The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) organized an online roundtable discussion on June 23, 2020 under the title „China in the Post-Covid-19 World Order”. Invited experts were Dr. Chen Xin Executive President and Managing Director of the China-CEE Institute, and Dr. Gergely Salát, Associate Professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University. The event was moderated by Dr. Tamás Baranyi, Deputy Director for Strategy at IFAT.
In his opening statement, Professor Salát noted that talking about a post-Covid-19 World Order in itself is difficult as the pandemic has just two days earlier produced record numbers of new infections worldwide; while Professor Chen explained the development and handling of the recent rekindling in China. Gergely Salát also added that new infections in the hundreds in China generate more media attention than more than 30 000 daily new cases in the U.S. According to Professor Chen, current international tensions are to be interpreted in the light of the pandemic and thus these are hopefully temporary; while Professor Salát said the basis of the tensions lie in „the maths”, i.e. in China’s continued fast growth which makes the U.S. feel challenged in different fields. Professor Chen repeatedly pointed to the impossibility of isolating China. Professor Salát agreed: by the time of the onset of the Cold War, one of the great powers involved had been living in economic autarchy for decades.
Both experts agreed that economic recovery is a top priority for both countries which would require a strengthened international cooperation. In terms of trade policy difficulties, Professor Chen explained his view that while a major country is very strong, it champions free trade, while in the process of weakening, the same country demands fair trade – and this tendency characterizes the current environment. As for the artificial „shortening” of supply chains, Professor Salát emphasized that it would be extremely expensive which renders the idea non-viable except perhaps for some spectacular exceptions. Put it simply: even if average Europeans or American would join boycotting China, they would not do it at the doubled cost of some of their consumer goods. Chen professor added that supply chain modifications were also underway in China, because the Asian country wishes to join the world economy at points of higher added value. Technology was identified as an important field which is to see an increased competition. Professor Chen said that China overcame the effects of the 2008 financial crisis with heavily investing into infrastructural projects; and likewise, this current crisis could be overcome with investing into high-tech infrastructure. Responding to security concerns, Chen said: it may well be that Westerners are suspicious of Chinese 5G infrastructure, but Chinese people are not suspicious of the waterworks of their own cities, even though those were modernized mostly by French companies.
As for Europe – and most of the world – the two experts agreed that the gear-up of Chinese-American tensions are detrimental for almost everyone as most smaller countries depend on both the West and China. With regard to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) it was said that some of the projects indeed slowed down, but others did not: thus, the heterogeneity of the BRI could contribute to its post-pandemic dynamism. Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans, will continue to play an important role in Chinese investment policy, and China hopes that this will not be halted by the gear-up of international tensions.
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