Contribution to the series "The World HandCOV'd"

When China marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in October 2019, the role of the United States in the international arena had been thoroughly reshuffled by the presidency of Donald Trump. His open contempt of multilateral institutions and policies driven by narrow interests had left allies doubting if they could rely on US support in the event of a crisis. At the same time, China has become particularly active in defining its role in the world since President and Party Chairman Xi Jinping took over leadership in 2012. He shifted China’s ambitions into a higher gear by announcing that China must “take centre stage in the world.”

Key takeaways

• The pandemic has reinforced already emerging trends in international relations. Key to prevent further deterioration of great power relations will be consensus on the basic value and functioning of the main pillars in our multilateral system.

• China’s ‘dual track’ approach is reshaping the international structure enormously. It can undermine the positively connoted role of multilateral forums as they appear increasingly ‘toothless’. Antagonism between the two great powers erodes their capacities as important platforms for global governance decision-making.

• The dichotomy between the use of coercive means (power politics) and positive engagement in the Chinese foreign policy is growing. The two sides of the coin cannot be viewed separately and China is seen increasingly as an ambiguous international actor.