Amidst Blame Game: The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on International Relations and Multilateral Diplomacy

By:  Prof. Josephus Moses Gray, PhD |graymoses@yahoo.com/  (+231)880330299 |

Digging deep into the layers of critical and intellectual reflections, we are succinctly reminded that the former President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln once said, “America will never be destroyed from within.” And so, it seems at present, the United States is consumed within through its own difficulties, as a result of the unprecedented devastation due to the novel coronavirus. The pandemic is truly global catastrophe causing both short and long-term disruption and suffering, ultimately economic loss and tragically human casualties. Perhaps, the prestige of the powers prestige is suffering a severe blow due to the coronavirus, with people across the globe changing the perception about big powers and capacities toward difficult time such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as isolations and lockdowns have become ubiquitous; Associate Professor of International Relations and Foreign Policy Studies of the University of Liberia Graduate School, Dr. Josephus Moses Gray, PhD provides an in-depth analysis of the effect coupled with the consequence of COVID-19 pandemic and catastrophe it poses for the planet and humanity.

Globally, COVID-19 is a test of legitimacy for every government and political leader. But the pandemic at the moment is being used as a political and economic weapon to illegitimize other states and leaders, while other bureaucrats, politicians and foreign capitalists are using the novel coronavirus pandemic to dent the legitimacy of other nations and world leaders, with the aim of shooting their ways to political leadership or gain influence for self-benefit. It is a glimpsing fact that governments that failed to act timely and decisively are likely to suffer the repercussion, and bound to face masses’ wraths. In most cases, they are voted against as demonstrated by visible scenarios across the globe, with political leaders face a decisive repercussion. Governments and policy-makers across the globe are scrambling to find ways out to mitigate the enormous damage with individual state’s economy headed into a decline and the numbers of vast unemployment.

In short, the blame game COVID-19, the claims and counter-claims are gradually surging what seemed to be a new cold war ream that would see a huge wave of international isolation and bigotry against other states and nationals, while overcoming world poverty remains the decisive issue for humanity. The threat of new cold war is not just about the United States of America and China, it is about all of our futures, it’s a threat to the whole of humanity. But what is the alternative to the threat of a new cold war?  It is to jointly work together to fight the pandemic, to oppose war and any form of racism, to fight abject poverty and huge unemployment, and to work together for peaceful economic development and win the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic can be defeated through greater solidarity and cooperation, not isolating other nationals or ruining other countries to score political benefits, but mutually working together to contest the plague. It appears that China has won the war against the novel coronavirus and has joined forces with dozens of other nations to put up a fierce fight to defeat the pandemic.

Instead of fostering global cooperation and globalization, the pandemic gradually promotes disintegrative tendencies within the international system as continents, regions, states and governments seek to limit or disconnect themselves from others international players, actors, stakeholders and other nationals., but sincere and collective action should be taken to reaffirm commitment to supporting multilateralism and safeguard international system, and oppose unilateralism.

The coronavirus is a major challenge facing humanity and poses a huge threat to the safety of people’s lives, to their mental and physical health, and to the social and economic development of all countries and regions. The COVID-19 pandemic had already created significant shifts in people’s behavioral patterns, interactions, movement, and if we failed to collectivize our focus against this uphill battle against humanity and all the values we stand for, indeed, it could transform our daily lives in the long run, including keeping or following social distancing guidelines, hand washing, using sanitizer frequently, more often and stockpiling essentials like food or water.  The challenges that the COVILD-19 poses to established political systems and institutions, leadership structures and measures need to be reviewed and enforced forcefully. But the moment to start reflecting and planning is now and change begins with understanding, questioning and reflecting.

The recognized fact is COVID-19 pandemic affects every sector of the world, but it has more impact on some societies and governments than on others due to different scenarios such as illiteracy, persistent denial, poor health system, traditional belief and unwillingness to accept change and respect lockdown measures, thus putting great number of the population of countries at huge risk. Other leaders attach added importance to power and authority regarding their images rather accepting the facts. For those who are not taking this scourge lightly, are equally aware that this menace is unconcerned about sex, color, race, creed, borders, age, status or fame. Countries that do not have a health system can hardly shelter their population. In some parts of the world like African and South America, access to health services is a luxury, not a right. Even more so are hospitals and intensive care units.

