On Thursday, 28th of May, The Hague Conversations on Conflict turned its attention to growing tensions between China and the West on a range of issues from trade to the South China Sea, and which have been exacerbated by polemics around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Emerging in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year, the coronavirus has since spread to affect everybody on the planet in one form or another; disrupting dominant political narratives and questioning the established world order. Adding to general Western concerns related China’s failure to offer a level playing field in its economic and trade relations with the rest of the world, Western reliance on China in tech-sectors such as 5G, and the increasing Chinese assertiveness in global theatres, from the South China Sea to Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Sino-U.S. tensions and brought simmering rivalries to the fore. More broadly the pandemic has triggered an unprecedented global debate about China to Beijing’s obvious discomfort. With experts forecasting that post-pandemic economic recovery will take significantly longer in the West than in China, many suggest that the latter will use this to catalyse the West-East power shift and raise its global profile. Despite accusations of initial failures by the Chinese authorities to address the virus, we are already seeing powerful narratives coming out of Beijing diverting attention towards Western failures to handle the pandemic following its spread.
Conversely, some in the West have accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of corruption, bias, and an inability to adequately criticise repeated Chinese failures that may have led to the emergence of a number of serious viruses over recent years. Whilst we are seeing a continuation of isolationist policies in the West – embodied by U.S. President Donald Trump’s funding cut to the WHO – Beijing is using the country’s manufacturing capacity for ‘mask diplomacy’, providing protective equipment to struggling nations and normalising the idea of Chinese global leadership. But how long can tensions between these two world powers continue to grow before turning into another cold war – with all the costs and risks that entails? What should Europe be doing in this scenario?
The panel for this event included:
- Ardi Bouwers – a Sinologist and Director of the consultancy China Circle, specialised in intercultural communication and media. She is the author of a book about communication between Chinese and Dutch people ‘Cirkels en rechte lijnen’ (2016 in Dutch). She teaches on China in the 21st century at Amsterdam University College and on intercultural communication at Xiamen University.
- Jakub Janda – Executive Director of the European Values Center for Security Policy based in Prague. He specialises in response of democratic states to hostile disinformation and influence operations. He is Associate Fellow at Slovak Security Policy Institute and regular contributor for the Atlantic Council. He serves a member of Editorial Board of the expert portal AntiPropaganda.sk and as a proud member of the Active Reserves of the Czech Armed Forces.
- Dr Dennis Sammut – Director of the foundation LINKS Europe, is a foreign policy specialist focusing on European security issues, conflict prevention and resolution, and on EU relations with neighbouring countries to the East and the South.