Illustration: Liu Rui from Global Times
Illustration: Liu Rui from Global Times

by Yu Shuaishuai, Ren Ke and Liu Pinran

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world, the global political structure is changing: amid a widening gap in transatlantic relations and a familiar U.S. withdrawal from international affairs, many other countries and regions are shouldering global responsibilities and becoming new voices for cooperation in face of challenges.

Many experts and media worldwide agree that all these changes happened during the 100 days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan. 30.

WORSENING TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS

Transatlantic relations have suffered a new blow in the global health crisis, with U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral moves proving to be “aggressive isolationism,” the European Council on Foreign Relations, a pan-European think tank, pointed out in a commentary published in early April.

A day before the WHO announced that Europe became the epicenter of the pandemic on March 13, Trump already issued travel bans on most of mainland Europe, which incurred widespread doubt, disapproval and condemnation from the continent. The European Union (EU) issued a joint statement criticizing the U.S. measures for being taken “unilaterally and without consultation.”

When Europe is struggling, what the United States did has amplified the gap in the transatlantic relations.

On March 18, some U.S. media applauded the fact that the U.S. Air Force flew half a million coronavirus testing swabs from Italy to the U.S. state of Tennessee, at a time when Italy recorded over 35,000 cases, the most outside China.

In early April, Washington was accused by Berlin of “modern piracy” after redirecting 200,000 Germany-bound masks for its own use. The White House faced the same accusation from France.

Analysts worldwide said the transatlantic alliance was already in a bad shape before the sudden outbreak of the pandemic. Since the current U.S. administration came to power, the U.S.-Europe bond has suffered a series of blows over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s defense expenditures, trade conflicts, the Iran nuclear deal and the refugee crisis, among others.

Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of Research, Transatlantic Security at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told French daily Le Figaro that Europeans have made the majority of their decisions during the crisis without consulting the United States due to Trump’s indifference towards its European allies in the virus battle.

“It’s as if they’ve internalized the fact that we shouldn’t expect anything from American leadership anymore,” she said.

Erik Brattberg, director of the Europe Program and a fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in an article on the organization’s website that the latest bout of transatlantic discord is marked by “a lack of European trust in Washington’s intentions, unpredictable U.S. foreign policy decision making, a dearth of U.S. diplomatic decorum, and a sense of ideological drift across the Atlantic.”

U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM GLOBAL AFFAIRS

It has been widely recognized that Washington is playing a blame game to shift its responsibility for the poor management of the pandemic within the United States and wrench itself out of a political impasse caused by a delay in tackling the virus.

And its latest move to cut off WHO funding has triggered a new wave worldwide of questioning the U.S. leadership in global affairs.

“How shortsighted when global coop needed more now than ever,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, tweeted after the White House’s decision, adding that Washington has “entirely abandoned” U.S. global health leadership.

Yet the word “withdraw” is no new to the Trump administration.

Washington quit the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, with Trump saying the decision was in accordance with his “America First” policy. A few months later, it quit the UNESCO.

It then withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018.

Over the past century, the United States has displayed global leadership in almost all global crises, including the 2008 financial crisis and the 2014 Ebola crisis. It has granted assistance to other countries, and established today’s multilateral international system.

“But this is perhaps the first global crisis in more than a century where no one is even looking to the United States for leadership,” said an article from The New York Times on April 23.

Although the United States is acting as the current chair of the G7, it was French President Emmanuel Macron who called for a virtual G7 summit to discuss the coronavirus crisis in mid-April. During the summit, Trump was left isolated for his decision to suspend WHO funding.

“The United States will no longer be seen as an international leader because of its government’s narrow self-interest and bungling incompetence,” commented Kori Schake, deputy director general of the London-headquartered International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an article published by Foreign Policy magazine in March.

“Washington has failed the leadership test, and the world is worse off for it,” Schake said.

NEW VOICES FOR COOPERATION

Facing the coronavirus — a common enemy of mankind, many countries and regions, such as China and the EU, have been shouldering great global responsibilities and waging all-out efforts to deepen international cooperation.

Since Jan. 3, China has been regularly informing the WHO and relevant countries on the latest development of the epidemic situation within the country.

Chinese scientists were the first to uncover the genetic code of the virus and shared it with the WHO on Jan. 12, “enabling the roll-out of effective testing around the world,” wrote Robin Niblett, director and chief executive of British think tank Chatham House, in an article published in April.

Besides, China has offered assistance to over 120 countries around the world, sending urgently needed medical supplies and dispatching teams of experts to those in need. It has also donated 50 million U.S. dollars to the WHO in the past two months to support the global fight against COVID-19.

“This could be the first major global crisis in decades without meaningful U.S. leadership and with significant Chinese leadership,” said Rush Doshi, director of the China Strategy Initiative at Washington-based research group the Brookings Institution, in a story published by The New York Times in March.

The outbreak is also a test of European integration. The EU quickly unified its internal policies in response to the epidemic, and has performed actively on international stages such as the G20 and the G7 to coordinate global cooperation. It has also showed its full support for international organizations such as the United Nations and the WHO.

Conquering the pandemic requires solidarity and “strong and co-ordinated policy responses” by governments and societies at a global level, emphasized Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Thomas Greminger. Enditem

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