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The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic and International Relations

Matake Kamiya
Professor, National Defense Academy of Japan

Introduction

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an ongoing event across the globe. How it will affect international relations depends to a great extent on future developments; there are many uncertainties at this point. Nevertheless, many opinion leaders argue at home and abroad that COVID-19 is changing international relations.

To be sure, if we compare international relations in early August 2020 with international relations at the start of 2020, we readily note that unmeasurable changes have taken place. In the last few months, many countries around the world have hastened to review their dependence on China for their production and supply systems. It had been said that, as international interdependence progressed, the cross-border flow of goods, money, people, and information would accelerate, and as a result, the impermeability of borders would decrease and no longer be a "hard shell" as they used to be. In response to COVID-19, however, many countries have expanded immigration restrictions, 1 and the borders have regained "hardness" at least with regard to the movement of people. Globalization is encountering an unprecedented headwind. David Frum, a former speechwriter for U.S. President George W. Bush, says that the barriers erected by governments to the movement of people and goods are "unlike anything seen since the end of World War II." Given that America's borders with Canada and Mexico that remained open during the war are closed now, he also argues, the new barriers are, in a sense, even tighter than those during the wartime. Many governments insist that these measures are temporary, and globalization is temporarily on hold. But the "risk is huge that today's emergency measures will harden into tomorrow's institutionalized rules: enduring barriers to travel, trade, and investment", Frum expresses anxiety, "[s]oon we may revert to the day when each country tried to do as much as possible for itself, regardless of cost and rationality."2

However, these changes do not signify that international relations have been transformed into something utterly different and new. The real nature of the changes is rather a return to the past. In the post-WWII world, there was a widespread view that because of the dramatic development of interdependence, aspects of international relations significantly altered from before the war. The destiny of a nation has become so intimately interlocked with that of other nations that what one nation can do alone has become limited. As a result of dramatic increases in the cross-border flow of people, goods, money, and information, nations have firmly interconnected with each other; they redefined national interests based on such connections and changed their behavior. Traditional international relations, which evolved around sovereignty and military power, have been changing, and an international situation is gradually emerging, where nations have no choice but to attach more importance to mutual trust and cooperation.

As such a perception prevails, have we not frequently lost sight of the fact that the most crucial characteristics of international relations remain intact even in a highly interdependent world? Have we not readily forgotten that the international society is in a state of anarchy (a system which lacks a central government) and that nations eventually must on their own safeguard their security and prosperity? The retreat of traditional international relations that have evolved around sovereignty and military power is not a phenomenon that is uniformly taking place around the world. Such a phenomenon is progressing in the regions dominated by liberal democracies; meanwhile, a considerable number of nations that emphasize sovereignty and military power exist still as before. Did we not easily overlook this reality? 3

The change in international relations that the COVID-19 pandemic is now bringing about is not meant to suggest that international relations have come to assume characteristics that have never existed before, but that the essential nature, almost forgotten, of international relations has emerged again or has become apparent again. In other words, the prediction that the "post-corona" world will be different from the "pre-corona" world where we had lived for many years until the beginning of 2020 may probably be correct. Yet, it does not mean that a new world, the likes of which has never existed, will appear. This article will investigate this point.

1. International Relations amid Coronavirus Pandemic

(1) The Reconfirmed Need for Self-Help

One of the major "changes" that the current pandemic is bringing to the world is that many nations are reconfirming the need for self-help in the international society.

The current corona crisis that suddenly attacked the international society has revealed how vulnerable is international cooperation in the face of a worldwide crisis. International organizations that were expected to play a major role in resolving international problems in a world of increasing interdependence and interpenetration have demonstrated their inability to comply with expectations. What disappointed the world most was the incompetence of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO did not declare that the outbreak of COVID-19 had become a pandemic, until March 11, 2020, or the next day following the President of the PRC Xi Jinping's first visit to Wuhan City, the origin of COVID-19, to announce that China had managed to control COVID-19. The WHO received criticism for intentionally downplaying the spread of COVID-19 to the benefit of China. The WHO has failed to helpfully provide practical information or advice to assist its member states with information regarding the updated situation of COVID-19 infection. It can hardly fulfill the function of serving as a breakwater to prevent the coronavirus outbreak.

The world's greatest powers, which were expected to lead international cooperation in addressing worldwide crises, betrayed the expectations. The United States served for many years as the primary donor country in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria 4 --- the three major infectious diseases in the world. During the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, US leadership was essential for international cooperation. Amid the current corona crisis, however, the United States under the Donald J. Trump administration keeps hoisting the flag of "America First," while intensifying its confrontation with China.

