Covid 19: Can we trust China?
One of the core issues that will raise its head in the post-Covid-19 world will be whether the West can ever trust China as an equal trading partner again.
Prior to Covid-19 there were questions with regard to the Chinese focus (more precisely, the lack of it) on the environment, climate change (China contributing circa 27% of greenhouse gas emissions for 12.4% of global trade - whilst the USA contributed 14.8% emissions for 11.5% of trade*), human rights (numerous instances, most recently the Uighur Muslims) and a brazen attempt at world-domination through subsidised trade (the policy of subsidising whole industries to undercut competitors and force them out of business (think steel, solar power, electronics, plastics)).
Now, we have another – global health.
Like it or lump it, Covid-19 came from China. Whether it was from a “wet market”, an accidental release of a strain of Corona virus from the Institute of Virology or the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control which both study such things (and strangely, coincidentally are both located in Wuhan) or something more engineered, more sinister. China was its origin.
Now, China either managed to pull off the contradictory miracle of managing to contain the viral outbreak limiting its economic and human effects through draconian local lockdowns (but strangely not international travel) whilst at the same time naively discounting the effects and nature of the virus to the World Health Organisation (WHO) which in turn confused the West’s initial response to the pandemic. Or, for want of a better word, it lied.
If it had done the latter, for whose benefit – the global community, or something more local.
The final straw?
Is the Covid-19 pandemic the final straw? The world’s businesses (and governments which ultimately allow for such trade to take place) had seemingly accepted the downsides of trading with China (i.e. encouraging greater emissions, disregard for human rights, acceptance of their domineering trade strategy) for the benefit of cheaper goods, increased profit margins and the hope of inward investment.
Or, does the pandemic now make China too risky a trade partner?
To put it another way, and perhaps more accurately, does the pandemic make the risks of trading with China too visible for the general public in the West, and will the public consider those risks unacceptable in return for cheaper goods and greater private profit.
Change is in the air
Already, here in the UK, we are seeing signs that politicians are beginning to question our relationship with China. Conservative MPs have already gone on record to question the UK’s close relationship with China on key infrastructure projects (remember that in a communist state, like China, the notion of a private company is illusory regardless of assurances to the contrary).
In the USA there is widespread suspicion of Chinese businesses in terms of espionage and intellectual property theft with Chinese tech companies effectively barred from key elements of the nation’s infrastructure.
Further, although limited, the mass media is beginning to, at last, question China’s motives.
For too long, the West have collectively ignored the questions about China. Papering over doubts for fear of upsetting the inward investment apple cart or the opportunity for businesses to exploit the growing Chinese domestic market for private profit.
Perhaps a change in consumer attitudes, caused by the pandemic, may bring about a reassessment of our relationship with China as both big businesses and governments are too enamored with short- and medium-term benefit to do so themselves, regardless of the rhetoric they feed the media.