Two interwoven global developments – the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide protests over the murder of George Floyd – have kindled debates on the future of global power in the emerging post-Covid world order.
Slowly but surely, a new post-pandemic world order is evolving, saliently characterised by rising populism and nationalism, increased competition between America and China and weak global leadership.
However, Chinese President Xi Jinping has revamped Beijing’s concept of “community of shared future for mankind” as a trident strategy to stem the slide to a post-Covid anarchy.
The pandemic is shifting global power at three levels. First, its outbreak has accelerated America’s decline, diminishing its global power in almost all spheres, including geopolitically, militarily, financially, economically, socially and in health and the environment.
The eruption of the “George Floyd protests” on May 26, 2020 has thrown America – and the world – into a triple crisis that is greatly diminishing America’s global leadership.
From local uprisings over police brutality and the killing of the African American by Minnesota police, the protests have rapidly ballooned into an America-wide and global crisis in over 400 cities and towns in all 50 states across the United States and solidarity protests in over 25 countries on all continents, except Antarctica.
America’s protests reflect the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis. The disease grew meteorically from 64 confirmed cases on March 5 to 1.9 million by June 3, with over 109,000 deaths – by far the highest in the world.
The Covid storm has exacted an inordinately heavy toll on America’s black communities, for centuries plagued by systemic racism, poverty, joblessness and injustice across generations.
The riots exploded pent-up rage, anxiety and energy among the descendants of African slaves who form about 13 per cent of America’s population and who have borne the full brunt of epidemic.
African-Americans constitute about 22 per cent of those with Covid-19 and 23 per cent of those who have fallen to the virus. As one protester reportedly remarked: “It’s either Covid is killing us, cops are killing us or the economy is killing us.”
It has hardly helped matters that President Donald Trump has turned the Oval Office into a den of racial, ethnic and cultural bigotry, providing the lightning rod to the protests, calling demonstrators “thugs” and threatening them with “vicious dogs” and the US military.
Second, the pandemic is straining Africa’s relations with America. The widespread disorder over Floyd's death has not only exposed raw race relations worldwide, but spurred protests and outrage across Africa and strained US-Africa relations.
On May 29, the usually cautious and diplomatic African Union condemned Floyd’s murder and the “continuing discriminatory practices” against American citizens of African origin.
Thirdly, and in an emphatic way, the Covid-19 pandemic is also badly straining the US-China relations, remaking an increasingly uncertain and potentially anarchic post-Covid world order.
Between January and February 2020, there “was audible popping of champagne corks” in certain quarters of the US foreign policy establishment, stoked by the thinking that China was “at last coming apart” as the novel coronavirus outbreak and the unfolding economic carnage spread across the country.
But the tide turned in March and April. China rose like a giant Sphinx from the ruins of the pandemic and began to recover as the virus migrated ferociously to the West.
This “irrational jubilation” about a dying China were quickly replaced by irrational despair and even outrage that the pandemic could possibly help China emerge triumphant in the ongoing geopolitical contest with the United States.
In a skewed rendition of the future of power in a post-Covid world based on the January-May US-China relations, former Prime Minister of Australia and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, Kevin Rudd argues that the coronavirus pandemic bodes ill for both American and Chinese power, as well as for the global order.
Rudd’s article, ‘The coming post-Covid anarchy’, published by the Foreign Affairs journal (May/June 2020) on May 6, 2020 is perhaps as controversial as an earlier article of the same ideological hue by Robert D. Kaplan (‘The coming anarchy’, The Atlantic, February 1994).
But Rudd’s article is guilty of an analytic overreach that ignores the strategies of rival powers. Beijing has responded to the pandemic and to the threat of a post-Covid anarchy by soaring up its Covid Diplomacy based on the concept of “humanity’s shared destiny”.
Between January and early June 2020, President Xi has popularised the concept in a flurry of prolific speeches, remarks, letters, messages and phone conversations with world leaders to highlight the need for international cooperation in combating the pandemic, counter-divisive ideologies like the “clash of civilisations” and stem post-Covid anarchy.
China and its intellectual and business leadership have dramatically scaled up Beijing’s Covid diplomacy using humanitarian assistance especially to vulnerable developing countries to soar up the concept of “building a community of shared future for mankind” as the cornerstone of a peaceful and cooperative post-Covid world order.
The concept is winning hearts and minds in Africa and Asia, where it resonates with local cultures and philosophies.
Xi’s “shared destiny” thesis finds a fertile cultural ground in 4.17 billion people out of a total of 8 billion human population in China (18.47 per cent), India (17.7 per cent) and Africa (16.72 per cent).
The “shared destiny” thesis resonates with the Ubuntu philosophy (“the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”), now driving China-Africa diplomacy in the 21st century.
The collective effort across cultures and civilisations to contain the Covid-19 pandemic marks the first attempt towards building a community of shared future for mankind.
“Viruses like Covid-19 do not respect borders, nor do epidemics discriminate between races,” President Xi avers. In the face of smoldering racism, Africa may find in China a trusted partner in the post-pandemic world.
Professor Peter Kagwanja is the author of: Paving Africa's Silk Road: China-Africa Relations in the 21st Century (Tafiti House Publishers, Nairobi, 2016)