In the sphere of rhetoric, China emphasizes the necessity of international cooperation to address the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that it is China's responsibility as a great power to lead such cooperation. China also emphasizes mutual trust and understanding among nations to be essential to promote such international cooperation. But China's actual behavior is inconsistent with its pronouncements. As the world suffers from a pandemic originated in its own territory, China is overtly intensifying its pursuit of narrow national interests based on unilateral claims in the South and East China Seas, the Sino-Indian borders, eastern Bhutan, etc., inviting criticism from the international society. China cannot be looked to for filling the leadership vacancy left by the United States.

Under these circumstances, it seems that the need for self-help is being acknowledged again in the international society.

(Fig. 1)

For example, the results of an international opinion poll conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) from late April to early May 2020 clearly illustrate this trend. 5 It is a fairly large-scale survey conducted with 11,000 respondents in the nine countries of Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden, which collectively account for more than two-thirds of the population and gross domestic product (GDP) of the European Union (EU). Fig. 1 summarizes in what world the respondents feel that they are living. We can read from it that the vast majority of respondents are more or less aware of the need for self-help in the international society.

First, 29% of respondents think that they are now living in a world where every nation has to be on its own. Named "DIYers" ("do-it-yourselfers"), this group is most clearly and simply aware of the need for self-help in the international society, thinking that they cannot even hold European solidarity in high esteem. Second, 15% of respondents believe that they are now living in a bipolar world divided into the US-led free world and the China-led "autocratic axis" that includes countries such as Russia and Iran . Called "New Cold Warriors," this group positions Europe as a member of the free world, the view that naturally leads to the belief that the nations of the free world must live without relying on the countries of the "autocratic axis." Consequently, this group of people is aware of the need for self-help so that the free world nations can be independent of the China-led "autocratic axis."

The largest number of the respondents think that Europe needs to strengthen its "strategic sovereignty" rather than depends on global multilateral institutions to protect its values in a world under pressure from both the United States and China. They believe in the necessity of intensifying the EU's solidarity to strengthen Europe's strategic sovereignty. Named "Strategic Sovereigntists," the group seems at first glance to emphasize international cooperation rather than self-help. However, it should be noted that what they believe necessary is the solidarity of the EU and that they regard dependence on global multilateral institutions as undesirable. The strengthening of "strategic sovereignty" signifies the intensifying of one's independence from the influence of external actors. In other words, "strategic sovereigntists" think that the unity of the EU should be strengthened to achieve an independent Europe. But they are skeptical of global international cooperation beyond the EU and believe that Europe should take care of itself.

Thus, the ECFR survey shows that the overwhelming majority (86%) of respondents comprising "DIYers," "New Cold Warrior," and "Strategic Sovereigntists" are keenly aware, in some way or another, of the need for self-help in the international community. It is noteworthy that this tendency is observed even in Europe that has been at the forefront of the trend of international cooperation in the world.

A recent public opinion poll in Australia revealed a similar tendency. According to the annual Lowy Institute Poll conducted by the Lowy Institute on March 16-29, 2020 regarding Australian attitude toward the world, as many as 94% of respondents supported the Australian government policy of "working to find other markets for Australia to reduce its economic dependence on China" (Figure 2). 6

(Fig. 2)

"This (94%) is the single largest point of agreement in the history of the Lowy Institute Poll."  Back in the 2019 LOWY INSTITUTE POLL, 74% of Australians said that Australia was too economically dependent on China. Australians seem more inclined to scrutinize their relations with China. 7

An Australian government official said that this change in public opinion reflects a growing concern about the autonomy of the Australian economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. 8 The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported on April 1 that globalization would never be the same as it was due to the COVID-19 crisis: "When the crisis eases, nations will want to rebuild with a revitalized interest in economic self-sufficiency… and never again have to be reliant on imports in an emergency."9 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recently stressed the need for the nation to safeguard its "economic sovereignty."10 Professor Warren Hogan of the University of Technology Sydney commented that what the Prime Minister meant is self-sufficiency. 11

In India, too, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on May 12, 2020, emphasized, "The state of the world today teaches us that" to overcome the corona crisis and make the 21st century "the century for India," "a ‘Self-reliant India' is the only path." In his speech, Prime Minister Modi repeated the word "self-reliant" 17 times, encouraging the public, saying that "India can become self-sufficient" by the strong will of Indians. 12

(2) Worsening Perception of China

In parallel with the acknowledgment of the need for self-help in the international society, perceptions of China are worsening in the COVID-19-stricken world, especially in liberal democratic countries.

