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The Geopolitics of Covid 19

June 30, 2020 1:57 PM
By Merlene Emerson in Libdem Voice

Paddy Ashdown Forum logoOn Sunday 28 June at 1400 BST, a time chosen to suit a global audience, LibDems Overseas (LDO) a g(local) party co-hosted our first webinar with the Paddy Ashdown Forum, the centrist think tank supported by the European Liberal Forum. Participants who joined via Zoom were largely drawn from LDO's 1000 members and supporters living in over 40 countries outside Europe. The event was moderated by LDO Chair, George Cunningham.

Covid19 has been called a "game changer", knocking all countries sideways economically and in the sphere of public health. It has also awoken the world to the rise of China, where the outbreak started, and which may be perceived as the nation to come out "on top" after the pandemic.

Our first speaker Dr Christine Cheng, (lecturer in War Studies at Kings College London and key member of the Federal Policy Committee) focused on the impact of Covid19 on UK China relations. Based on a 2019 Delta poll, Brits over-estimated UK's influence in the world as #2 after the US and ahead of China at #3. Cheng recommended that the UK should stay aligned with the EU for greater clout. The diplomatic row between China and Canada sparked by the detention of Huawei's Chief Financial Officer was followed by China's arrests of two Canadians on suspicion of espionage. More recently, Australia's call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus resulted in tariffs being imposed on Australian goods. These instances point to a more confident China, ready to defend its ground.

Professor Paul Reynolds, (former lecturer at the University of Westminster and member of the Federal International Relations Committee) was our second speaker and shared a nuanced view of China's growth under President Xi JinPing. With slides of maps of the 'Belt and Road Initiative' and 'String of Pearls' he demonstrated how China's expansion may be driven more by domestic needs and protection of its trade routes especially as the world's largest importer of oil. There has been news reports of China's militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea, but another slide showed where the balance of power really lay with the already well established US military bases across Asia. The key says Reynolds is to try to engage China in the international rules based system and organisations, and not be stuck in a spat between the super powers.

There followed a lively Q&A with questions coming from the US and Latin America, to Zambia and Indonesia. I managed to get in one, quoting WHO's Director General who famously said " The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself, it's the lack of global solidarity and global leadership". Indeed, it was generally agreed that we cannot defeat the virus with a divided world.

If anyone missed the webinar but is interested in catching a recording, you can view it here: