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Publication date: 17 May 2021

Riham Bahi

The spread of COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. The pandemic has taken a geopolitical dimension. The health crisis amplified the competitive dynamics between the USA…

Abstract

Purpose

The spread of COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. The pandemic has taken a geopolitical dimension. The health crisis amplified the competitive dynamics between the USA and China, affected the provision of global public goods and injected instability into the global order. In line with the geopolitical zero-sum thinking, both the USA and China have sought to capitalize on the crisis to boost their international profile. Instead of working together to mitigate the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, the two powers fear that the other will exploit the current situation to accrue political, economic or military gains that will give it an edge after the pandemic subsides. The spread of COVID-19 has set off a “battle of narratives,” in which China and the USA are accusing each other of failing to rise to the challenge. The world seems to be falling into a “Kindleberger Trap,” in which the established power is unable to lead while the rising power is unwilling to assume responsibility. The COVID-19 crisis is occurring amid the collapse of global cooperation. The USA, the traditional leader of international collective efforts in times of crisis, has abandoned its role entirely. The lack of leadership at the global level during an international crisis may cause the breakdown of the international order.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper examines the US-China competitive dynamics through the lens of the work of Charles Kindleberger, which both liberals and realists regard as foundational when examining the dynamics of global crisis management. This paper also uses the meta-geopolitics framework to determine the ability of both China and the USA to respond to the current COVID-19 crisis and its implications for their power and standing in the international system.

Findings

This paper concludes that the only way to escape the Kindleberger trap is “to embed Sino-American relations in multilateralism.”

Originality/value

As rivals, both the USA and China are seeking to capitalize on the crisis to boost their international profile. This paper probes how China and the USA navigated the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to determine whether or not they are currently in a “Kindleberger Trap,” using elements of the meta-geopolitics framework of analysis, namely, health issues, domestic politics, economics, science and international diplomacy. Using the meta-geopolitics framework will help us determine the ability of both China and the USA to respond to the current COVID-19 crisis and the implications of that on their power and standing in the international system.

Details

Review of Economics and Political Science, vol. 6 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2356-9980

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