- The Covid-19 epidemic is disrupting the global economy, supply chains and diplomatic events. Beijing likes to say that any event within its jurisdiction is an internal affair, but that clearly doesn’t apply in this case
Viruses and epidemic diseases might originate in one country, but they have neither nationality nor loyalty. Instead of confining themselves permanently to one breeding ground, they travel far and wide, crossing one border after another. And globalisation helps them travel further, and faster.
This is why we have seen the novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and causes the disease now officially known as Covid-19, spreading wildly across the globe.
This is also why we see the whole world sharing the price of the epidemic with China, whether it is in human casualties, economic losses or societal fallout, as a local health scare develops into a pandemic on a nationwide " and even worldwide " scale.
How the epidemic unfolds will impact the world, and reshape China's relations with the outside world in a number of areas.
The first casualty will be the world economy, due to severe disruptions of economic activity in large parts of China and global travel restrictions. A sharp slowdown in the world's second-largest economy, which is also a chief engine of global growth, will drag on the world economy, which is operating dangerously close to stall speed.
The World Bank has estimated that a severe flu pandemic could cause economic losses amounting to about 5 per cent of global GDP, or US$3 trillion. A milder pandemic could reduce global gross domestic product by around 0.5 per cent.
Second, expect a speedy overhaul of supply chains. As the world's largest manufacturer, China has become integral to nearly every sector of the global economy and contributes about 30 per cent of global value added in goods production.
The disruption of production in Chinese plants will lead to cascading shortages, bringing widespread disruption to global supply chains.
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Third, the outbreak may stymie China's diplomatic engagement, including coming diplomatic events and foreign visits. The proposed EU-China Summit in Beijing in March is up in the air, although preparations are still being made for President Xi Jinping's highly anticipated state visit to Japan in April.
Fourth, the epidemic will hamper China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Because of travel restrictions and coronavirus-related delays, there will be a lack of manpower and supplies for Chinese-funded projects overseas. Beijing might find it difficult to push ahead with the mammoth programme, even though it is Xi's signature piece of diplomacy.
Fifth, the epidemic raises serious questions about the Chinese government's credibility within the global health system. While Beijing has won international plaudits for extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, it has clearly failed to act in accordance with the International Health Regulations: it either delayed the release of critical information or probably covered it up, thereby allowing the coronavirus to fester freely at an early stage.
Finally, the greatest cost will come to China's reputation as a reliable partner, as the saga has exposed the contradictions and flaws in the capacity and dynamism of the system of one-party rule. Beijing's failure to control the epidemic might result in many countries reducing their economic overreliance on China.
The epidemic threatens to deepen the distrust of China, and outright anti-Chinese sentiment, in the free world, amid Beijing's pivot to hardline authoritarian rule at home and assertive foreign policy in recent years. The reprimands given to the eight whistle-blowers who tried to warn of the epidemic have triggered criticism worldwide.
China's Communist leaders like to say that any event within their territorial jurisdiction is an internal affair and they will brook no foreign interference.
But the fight against Covid-19, although the outbreak has been the most intense within the country, is a battle involving not just the whole of Chinese society, but the world. This should be understood as a war between mother nature and the global human family " of which China is a member.
Cary Huang is a veteran China affairs columnist, having written on this topic since the early 1990s
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