Without doubts, Like any previous, the COVID-19 pandemic also presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the poorest nations to try and strengthen governance, programs and direct more support towards health care, train more health practitioners and doctors, and strengthen diplomatic ties with economically productive nations, not just any other states, to support domestic programs and productive investment and governance programs. Most often, the ordinary masses wondered if government does care for the health needs, well-being and one would also question if the leaders are capable of protecting them.

The pandemic is completely out of control in the US and is rising internationally and hitting Western Europe very firmly, but when the US and European countries applied some lockdown measures; there was a decline in the number of reported cases. But the Covid-19 pandemic cases in the U.S. are now rising vertiginously, presenting unimaginable human catastrophe for U.S., Brazil, India, France, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, Kingdom of Belgium and Eastern European countries such as Russia Federation. The Covid-19 policies adopted by these countries appeared to be a disaster for humanity and pose a catastrophe for the planet and humanity.

However, the scale of the COVID-19 should serve as a wake call for global powers and nations to build an open world economy, enhance macroeconomic coordination, and jointly keep global industrial and supply chains stable and unclogged. There was always an argument that the existing world order cannot change because only a momentous war has done that in the past and wars have become impossible, but the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the current world order, with the emergence of new power from the global south.

On the other-hand, the impact of the coronavirus will result to several states losing their dominance in the international sphere and in a negative twist, the weakened nations might be compared to compromise their internal and external sovereignties by seeking to normalize relations with the bigger powers on the global stage to the disadvantage of the weakened states, and could become truly subservient to these powerful countries. Others are arguing that relations between the big powers likely to become more cordial for better cooperation among states.

However, the poverty-driven nations with humblest economic need to manage their own recovery effectively and adequately, instead of being meek to the influential nations and governments, the less developed and poverty-stricken nations need to engage the power states from a position of a united front and strength. It appears that such scenario perhaps be considered as overoptimistic.

It is likely that the global pandemic will definitely be classed or considered as a new non-state actor in international politics and could affect regional integration especially free movement and trade as new rules gradually come into play. The fragile and poorest ones particularly third world countries are expected to suffer the repercussion of the global pandemic. Africa hosts the world’s poorest nations with miserable poverty, bad governance, weak democratic and economic institutions, except if disadvantaged ones adopt the process of solidarity and cooperation with other big powers.

Fortunately, one can envisage the greater use of technology by state to regulate trade and travels and with higher institutions bolstering their scientific curricula with new innovations. Global value chains will be transformed while big powers are certainly will encourage self-sufficiency and a strategic reconsideration of the nature of their relations with other states and non-state actors, economic, politics, social policies and foreign relations. But in certain instances, there would be erosion of the concept of sovereignty. But responses to the coronavirus have differed greatly from country to country, as isolations and lockdowns have become ubiquitous, however, even then there is great variance in their severity. The COVID-19 pandemic might also reorient wider attitudes about how a particular government and state should treat public health issues, and that if there’s anything that could highlight the interdependence the world is facing, it’s this present situation.

Therefore, our new embrace of interdependence could drive us to demand a more supportive social safety net, since   there may be more opportunities for multilateralism for countries to network effectively and strategically join forces to address the huge economic challenges; this will needs people with the rightful expertise and qualifications to interact and engage big country to help defeat the coronavirus. Counties need to amalgamate forces, demonstrate.   Several studies have shown that both China and Africa face the formidable task of combating the virus while stabilizing the economy and protecting people’s livelihoods, and the two must always put their people and their lives front and center, mobilizing necessary resources, stick together in collaboration, and do whatever it takes to protect people’s lives and health and minimize the fallout of COVID-19.

According to Ross (2020), 84% of the world’s population lives in developing countries, revealing that life expectancy in a low-income economy is 17 years less than in a high-income economy. China’s raised over 860 million people out of World Bank defined property – over 70% of all those lifted out of poverty in the world.

China is doing its utmost to prove that it has overcome the crisis and in the short term, it is first to gradually resume business as usual, although not at the same pace, despite being the first to be hard hit by the coronavirus.  The COVID-19 started as a calamitous for China where the first case and death were reported, but within two to three months, China was able to shape up to be a movement of strategic opportunity, a great turning point in the flaw of human history and the world order. Most importantly, the virus set in motion a global competition to trim the pandemic. It became apparent that China does have the ability to intervene in other countries’ situation in combating COVID-19.

