On May 20, 2020, AmCham Germany conducted an Insights Call with Stefan Kornelius, Foreign Editor at Süddeutsche Zeitung, about a changing world order in times of COVID-19. "The relationship between the US and China will continue to gain importance in the upcoming years and will affect each and every one of us," Kornelius stated at the beginning of the call.
According to Kornelius, rivalry between the major East-West blocs, China and the US, has increased in recent months. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the perspectives of both states have become more inward-looking. In the midst of these two poles, Europe will have to position itself and decide which side of the changing world order it sees itself in, explains Kornelius. The journalist is not assuming that Europe is completely defenceless, but rather that it is not yet fully capable of speaking.
Economic and strategic advantages are crucial
Overall, the two rivalries are about who sets standards. According to Kornelius, it is not only economic advantages that are decisive here, but also strategic ones. On the one side, there is the liberal system of the US, on the other the authoritarian system run by China. These two models of order are not necessarily compatible, says the Süddeutsche Journalist.
In the US, opinion is quite unanimous with regard to an analysis of current China policy in both political camps. Beijing and Washington are not expected to return to normal relations by the time of the US presidential election in November.
Europe is currently too occupied with itself
The EU Council Presidency is currently preparing for the EU-China Summit to be held in autumn. At the same time, there is a growing awareness that China is also a rival. Since Europe is currently very much occupied with internal divisions and issues, the Union is not succeeding in acting united in the field of trade policy, says Stefan Kornelius. For example, the COVID-19 crisis has now triggered another debate in Europe. Europe is now more concerned with the question of which industries need to be subsidized and especially protected.
A good relationship with the US has several advantages
At the same time, according to Kornelius, Europe should be hesitant to position itself at an equal distance between the USA and China. Although the US-EU relationship has faced challenges recently, a good relationship with the US has the advantage for Europe that there is a common system of values and a regulatory concept that can be better relied on.
China, on the other hand, is in a trade conflict with the US due to the corona crisis and is in a difficult position. COVID-19 has caused the biggest economic collapse in China since the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, internal problems such as minority issues are still unresolved and Taiwan has now gained visibility on the international stage through the WTO, which the government in Beijing can hardly ignore.
Europe will have to acknowledge these shortcomings in China, said Stefan Kornelius at the end of the call. Germany is a respected partner in Europe, but the EU will have to speak with one voice to be able to reach a level playing field with China. For this reason, the EU needs to act in unison regarding trade policy and set clear demands for a reliable set of rules and regulations, which will also make the bloc more credible - both to China and the US.