According to the results of the above ECFR international opinion poll, a remarkable deterioration of perceptions about China is observable after the outbreak of the corona crisis in the eight out of nine countries --- except Bulgaria --- that account for two-thirds of the EU's population and GDP (Fig. 3).

(Fig. 3)

Almost half (48%) of all respondents --- a notable 62% in France and Denmark --- answered that their view of China "worsened." An ECFR report commented that "Europeans' attitudes may have worsened because of the origins of COVID-19 and the aggressive way that China has treated other countries in its response to the crisis – with disinformation, bullying, and threats to withhold medical supplies."13

A similar deterioration of perceptions about China is also apparent in Australia. According to the March 2020 Lowy Institute Poll, to a question "How much do you trust China to act responsibly in the world?" the respondents who answered "a great deal" and "somewhat" account only for 23% (Fig. 4). This is a 9% drop from the previous 2019 survey; compared to 52% in the 2018 survey, positive responses have reduced to less than half this time. 14 A Lowy Institute report says that this growing distrust in China became more evident in the "COVIDpoll" carried out by the same institute from April 14 to 27, 2020. 15 According to the "COVIDpoll," out of 3,036 respondents, only 6% of the respondents said that China was handling the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak "very well." Including 25% of the respondents who gave "fairly well" rating, only 31% of the respondents gave a positive evaluation of China's response to the coronavirus outbreak. 16 The survey also reveals that 68% of the respondents have become less favorable towards China's system of government as an authoritarian one-party state in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. 17

(Fig. 4)

The March 2020 LOWY INSTITUTE POLL also indicates that Australians are becoming more sensitive to the threat of China. According to this survey, while Australians still tend to see China as an economic partner, the percentage of respondents who regard China as an economic partner rather than a security threat to Australia has plummeted to 55% from 82% in the 2018 survey. Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents who see China as a security threat rather than an economic partner to Australia increased from 12% in 2018 to 41% in 2020 (Fig. 5). 18

(Fig. 5)

With regard to India, Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution, offered the analysis that the skeptical perception of China that prevails in many quarters in India has been reinforced in view of China's handling of the corona pandemic.

From the above observations, China's response to the corona crisis has harmed perceptions of China in at least a considerable number of liberal democracies.

(3) Worsening Perception of the United States

It has not only been perceptions of China that have been worsening in the world. Perceptions of the United States have also substantially deteriorated. The ECFR survey shows that in all of the nine canvassed EU nations, perceptions of the United States after the coronavirus outbreak have markedly worsened to a greater or lesser degree (Fig. 6).

(Fig. 6)

The results of the LOWY INSTITUTE POLL show that Australian perceptions of the United States have also deteriorated considerably, though not as much as perceptions of the EU states. Looking at Figure 4 above, to the question "How much do you trust the United States to act responsibly in the world?" the respondents who answered "a great deal" and "somewhat" account for 51%, reaching a majority. Negative responses, "not at all" and "not very much," however occupy 49%. The margin between the opposing views is minimal.

As shown in Fig. 7, the percentage of the LOWY INSTITUTE POLL respondents who trust the United States dropped significantly from the record highest of 83% in 2009 and 2011. Even compared with 61% in 2017, when the Trump administration came to power, the respondents who trust the United States decreased by 10% in 2020.

As for Australians' confidence in world leaders, the same survey clarifies that Australians have little trust in Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump among world leaders "to do the right thing regarding world affairs" (Fig. 8).

(Fig. 7)

(Fig. 8)

From the above observations, it is crystal-clear that amid the corona crisis, the public perceptions of China and the United States have worsened in at least a considerable number of liberal democracies.

(4) Heightened Alertness against China among Americans and the Resulting Intensification of the US-China Confrontation

Under these circumstances, public sentiment toward China has worsened in the United States, helping to intensify the US-China confrontation. China seems to want to avoid a decisive confrontation with the United States to rebuild its economy hit by the corona crisis. 19 In the United States, however, both the Trump administration and the Joe Biden camp are almost competing in working out hard-liner policies toward China, in their election campaigns for the November 2020 presidential election. 20 A bipartisan consensus is being forged on a confrontational stance toward China.

