18 april 2020, xi trumps absent america

Commentators pointing to putin as the trump years' beneficiary don't have their eye on the ball. Since america's unipolar moment in 1999, china is easing its way to becoming the new indispensable nation. In his excellent article, Kishore Mahbubani cites the pandemic as the start of the asian century. Obama's pulling back on active american leadership set the stage for trump's outright america-first isolationism, with its unilateral sanctions (like iran), wholesale vandalism of the post-war international architecture (latest, the who) and its bullying unilateralist trade policy. Until corona, this held his domestic coalition and support, but caused irreparable damage to america's global influence, "the ruination of america's reputation as a safe, trustworthy, competent international leader and partner". Trump has "insulted america's friends, undermined multilateral alliances and chosen confrontation over cooperation". Corona moved this from ineptitude and dishonesty to hostile, reckless actions, such as the "hijacking" of protective masks bought by germany and the attempt to buy monopoly rights to a german coronavirus vaccine. America is now an active opponent of multilateralism. As washington has stepped back, so in mirror image has beijing stepped forward. Despite suspect casualty numbers and an initially negligent reaction symptomatic of such a prickly authoritarian regime, the narrative is now of a strong organised state reacting with purpose to eradicate corona. Its advice is being freely shared through a global charm offensive, together with all sorts of masks, ventilators and other protective kit it is keen to be seen gifting globally. This builds on years of projecting china's model of strong economic growth and civic stability, an increasingly attractive counterpoint to increasingly sclerotic and divided western liberal free market capitalism. It has invested heavily in global infrastructure, through belt and road. Corona is strengthening the state and reinforcing nationalism everywhere with mandatory emergency measures that ultimately rely on force for implementation: china's normal modus operandi. China is playing its part in debt forgiveness, but this may have a price. The dollar faces its first serious threat as the global reserve currency since 1945. China is not there yet. When it was a soft power rising, the world was willing to play, such as joining its tilt at american imf-hegemony, the aiib. Today, the eu commission warns against the depressed price of strategic firms risking chinese acquisition. China's domestic policy has a harder nationalistic edge, and its internal troubles, from crass intolerance to outright violent suppression are more on show. As a trade behemoth built on just in time supply lines, china will suffer from post-virus reshoring and a broader reverse in globalisation, as well as from trump's relentless trade war against it. This is though a moment. China is risen, america withdrawn; the stakes are high, the world distracted. China's goal is not global domination but influence enough to stop anyone constraining it. It is succeeding. A fluid multipolar world results, to no-one's advantage. Chatham house's rob niblett sees corona as the straw that may break globalisation, replacing global economic governance with a retreat into overt geopolitical competition. Or worse, protectionist division into new great power blocs with their own supply chains. The 1930s were not a happy place.