The United States stopped playing the multilateralism game, and China took advantage.
Donald Trump is right to criticize the World Health Organization’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO leaders stutter and fumble when it’s time to discuss China’s responsibility for delaying its updates on the pandemic or China’s fantastical reporting on infected people and victims.
However, the American president omits one detail: he is the person responsible for instrumentalizing the WHO.
Due to a combination of incompetence and ideology, Trump’s administration has stopped playing the multilateralism game, and China has filled the vacuum.
In 2017, when the Europeans tried to steer the WHO in a new direction, an effort which had been directed by the Chinese for nearly a decade, Beijing took advantage of Washington’s apathy to elect a new ally as director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia.
Before the pandemic exploded, the WHO’s director-general promoted the “new silk road of health,” a Chinese attempt to dominate global health. Meanwhile, the Trump administration was ordering cuts to the United Nations’ budget.
One should view the American decision to stop funding the WHO with a bit of irony. If it’s true that Washington paid the bills, China was calling the shots. What is supposed to be a demonstration of force from Trump is actually a testament to his incompetence.
America’s relationship with China appears to be one of the most dynamically counterintuitive relationships of the Trump era. The increased rhetoric and the trade war gave the impression that Trump was the first American president to confront the Chinese. But much to the contrary, Trump was the great facilitator in the changing of the guard in the international community.
America’s capitulation also compromises the response of other multilateral organizations to the global economic crisis. Under Trump’s order, the U.S. treasury secretary vetoed a plan for increased liquidity designed by the International Monetary Fund to assist emerging markets.
The justification is cruel: Venezuela, Iran and other villainous countries should suffer alone.
With such pitiful leadership, a repeat of the historic Group of 20 summit of industrial and emerging-market nations in London, where Barack Obama, Lula da Silva and Gordon Brown articulated a crucial IMF package in 2008, is nothing but a mirage.
It is still too early to talk about a new Chinese century. One of the few certainties of a possible Joseph Biden administration, Biden being the Democratic Party’s presumptive 2020 presidential nominee, will be the strong return of American diplomacy.
The Democrat Biden would urge midlevel powers, such as Brazil, to stop their madness and resume their historic role in global forums.
The present moment should serve as a warning to the Cold War left, who insist on seeing America’s decline as the harbinger of a more just world.
Until now, diplomacy amid the pandemic can be summed up by the creation of alternative epidemiological realities, the promotion of authoritarian solutions, and the sales of masks and ventilators by wholesalers.
Enough time has passed to miss the good old jalopy of multilateralism driven by the United States.