Has Coronavirus Hurt China’s Influence?

China: the country where the Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) originated. For months we’ve been glued to our screens, stuck at home and trying to figure out a potential clue to what might lie ahead. Back in Beijing, China’s power brokers are also pondering over how things will normalize.

China’s Influence Was Rising — Then COVID-19 Hit

For decades, China’s influence has been rising steadily. From global expansions to regional dominance, it has displayed a wealth of different capabilities that perched the country firmly at the top of the global world order. This year has not been so fruitful. The coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan earlier in January came as a massive blow for President Xi Jinping and his long-term ambitions. From initially hiding the outbreak of COVID-19 to later suppressing its severity, all of this has put China in a precarious position. 

China’s influence across the world could go both ways. Overall, the country took quick action to stem the virus, treating patients in the best way possible. There have reportedly been no new cases in the country for a couple of days but even if they do emerge, they are in lesser numbers. China’s response to counter the disease was swift and Beijing formulated into a plan which the rest of the world should adapt to. Quick to enforce lockdowns, putting the infected into quarantine and bringing back to life those who were preparing to take their last breath. China’s influence today is as important as it was before the outbreak of the COVID-19. However, criticism has been immense. China is being condemned by various countries across the globe for not curbing the virus when it first broke out, for not keeping it in control and for eventually letting it evolve into a pandemic.

Assessing Chinese Soft Power

China’s influence on a global scale following the outbreak was positive at first. It has offered assistance to over 120 countries by not only dispatching medical teams but also donating supplies such as masks, ventilators and PPE which to a certain extent has helped alleviate their shortcomings. Secondly, due to eradicating problems at home in a smooth manner, China now has an advantage over the United States and the European Union. Over 20 million jobs have been lost in the United States as industries start reopening and the economy starts to regenerate in China.

This goes on to show that China could emerge as a global leader, lending finance and resources to those who are having a hard time passing through this calamity. Countries like Italy, Spain and France who have suffered the worst COVID-19 crises would be more than willing to receive assistance. The decline around the globe is forcing many countries to work on their internal problems and focus on issues that dominate the domestic agenda rather than what happens outside their borders. The biggest concern is the lack of appropriate healthcare systems. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted many problems within corrupt governments, narrating a stark tale of ineffectiveness in monitoring the entire situation.

Flipping the Script

Flipping the script allows us to delve deeper into new realities. The post-pandemic period is unlikely be a place where hegemonic powers will battle for the new world order. In China’s case, it will have to face many troubles which will consequently hurt its international image and prestige. Trust in China will definitely wane over the inability of the country to contain the virus and allowing it to spread. The public sentiment within the country has also dramatically dampened given the autocracy of President Xi Jinping. Avoiding blame by the international community will become a difficult task as Wuhan was the epicenter of the virus which emerged from a live animal market. Considering all these issues, it is likely that China would see a drop in tourists to the country out of fear, a halt in foreign investments and a reluctance to persuade the outside world in the authenticity of its statements. The British think-tank Henry Jackson Society has gone so far to say that China owes the G7 up to $4 trillion in damages.

What About the Belt and Road Initiative?

China’s biggest source of international attention and influence was the Belt and Road Initiative which literally spanned across the globe. It was comprised of various mammoth infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa. With the onset of the coronavirus, all projects have been suspended indefinitely. This means a halt in the transfer of resources, materials and labor. Many countries have also asked for debt relief from China given the current circumstances. While poorer countries are facing the brunt of the impact of this virus, many developing countries are asking China for accountability; to give answers to what went wrong in the first place and why this situation arose.

China’s strength should never be underestimated despite the potential troubles it may have to face once this pandemic subsides. However, with the virus surging at great speed, overcoming border controls and destroying lives on a daily basis, China will have to sit back and reevaluate its domestic and international agenda to regain its global footing. The international community will demand more transparency for the actions China takes and the road it decides to pursue next.