The background behind this is conspicuously heightened alertness against China among American citizens. A Pew Research Center poll conducted on March 3-29, 2020 on US views of China found that out of 1,000 respondents, the percentage of those who have a favorable view of China was 26%, while that of those who have an unfavorable view of China was 66% --- the highest recorded figure since the initiation of the survey in 2005 (Fig. 9). 21

(Fig. 9)

According to the Pew Research Center poll, Americans' confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping is notably low, and the percentage of respondents who have no trust in Xi reached 71% or sharply rose by 20% from the previous survey in 2019 (Fig.10). Furthermore, the poll revealed that about 90% of Americans view China's power and influence as a threat to the United States. The percentage of 90% is almost the same as in the 2018 survey, but that of those who perceive China's power and influence as a "major threat" to the United States notably increased from 48% to 62% from 2018 to 2020 (Fig. 11).

In this survey, 91% of the respondents said that "the world is better off with U.S. leadership as opposed to that of China." These results indicate that the majority of Americans still want the United States to maintain global leadership while believing that China's threat is becoming increasingly serious.

(Fig. 10)

(Fig. 11)

2. Continuity of the Fundamental Nature of International Relations Underlying Changes

As so far observed, there is no doubt that international relations in early August 2020 have widely varied from international relations at the start of 2020. But, as was mentioned at the beginning of this article, the changes which have been taking place in the world do not indicate that the fundamental nature of international relations is transforming into something new. The drastic changes in international relations over the past few months have made us aware that the fundamental nature of international relations remains unchanged in many respects, despite the development of international interdependence over the last several decades.

(1) Recognition of the Need for Self-Help

First of all, the recognition that a nation needs self-help is not new in the international society. It has been a common sense view in traditional study of international politics.

Since the international community is in a state of anarchy lacking a central government, a state cannot expect relief from a super state entity even if its survival or prosperity is threatened or its rights wrongfully violated. In principle, therefore, each country needs to safeguard its sovereignty, independence, and prosperity with its own hands at times of emergency. The worldview of the realism school, which has long occupied the mainstream position in international politics, is based on this recognition. The liberalism school, perceived as the most influential anti-realism school, basically shares this view.

In the world after the latter half of the 20th century, however, with the progress and deepening of interdependence, the following view became dominant: in the non-military domains centered around the economy, the utmost promotion of international cooperation, considering the current situation where preference stays with interdependence rather than self-help, will bring more benefits to states. Aside from the military field, people tended to think it to be an outdated idea to emphasize self-help in non-military domains.

But the behavior of China amid the coronavirus outbreak put a brake on this tendency. The view that China's initial response to COVID-19 was not appropriate, and that the Chinese political system is responsible to a considerable extent for its initial blunders such as delayed disclosure of information has spread around the world. While global society is struggling with a pandemic originating in its territory, China nonetheless intensified the pursuit of its narrow national interests here and there in the world based on unilateral claims. It is quite natural that many countries question on their own whether it is appropriate to continue to rely heavily on such a self-centered country as China in economic areas. The coronavirus pandemic is an event that reminds people in many countries of the need for self-help in the non-military domains, which has been ignored for many years, or of the danger of being overly dependent on other countries.

(2) Recognition of the Negative Side of Interdependence

Obviously, as background of the sudden pressing concerns of nations about the need for self-help for, among other things, economic considerations is the awareness of the negative side of interdependence, especially with China. However, the idea that interdependence brings not only benefits but also risks to a state is by no means new.

Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye pointed out in Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (1977) that manipulating the "vulnerability" of interdependence can be a source of power in international politics. 22 They explain the vulnerability of interdependence as follows. A change in a place in the world may have a negative impact (damage or cost) on an actor (in another location). The affected actor may consider to what extent it can mitigate the negative effect by taking some policy response, or how far it can make the damage acceptable to it by the same means. The more difficult it is to mitigate, the more vulnerable the actor is. In other words, the "vulnerability" of interdependence is the degree to which a certain relationship of interdependence is "irreplaceable" to a certain state or the degree of how "indispensable" the relationship is to the state. The closer relationship of interdependence a state maintains with another state, which is highly "indispensable" or difficult to readily substitute for another, the greater risk the former will face of being subjected to political power that the latter can exert by capitalizing on the relationship. This is the "vulnerability" of interdependence argued by Keohane and Nye.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, many countries have awakened to the need for self-help, because they have become aware of the risks accompanying interdependence that have been overlooked while its positive aspects have been emphasized for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic especially shed light on the fact that many countries in the world depend heavily on China for medicines and medical supplies. Anxiety has risen over excessive medical, economic, and technological dependence on China.

