Contribution to the series "The World HandCOV'd"

The coronavirus crisis has accelerated the onset of an across-the-board, zero-sum confrontation between Washington and Beijing. This had already been preceded by the Trump administration’s trade war and open warnings surrounding Huawei’s 5G technology, the European Commission’s description of China as a “systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance”, criticism of the Chinese regime’s increasing control over Hong Kong and its treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, and regional pushback against the perceived excesses of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Western countries’ hardening line toward China in recent months has left Beijing with likely the most unfavourable international environment it has faced since the Tiananmen incident of 1989.

Key takeaways

• At least in the realm of geopolitics, it has increasingly become clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is reinforcing existing trends more so than creating new ones. This remains true when it comes to China.

• As the pandemic settles in, Beijing will have to develop a careful equilibrium in its foreign policy between a macro level defined by great power conflict and its adjacent Eurasian and Asia-Pacific regions that are still slowly finding their own footing in global affairs.