The Chinese Government has captured the attention of many African countries including Liberia due primarily to Beijing’s reasonable approaches towards socio-economic and structure development, and the ways in which the Chinese Government practices win-win diplomacy and is foreign aid’s policy. Beijing’s “win-win” diplomatic style has featured greater accommodations with several African countries like Liberia. Chinese government growing popularity in Liberia is due to the soft power approach in the region and the speed at which it response to developmental requests by unpunished countries like Liberia.

. China and Africa are faced with both historical opportunities for greater development and unprecedented challenges that without doubts are turning into prospects for both countries and peoples. In contemporary history, China and Africa shared similar experiences, both having suffered from aggression, plunder, and enslavement by colonialists. Therefore, the Chinese people and the people of Africa have all along rendered each other solidarity and support and shared weal and woe in their struggles against imperialism and for national independence and liberation. The Chinese Government has captured the attention of many African countries including Liberia due primarily to Beijing’s reasonable approaches towards socio-economic and infrastructural development, and the ways in which the Chinese Government practices win-win diplomacy and its foreign aid’s policy towards Africa. Beijing’s “win-win” diplomatic style has featured greater accommodations with several African states, governments and leaderships including Liberia.

China and Africa have shared historic facts-China is the world’s faster developing economic and hold the world’s largest population, while Africa is the host of abundant rich natural resources,  brilliant cultures, hard-working, talented and courageous people and a significant contributor to the advancement of human civilization and world development. Africa is one of the cradles of mankind. China and Africa have since then become all-weather friends that understand, support and help each other. China and Africa “have always belonged to a community of shared values and fruitful future” and “have always been good friends who stand together through thick and thin, good partners who share weal and woe, and good friends who fully trust each other despite changes in the international landscape.

Both Africa and Chinese leaderships should adhere to the principles of good governance which include sincerity, inclusiveness and respect for the rule of law, practical results, affinity, and good faith and uphold the values of friendship, and shared interests.  From the early days of the rise of Pan-Africanism in the 20th century to the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963 which now gives birth to the African Union (AU) in 2002 in Libya, the African continent seeks strength through harmony and accomplishing renaissance of civilization, has long been a cherished aspiration of the African people.  The people of Africa have made great efforts on the path of a united front through unity, thus leaving behind glorious pages of success and notable endeavors.

China has a major diplomatic presence in Africa. In fact, Beijing is more widely represented in Africa with missions on the ground than is the United States. Beijing, which has diplomatic relations with Fifty-one continent’s fifty-three countries, maintains an embassy with an accredited ambassador in 48 of them. China maintains offices of a commercial counselor in 40 of those countries and seven consulates general in five of them.

China and Africa have shared comprehensive consensus on major international issues, common interests and a willingness to deepen their cooperation. The rapid development of the Sino-Africa relationship reveals on-going transitions that facilitate the move towards a new strategic partnership. China also emphasizes the notion of “respect” for African countries, embodied in its policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries and in an approach to conflict resolution on the continent that is seen as much less confrontational as Western interventions.

Unlike the Western donors who tend to impose Western values like democratic ideas on Africa, China invest and provide aid without much preconditions and interference in their internal affairs, therefore, it is not unimaginable that China is regarded by Africa as a more cooperative and valuable partner to the West.  Besides providing loans, China also invests in infrastructure development and many high-visibility projects, that the African leaders generally in favor. Physical infrastructure constructions have been long neglected if not avoided, by Western donors. Also, Chinese investors are highly reputed by the African of their rapid completion of infrastructures with acceptable qualities. China has educational relationships with 50 African countries and keeps increasing her assistance on training and education to African countries. In 2005, China also hosted the Sino-African Education Minister Forum. In 2007, there are around 5,900 students from Africa studying in China, with most of them receiving scholarships provided by the Chinese government.

In his recent well-delivered paper regarding the extend of COVID-19, President Xi Jinping propounded that China will continue to do whatever it can to support Africa’s response to COVID-19 and will lose no time in following through on the measures that he has announced at the opening of the World Health Assembly, and continue to help African countries by providing supplies, sending expert teams, and facilitating Africa’s procurement of medical supplies in China.

