Thursday, April 2, 2020 9:05 pm
By Femi Mimiko
The suggestion that the Chinese engineered extant coronavirus pandemic for economic advantage is highly preposterous. I don’t think we should touch it at all, not even with the proverbial long pole. For, even if the Chinese had just stayed the course prior coronavirus, their leadership of the global economic system was a question of time. The bitter truth is that the US may have reached the apogee of its power; and its decline may had begun to manifest in the Donald Trump phenomenon. No empire lasts forever. This is the lesson of history!
The UK was the undisputed leader of the world for several decades, with its armada on every sea; and its colonies stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific; from North America to Australia. The sing-song then, as Walter Rodney noted several years ago, was ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves, Britons never, never shall be slaves!’ Britain was the undisputed leader of the Industrial Revolution; but its decline started with the slipshod manner in which it handled the Great Depression. Not so, an emergent American state, which, with real leadership from President FD Roosevelt, launched the New Deal; and with it, took over global leadership. By 1945, it was self-assured enough to rebuild Western Europe with the Marshal Plan. Indeed, the nature of this dominant power in what soon became a unipolar world, is such that today, the American population, at 5% of the world total, effectively consumes a quarter of all world resources. Extant American withdrawal from the global system, as championed by Trump, is indicative of a country surrendering its leadership of the world, on its own volition. And the reason for this, as my son would put it, is that President Trump simply does not understand the American project!
Meanwhile, China – metaphorically the global manufacturing plant, had been waiting in the wings. With an average GDP growth rate of close to 10% for several unbroken decades; a political system that may be undemocratic but has kept several millions of people under one political roof for thousands of years; an economic system that has moved close to a billion people out of poverty in a little above a generation; and the way it has handled this coronavirus pandemic, the mark of effectiveness and leadership is unmistakable.
Today, China is all over the world with its Belt and Road Initiative, exporting its over-capacity in infrastructure development. As we write, it is moving materials and ideas all over the world, including to Western Europe, on how to deal a death knell on Covid-19. Meanwhile, the US President is busy calling everybody, including traditional US allies like UK, Canada, and Germany, funny names; trumpeting his ‘America First’ philosophy; and pandering to right wing populism that is alienating people at home, and putting former allies abroad on notice to look elsewhere for succour and leadership. Pray, who would have imagined that a coronavirus would so easily overwhelm the US health care system?
My take in all of these is that any careful observation of the major trends in the global system in the past few decades, especially since WW II, would have revealed the reality of a hegemon in decline; and the systematic rise of a new one. We may not be fond of the closed nature of the Chinese system, or their attitude to workers in the workplace, but we are talking of a country that is so methodical, and has sustained a monolithic political structure for thousands of years; and determinedly pushed Britain out of Hong Kong, its last colonial honey pot. It is a global power that has refrained from going into any major war, while its competitors, the Soviet Union, got bogged down for a decade in Afghanistan, and disintegrated; and the US almost bled to death in Vietnam, and the Middle East.
It is important, as the World Health Organisation, and Nobel laureate and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, have advised, that we find a comprehensive global response to this most destructive pandemic. I’ll rather we do this than engaging in idle speculation on whether or not Covid-19 is the latest in China’s determined effort to lead and dominate the world.
-Professor Femi Mimiko, mni, political scientist and younger brother of former Ondo State Governor, was a Vice Chancellor, Ondo State University, Akungba, [email protected]@gmail.com