(3) Conditions for the Existence of a State That Can Take the Global Leadership

Since the international society lacks a central government, coordination among states with different national interests is not easy to achieve. However, the presence of a great power with overwhelming capabilities that is willing to take responsibility for the management of the international system would overcome difficulties under its leadership, and international cooperation would be easier to achieve. It was also a common sense view in traditional study of international politics.

Amid the current COVID-19 crisis, the truth of this common sense has been proved by reality. The absence of a great power capable of leading international cooperation to contend with the current crisis accounts for the lack of international cooperation. According to the theory of international relations, three conditions are necessary for such a leader to appear and to work effectively. First, the leader needs to possess the power to overwhelm other states. Second, the leader must have the will to use its capability not only to pursue narrow, selfish national interests but to lead international cooperation to stabilize the international system. Third, the leader's leadership would not effectively function unless other nations approve it and express the will to follow it. 23

If there is a state that can conduct international cooperation to deal with the ongoing crisis, it will be the United States or China. But neither of them meets the above three conditions.

The United States is still the world's most powerful country. Since, the advent of President Trump, however, the will of the United States to exert leadership has been questioned. Observing this, other nations have come to hesitate to follow the United States. Even after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump continues to act on the "America First" principle without attempting to take international leadership to deal with the crisis. The results of the above public opinion polls show that this attitude of the United States helps to weaken the will of other nations to follow it.

In the meantime, China, although not the world's strongest in terms of power, is drawing near to the United States. In the sphere of rhetoric, China is more explicit than ever to express its will to become a world leader by conducting international cooperation for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, its actions and attitudes of promoting narrow national interests --- especially actions in the South and East China Seas, "Wolf Warrior diplomacy" associated with COVID-19, etc. --- are so incongruous with its words that other nations will be unlikely to follow the leadership of China; rather perceptions of China notably worsen.

Another case where interstate cooperation could advance in the international community is when major powers play joint leadership roles. However, there is no prospect that such joint leadership will become a reality due to the deterioration of American feelings toward China as well as greater alertness and distrust toward China. A May 20, 2020 report to Congress released by the White House, "United States Strategic Approach to the People's Republic of China," defines the US-China relations as a strategic competitive relationship between the different ideological systems. 24 The fact that US high-ranking officials made statements in succession in line with this report is a clear proof that joint leadership is impractical.

It is deplorable indeed that leaders capable of steering international cooperation fail to appear in the face of a serious once-in-100 year crisis. But the absence of leader states can also be explained by the traditional theory of international relations. It is by no means a new phenomenon.

3. What's New --- Progress of "Indispensable" Interdependence with Hostile Nations

That said, the ongoing changes in international relations are not without a "newness" almost alien to the previous international relations.

In recent years, Chinese and Russian revisionism has increasingly challenged the liberal, rules-based international order underpinning the peace and prosperity of the post-WWII world. But the United States, the leader in maintaining the liberal international order, has developed a relationship of interdependence with China, its antagonist state. As a result, the United States begins to recognize that its relationship of interdependence with China is becoming "indispensable" from economic and technological viewpoints. This perception began to rapidly prevail among bipartisan members of the US Congress since 2017. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, it is shared to a considerable extent by other liberal democratic nations. Namely, the development of the "indispensable" interdependence with hostile states and the resulting heightened sense of danger are the "newness" of international relations under the COVID-19 crisis.

Why has the risk thus far not been well perceived of allowing for the interdependence with hostile nations to become indispensable? First, during the Cold War years, the degree of economic and technological interdependence between the United States and the Soviet Union was quite low. In his 1987 book The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis said, "The Russian-American relationship, to a remarkable degree for two nations so extensively involved with the rest of the world, has been one of mutual independence... Nor have the two nations been economically dependent upon one another in any critical way."25 In terms of technology, the Soviet Union relied heavily on US technology, whereas the United States did not depend on Soviet technology at all. According to a study by Antony C. Sutton, consistently from the very beginning of the Soviet Union, many of key Soviet technologies originated in the West, especially in the United States, rather than in the Soviet Union. 26 The Soviet Union's dependence on US technology progressed over time; in the 1980s, Soviet ballistic missiles reportedly incorporated the clones of a chip used in a US-made computer game console --- bearing even a copied logo in English. In other words, the "interdependence with hostile nations" was negligible, at least from the US perspective.

