There’s a storm brewing on the horizon.
2021 could very well be remembered as the year that the People’s Republic of China emerged from its shell, so to speak. Beijing might decide the time has come to discard finesse diplomacy and assertively assume what it views to be its rightful place as the next global superpower. China’s economic, diplomatic, and military power is rivaled only by that of the United States. Yet there appears to be a growing consensus among Chinese elites that the US is a nation in decline and will now move aggressively to impede China’s rise. They point to the actions of the Trump administration over the past four years as proof of this, especially with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to forestall or minimize any US action that might disrupt China’s long term geopolitical ambitions, Beijing could decide to move pre-emptively on one or more fronts at some point in the next twelve months.
Or then again, maybe not. In either case, 2021 promises to be a year where China is largely regarded as a challenge to the geopolitical status quo.
China led the world into the COVID-19 pandemic and then positioned itself to lead the world out of it, whether by design or default. The virus came to light in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is largely regarded as the epicenter of the pandemic. China endured the first wave by essentially locking down the entire nation as the seriousness of the virus became known. Unfortunately, Beijing did not put similar safeguards in place to ensure COVID-19 did not spread beyond China’s borders. This recklessly oversight is directly responsible for bringing on the initial, rapid worldwide spread of the virus from late February through to early April, 2020.
Events after that point are fresh in our collective memories. Outside of the growing pressure on national healthcare systems from Spain to Iran, economies strained, and political systems buckled. And when all was said and done, it was the People’s Republic of China that benefitted most from the pandemic fallout.
Countless questions loom about China’s in 2021. Will Beijing soften its tone and absorb some responsibility for COVID-19? Can the United States and other democracies continue to push back against China even if it decelerates the recovery of national economies? What shape and directions will Sino-US relations go in under a Biden administration?
In the coming weeks and months, these questions, as well as many others, will find answers. China is going to be a regular topic of discussion here on the blog as we try to provide some answers.