He indicated that in the face of COVID-19, China and Africa have offered mutual support and fought shoulder to shoulder with each other. “China shall always remember the invaluable support Africa gave us at the height of our battle with the coronavirus. In return, when Africa was struck by the virus, China was the first to rush in with assistance and has since stood firm with the African people”, President Jinping has indicated.  According to the Chinese President, in the face of COVID-19, China and Africa have enhanced solidarity and strengthened friendship and mutual trust. “Let me reaffirm China’s commitment to its longstanding friendship with Africa. No matter how the international landscape may evolve, China shall never waver in its determination to pursue greater solidarity and cooperation with Africa”.

According to President Jinping, in the face of COVID-19, China and Africa have withstood the test of a severe challenge, and that the Chinese people have put up a fierce fight and made enormous sacrifice to bring the situation in China under control. He reminded the Summit that: “Still, we remain mindful of the risk of a resurgence, in the same spirit, governments and peoples in Africa have put up a united front and, under the effective coordination by the African Union, have taken strong measures to effectively slow the spread of the virus. These are indeed hard-won results.”

He indicated that within the FOCAC framework, China will cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020. President Jinping explained that for those African countries that are hardest hit by the coronavirus and are under heavy financial stress, China will work with the global community to give them greater support, by such means as further extending the period of debt suspension, to help them tide over the current difficulty.

According to him, the extraordinary China-Africa Summit fully recognizes the positive role of China-Africa’s investment and financing cooperation in promoting development and improving people’s lives in Africa, and call on the international community to work in solidarity and collaboration, share best practices, and provide more material, technical, financial and humanitarian support to help African countries overcome the impact of COVID-19 and achieve independent and sustainable development.    He said: “China takes seriously the debt concerns of African countries and will earnestly act on the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative, through friendly consultation as equals, and expedite support for the African countries worst hit by COVID-19.”

Speaking further, President Jinping added that: “Together, we will build a China-Africa community of health for all. We pledge that once the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit.” President Jinping indicated that China hopes that the international community, especially developed countries and multilateral financial institutions, will act more forcefully on debt relief and suspension for Africa, disclosing that China will work with the UN, WHO and other partners to assist Africa’s response to COVID-19, and do it in a way that respects the will of Africa.

President Jinping stressed the need that China and Africa must stay committed to upholding multilateralism. In the face of COVID-19, solidarity and cooperation are our most powerful weapon. China will work with Africa to uphold the UN-centered global governance system and that the two sides must oppose politicization and stigmatization of COVID-19, and we oppose racial discrimination and ideological bias, and should stand firm for equity and justice in the world. “We must stay committed to taking China-Africa friendship forward”. He explained that the world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, given the new opportunities and challenges both China and Africa face, closer cooperation between the two sides is needed, more than ever.

He said in accordance with the FOCAC spirit and long-term values cherished by both sides, China and Africa  remain committed to extending mutual support on issues regarding each other’s core interests and major concerns. He explained that China supports African countries in exploring development paths suited to their national conditions and opposes interference in Africa’s internal affairs by external forces.

Speaking further, President Jinping welcomed the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution on COVID-19 response, which expresses deep concerns about the negative impacts and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizes the importance of global collaboration, and calls for intensified international cooperation, unity, solidarity and joint efforts to contain and mitigate the pandemic, and to pay particular attention to the needs of people in vulnerable situations. “We reiterate opposition to the politicization and stigmatization of the virus, and call on the international community to jointly prevent discrimination and stigma, reject misinformation and disinformation, and strengthen cooperation on the research and development of diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines and the identification of the zoonotic source of the virus”, says President Jinping.

According to President Jinping, Africa commends the decisive measures taken by the Chinese government to contain the spread of the virus and its timely sharing of information with WHO and relevant countries in an open, transparent and responsible manner, which bought precious time for the rest of the world, while China commends the solidarity and support extended by African countries, the AU and other regional organizations for China’s COVID-19 response and appreciates the establishment of the AU COVID-19 Strategy and the appointment of Special Envoys to mobilize international support for Africa’s efforts to address the economic challenges faced as a consequence of the pandemic, and further commends the resilience African countries have demonstrated and the positive results thus achieved in curbing the spread of the virus by adopting preventive measures.

