Who Will Win When the Dawn Breaks? After the Pandemic



The new coronavirus sweeping the globe has caused tremendous human and economic collateral damage. Taiwan’s pandemic prevention has been heroic, and while it has achieved considerable results, it hasn’t been perfect. For example, after Wuhan lifted its citywide lockdown, Su Tseng-chang, premier of the Republic of China, wanted Taiwanese citizens to travel over 10 hours by train to Shanghai and then take charter flights back to Taiwan, spending a considerable amount of money and taking great risks. And not only could Taiwanese citizens in Europe and the U.S. return home freely, but they were not required to prove they didn’t have the virus. As long as they were asymptomatic, they were allowed to self-isolate at home. Thus, most of Taiwan’s new cases have been from people returning from Europe or the U.S. Although they are all Taiwanese, treating them differently and approaching pandemic prevention in an ideological way is extremely inadvisable.

While the pandemic will invariably pass, it will greatly impact public health and medicine and alter economics and geopolitics. Exploring the aftermath of the pandemic now may be audacious, but there are clues as to what might happen.

First, in which country or region will the pandemic be controlled first? Excluding Taiwan, it might be China, of course, where the outbreak originated; since it had the virus first, it may be the first to control it. Under centralized state power, China has adopted city lockdowns as its primary measure to control the virus, and used medical treatment to supplement efforts. Generally, once the pandemic is controlled, there will be some herd immunity. Before a vaccine is widespread, outbreaks may still occur, but they can be controlled within a certain area.

Since Europe, the U.S. and Japan are still being battered by the coronavirus, the first to resume economic production might be China. Because of the global lockdown, economies must rely on domestic demand, and the scale of China’s domestic demand is huge. Its manufacturing sector is complete and can support livelihoods for a long time. This year, China’s gross domestic product might surpass that of the U.S., and certainly that of Europe and Japan, making China the world’s most powerful nation.

Particularly from the time that former President Ronald Reagan took office, the U.S. has adopted a policy of neoliberalism, and the gap between rich and poor has widened to a dangerous degree. At least 500,000 to 600,000 people, including children, are living on the streets; they have no way of self-isolating at home during this pandemic. By contrast, executed under totalitarian control, the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to help the economically disadvantaged has been effective. Although the U.S. has tried to obstruct the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, countries that have become involved in the initiative, such as the U.K., France, Germany and Japan, have abandoned the U.S. to invest in China.

Although China and Europe have been connected by rail for only eight years, all the major cities in China and 15 countries and 49 cities in Europe are connected. The longest route runs 7,688 miles from Yiwu, China, under the Channel Tunnel to London. The time it takes to ship things by most trains is one-third the time required for shipping by sea, and the cost is one-fifth that of shipping by air.

President Donald Trump only gives American interests priority. To say that the U.S.-China trade war was fought over ideological differences – a struggle of democracy and freedom – would be understandable. However, Trump also imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on E.U. countries and refused to participate in numerous regional plans for economic cooperation. He cares only about making America great again. To date, he has yet to ratify an international maritime convention, and he has withdrawn both from international scientific and cultural organizations and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. He has not joined in the Iranian nuclear agreement proposed by other countries, and he officially notified the United Nations that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. In the meantime, other countries (including democratic countries) have grown tired of America’s own initiatives.

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic and economic hardships, Trump will inevitably play the populism card. Xi Jinping is also facing foreign and domestic attack. As history has proven, when a country’s governance is facing internal pressure, the best method for unifying the country is to unite against an external force by appealing to emotions. In a show of force indicating this strategy, both of these powerful countries are currently increasing the amount of military aircraft and warships patrolling the Taiwan Strait.

In the interest of self-preservation, countries on the periphery have moved between the two. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and even South Korea have all exhibited pro-China behavior. Taiwan, on the other hand, has clung to the U.S., asserting non-Chinese identity in its culture and bloodline instead of emphasizing the differences in the systems on both sides of the strait. Thus, it is currently impossible to actualize the idea of “one China.” Mainland China cannot hope for either the Kuomintang or the Taiwanese people to join it. With both the U.S. and China wishing to play the Taiwan card, how the crisis plays out will depend on the wisdom of governments and the people.

The author is the former minister of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and a retired professor.

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