By contrast, in the post-Cold War era, the interdependence between the United States and China rapidly evolved. Until very recently, however, Americans tended to think that their interdependence was "indispensable" to China, but not so to the United States. For example, a typical American textbook on international relations, authored mainly by Joseph Nye, stated in 2017: "While the bilateral trade relationship between the United States and China is asymmetrical in China's favor, the United States is not particularly vulnerable to potential Chinese trade embargoes because it could compensate for the potential loss of Chinese goods by purchasing them elsewhere, and China has strong domestic incentives to export to the United States."27

If, however, China outperformed the United States in the area of cutting-edge technology, US interdependence with China would significantly increase in "indispensability." Such a situation would generate an unignorable political risk for the United States. This strong sense of danger, which has been rapidly growing in the United States since around 2017, seems to have accelerated amid the COVID-19 pandemic to be shared by other liberal democracies.

The conventional studies of international relations failed to pay attention to this type of interstate relations, in which confrontations are serious, while interdependence is progressing a great deal. Looking at the theory of interdependence by Keohane and Nye, for example, they place at two extremes the situation where interstate confrontation over security is harsh and interdependence hardly progresses (the "ideal type of realism" regarding international relations) and that in which interstate interdependence progresses materially and harsh confrontation over security is no longer seen (the ideal type of "complex interdependence"). They understand that the world of reality exists between the two extremes (Fig. 12).

(Fig. 12)

The conventional studies of international relations assumed the world of reality to be a situation in which there is some confrontation over security between states, while interdependence among them is also progressing to a certain extent. 28 The world where "serious confrontation over security exists between states, while interdependence among them is also materially progressing" has not been taken into consideration or discussed.

As far as the relations between great powers that have a major impact on trends in the international order are concerned, such a situation ("serious confrontation over security exists between nations, while interdependence among them is also materially progressing") did not exist between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era nor between the United States and China after the Cold War. Consequently, there was no particular inconvenience in that such a situation was not assumed. As for the relations with hostile states, it is, of course, significant to carefully examine the negative aspects of the progress of interdependence and to compare them with the positive ones. But as long as there was no such situation, there was no need for consideration about it.

However, as late as in 2017, the liberal democratic nations such as Japan and the United States began to direct their concern to the risk and opportunity of deepening interdependence with China, a hostile state over security issues. 29 In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such concern and a sense of danger are growing in many liberal democracies over the risks of promoting interdependence with China. It seems to be the "newness" of the current international relations.

4. Policy Implications

In lieu of conclusion, I would like to point out two policy implications derived from the above concise analysis.

(1) The Future of the US-China Confrontation

The growing awareness of "the risk of interdependence with hostile nations" is considered to inevitably result in a prolonged US-China confrontation. Because, as long as the United States and China continue to perceive that they are engaged in a strategic competition between different political systems, it is unlikely that the United States will shift to cooperation with China with an emphasis on economic interdependence with the country. It is a serious phenomenon for China that other liberal democracies start to perceive China as a "dangerous country" and discuss the need for breaking away from excessive dependence on China and for self-help.

Moreover, China's actions in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis feature a blatant pursuit of narrow national interests based on selfish assertions. This tendency is likely to enhance such a perception Unless China modifies its external behavior, it is unlikely that the US-China confrontation and alertness toward China prevalent in liberal democracies will not calm down, only because economic relations with China are vital.

(2) Will a Leader to Contend with the COVID-19 Pandemic Appear?

In relation to the current COVID-19 crisis, positive international cooperation has scarcely been achieved due to the absence of a great power that can lead international cooperation to overcome the crisis. If the absence of leadership continues, the confusion caused by COVID-19 is feared to continue even after the infectious disease has been subdued.

At present, it is the United States or China alone that is capable of conducting international cooperation to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. But China is unlikely to replace the United States as a global leader. Unless China modifies its external behavior, other countries will not accept and follow China's leadership. The Chinese government, however, seems to not possess the will to do so at all.

On the other hand, if a US administration willing to assume world leadership in controlling international systems appears, other nations will be expected to follow its lead. It will be all the more so because China's behavior looks increasingly problematic in the United States and the world.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced in an article released in January 2020 that "As president, I will take immediate steps to renew U.S. democracy and alliances… and once more have America lead the world."30 Whether we can see the United States lead the world again will depend in large part on his victory in the presidential elections this November and on whether he can put these words into action.

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