member of the UN, until then the body recognized the Government of Chiang Kai-shek, which had been withdrawn on the island of Taiwan since Mao Zedong’s victory in 1949.

Mao’s China went from being an international pariah to consolidating and reinforcing the system until it became a superpower. As I remembered Fareed Zakaria, author of ‘The Post-American World’, in Foreign Affairs magazineBeijing has not gone to war since 1979; It has not used lethal military force abroad since 1988; and has not financed or supported armed insurgents since the early 1980s.

In 2000, China’s contribution to the UN general budget was $ 12 million, equivalent to 1% of the total. 20 years later, his contribution is 367.9 million (12%), which makes him the second largest taxpayer. The United States continues to be the main one, contributing 22%. The percentage for Germany is 6.1% and for the United Kingdom, 4.6%.

Its active role in the international system can also be seen in the number of vetoes recorded in Security Council resolutions. Between 1971 and 2019, 122 resolutions have been vetoed. Of the five countries with veto power, China and France are the countries that have blocked the fewest resolutions: 14 (11.5% of the total). The United States leads the list with 80 (65.5%), followed by Russia, with 38 (38.1%) – as there are resolutions that have been vetoed by more than one State, the sum of the percentages is greater than 100% -.

China is also a member of the Security Council that more soldiers contributes to UN peacekeeping missions. In 1990 it had five soldiers deployed and in December 2019 2,545 (France is the second Security Council country with the most soldiers: 730). In 2017, the Defense Ministry created a force of 8,000 soldiers to serve in UN peacekeeping missions. As for financing these operations, Beijing is the second donor behind the US, which in 2018 refused to contribute more than 25% of the budget of these missions, which represents a drop of 28.5% that had been provided by that same year.

“China really believes in multilateralism. After 100 years of humiliation between 1814 and 1914, now its main desire is to regain its greatness. The Chinese believe they were humiliated because they isolated themselves from the rest of the world. Now they have opened up and they are going Very well. It is normal for China to say ‘I love these rules,’ “says Mahbubani.

The International Monetary Fund is one of the most important economic organisms of the world economic system. In this organization, the power of each Member State when voting is strictly linked to their contributions economic. The US is the main taxpayer and controls 16.5% of the votes, which in practice gives it veto power. China, despite having the second highest GDP in the world, occupies the third position and has a 6.08% vote. Beijing has spent years trying to increase its contributions and, consequently, its power of decision, but it has not been allowed. The Asian giant has also founded the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which directly rivals the World Bank and has been criticized by the US.

As China tries to increase its role in the world, the US withdraws from all those institutions that it says do not serve its interests or that do not comply with Trump’s orders. Among them: UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, various arms non-proliferation treaties and the withdrawal of funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. The WHO is now in Trump’s crosshairs. The US will also withdraw in 2020 from the Paris Climate Agreement, becoming the only country in the world outside of it.

“I would not say that China has taken advantage of the ‘America First’ [AmĂ©rica Primero], but the Government has shot himself in the foot. The natural soft power advantage that the US has had for so many years has now been lost under the Trump administration, “says Mahbubani.

In 2018, Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State and former Nixon National Security Adviser, told Mahbubani during a meal at his club in New York that the great mistake of the US had been to launch a geostrategic conflict with China without a long-term comprehensive strategy term.

“China has no desire to step on the shoes of the US. It does not believe that its system is better than the rest, simply that it is good for them just as the US is good for the US. Washington has the opposite view: it believes that its system he is the best and he wants everyone to copy him, “says the writer. “The US has buried itself. It has focused on holding China back. It will fail, but it is determined to try.” This explanation about the system refers to its role on the international scene and not to the internal situation of both countries, such as the violation of human rights in the Asian country.

“I hoped that the coronavirus would prove to be my thesis wrong. If COVID-19 is the common enemy of both, the US and China should unite to fight it, but the opposite has happened. You can see how deep this conflict is Despite the fact that it is in the rational and national interest of the United States to stop the confrontation, it continues, “concludes Mahbubani.

Kishore Mahbubani's book.



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