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Foreign Policy

To Weather Storm, Big Countries Must Engage

Mar 27, 2020
  • He Yafei

    Former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs

After bringing the outbreak under control at home, China is now facing the risk of importing the coronavirus via inbound travelers and triggering a new wave of infections.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 worldwide is causing panic at many levels. Most stock markets globally have experienced repeated declines, lighting the fuse on financial risks that have been accumulating since 2008. Significant links in global production chains have been broken, subjecting the world to the double shock of a public health crisis on top of an economic one. The ferocity of this double trouble has not been seen since at least World War II. Our global village is facing an existential crisis for which a global solution is urgently needed.

Major countries, including China, the United States, along with major European countries such as Germany and France, BRICS nations and other G7 countries, should give more thought to the concept of “a community with a shared future for mankind,” forsake or at least:

• temporarily put aside geopolitics and bilateral disagreements

• rekindle the 2008 synergy for coping with the financial crisis

• immediately initiate a well-balanced and organized G20 summit mechanism

• come up with countermeasures that cover the entire world

• be effective and reasonable in responding to the multifaceted crisis

• conduct macro coordination and consultations over policies regarding finance, trade and pandemic control

• try their best to avoid each going its own way, or resorting to contradictory or even beggar-thy-neighbor policies.

In the meantime, worldwide moral and material support should be mobilized via the UN, responding to and implementing decisions made by the G20 leaders. Countries’ central banks have actually displayed a certain consensus, as can be seen in successive currency-easing policies.

Zhou Enlai, the former Chinese premier, had a famous saying at the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia: “China is here not to quarrel but to seek cooperation.”

Neither the virus, nor the financial and economic crises respect national boundaries. Cooperation is the crux of the matter, and it’s the only way forward. Ironically, despite humanity’s level of development, we can’t seem to join hands even in the face of a global existential crisis. Can we not even rise to the level of the great number of newly independent nations from Asia, Africa and Latin America 65 years ago?

We especially hope the U.S. will reflect on its attitude toward international cooperation in dealing with this crisis, and that it stops blaming China and other nations. Because instead of offering help in resolving the trouble, it only intensifies the divergences and weakens the basis for major country cooperation.

On the basis of major country cooperation, we need to come up with an emergency response to the many loopholes in the global governance regime, particularly those in the public health, finance and trade sectors. We must enhance support for such primary governance platforms as the WHO, the IMF and the WTO. China recently donated $20 million to the severely under-financed WHO to help it become the core platform of the global public health system. China also provided emergency medical aid to Italy, Iran and Iraq, helping them cope with the crisis.

This is the Chinese world outlook. Given the ongoing turbulence in capital markets, “confidence is more valuable than gold,” as the old saying goes.

The international community needs major countries to join hands to reinvigorate international institutions, boost confidence and stabilize markets, which can’t be accomplished by anyone single-handedly. From the inception of the global financial and economic governance regime, the IMF and WTO have been tasked with stabilizing exchange rates and promoting free trade. Why should we put them aside at this critical juncture?

With multiple crises hitting simultaneously, countries don’t have much time left. They must immediately take collective action. They must swiftly, forcefully and effectively deal with the crises and the chain reactions they may trigger. They should also think deeply about the long-term effects of the international community’s countermeasures in this time of globalization and all-around interconnection.

Considering the complexity and sensitivity of relations between major countries at the moment, including the fact that the U.S. will soon hold general elections, it won’t be easy to take collective action immediately. But there is no other choice for countries living in the same global village.

A viable option is that major countries could conduct advance communication before the G20 emergency summit; decide on the agenda of the summit and the priorities to be addressed; reach a basic consensus on supporting multilateralism, forsaking unilateralism; take the WHO, IMF and WTO as the main cooperation platforms for containing the pandemic; establish smooth and unobstructed channels for major country communication; and ensure the decisions and agreements at the G20 summit are implemented with proper oversight. For this purpose, it is imperative to set up a G20 secretariat.

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