In his speech, he disclosed that China reaffirms its commitment to actively delivering relevant initiatives and measures to help Africa build capacity for disease prevention and control and for sustainable development and expedite the construction of the Africa CDC headquarters. According to President Jinping, China undertakes to make its COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment, when available, a global public good as part of China’s contribution to vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries, in particular African countries. “We reaffirm the commitment to take active measures to protect the health and security of each other’s nationals and uphold their legitimate rights and interests and promote the use of Chinese and African traditional medicine”. He continued: African countries expressed profound gratitude and appreciation to the Chinese institutions and companies that have provided medical supplies and material assistance in the effort to combat the COVID pandemic.

According to President Jinping, to help Africa achieve sustainable development is what matters in the long run and pointed out that China supports Africa in its effort to develop the African Continental Free Trade Area and to enhance connectivity and strengthen industrial and supply chains. China will explore broader cooperation with Africa in such new business forms as digital economy, smart city, clean energy, and 5G to boost Africa’s development and revitalization.    Concluding, President Jinping disclosed that China and Africa recognize the importance of digitalization in the post-COVID-19 era and support efforts to speed up the development of Africa’s digital economy and expand exchanges and cooperation on digitalization, information and communication technologies, especially tele-medicine, tele-education, 5G and big data. During the summit, African side expresses appreciation for China’s actions, and calls on the international community, especially developed countries and international financial institutions, to take concrete measures to ease the debt burden of African countries

Africa must emulate China’s amazing 70 years of development agenda to develop labor industrials and cooperation. Africa needs to realize that the labor industrial is intense and increase labor industrial to an appreciable and greater level.  China not only is an important driving force of global economic growth but also makes a significant contribution to global order in promoting interconnectivity between countries and regions.  China has accomplished what took developed countries hundreds of years to accomplish and become an upper-middle-income country from a low-income one. China has overcome the great divergence of development among different countries formed after the first industrial revolution and made a miraculous economic catch-up from behind.

China’s remarkable jump has been made from an impoverished society which only depended on sufficient food and clothing to a flourishing society in the world. The state now plays a better role in the international arena due to its improved socio-economic situation.  In the past, China was listed among the poorest nations on earth, and the state was blemished by the failure of the Great Leap Forward and the political disorders during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  The country integration into the global economy was trifling, its industry was ineffective. Nowadays, China has become the world’s second economic power in decade or two, to the bewilderment of many economists and political scientists, and thanks mainly to four dynamics factors.

As a recap, about a century ago, the Spanish-flu pandemic became the deadliest in world history surpassing the First and Second World Wars in term of human casualties; more people died from the Spanish flu than both wars.  The estimate of the total death toll worldwide was put between thirty million to fifty million, but the coronavirus death toll may not approach Spanish-flu’s death numbers. To a greater extent, some of the leaders wasted precious time accepting reality of the devastation of the coronavirus, resulting to a global pandemic. But, as the world gradually drowns into coronavirus pandemic, the 1918 Spanish flu and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa are sobering reminders and a wake-up call for civilized leaders, entrepreneurs and political bureaucrats to strengthen preventive measures and guidelines that scientists have identified, such as washing hands and keeping social distancing.

About the author: Dr. Josephus Moses Gray, Ph.D., is the Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities (Liberia College) of the University of Liberia. He holds an academic rank Associate Professor and serves as a full faculty at the University of Liberia Graduate School, teaching International Relations at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida Graduate School of International Studies and Journalism at the Department of Mass Communication. He earned Ph.D. in International Relations with high distinction (Summa Cum Laude) from Paris, Republic of France.  Dr. Gray’s Ph.D. dissertation:  “The Effect of Diplomacy: Liberia-U.S.-China’s triangular Relations”, is instructive and wildly cited by graduate students. He hails from Southeastern Liberia village of Kayken in Barclayville Chiefdom, Grand Kru County.  He has authored and published dozens of peer-reviewed scholarly articles and three books and over 200 scholarly works in local and international journals. He can be researched via (+231)880330299 or graymoses@yahoo.com

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About Cholo Brooks 13507 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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