A Cambodian Intellectual and Foreign Partner Share Perspective on China-US Relations during COVID-19 Outbreak

AKP Phnom Penh, June 05, 2020 —

COVID-19: Challenging Times for Global Powers Politics is an article written by a Cambodian scholar and his foreign partner to share important perspectives over the relations between China and the US, particularly at this critical time of global COVID-19 outbreak.

According ASIAN Vision Institute (AVI)’s journal, the perspectives touched upon China’s Rise and US Anxiety, China: A Constructive and Responsible Global Player, and Toward Peaceful Coexistence: Compromise, Accommodation and Cooperation.

The Cambodian intellectual is Mr. KHEANG Un. He is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University and a Board Member of the Centre for Development of Cambodia, and his partner is Mr. LUO Jing Jing who is a doctoral candidate at the School of International Relations and the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, China.

This essay divides into three main sections. Firstly, it discusses the rise of China and the factors contributing to the US’ perceived fear of China as an “evil” global actor. Given their failure in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, President Trump and the Republican Party will intensify their scapegoating of China as a campaign issue. Secondly, it argues that rather than seeing China as a threat, the US ought to view China as a legitimate, constructive and responsible global player in solving common threats to humanity such as the issues of underdevelopment in the Global South and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirdly, it contends that for global stability and growth, the US should abandon its preoccupation with preserving its role of global hegemon, rather it should accept a multi-polar world that is more desirable for a complex and interconnected world.

Nowhere is the rising level of development as astonishing as it is in China. Harnessing the force of economic globalisation while maintaining its own unique culture and political system, China has experienced a great leap forward in economic progress, transforming it from an economically backward country into the world’s second largest economy. It also presents the world with an alternative model of development to Western dominated neoliberalism. China’s rise and its alternative model has generated anxiety and uncertainty for the existing global power—the US. Such anxiety, as this paper demonstrates, could potentially lead to conflict between China and the US. Although conflict between these two rival global powers is not inevitable, two possibilities could transform the existing tensions into spiral conflicts.  The first is the US’ misperception of China. Rather than seeing China as a responsible and constructive player on the global stage, the US could continue to dangerously treat China as a rogue state. The second is the missteps taken by the US due to its politicians’ impulse for winning the next elections. These missteps could draw harsh responses from China, a development that could spark global power confrontation of consequential magnitude to global economy and security. To mitigate this conflict, this paper suggests that the US should first avoid letting domestic politics trump its foreign policy consideration. Second, the US should accommodate to the fact that there should be competitive cooperation between itself and China.

Sino-US competitive cooperation will not only help the world to escape global power rivalry, but it will also afford the world the ability to address pressing issues. Global interconnectedness has generated complex issues—environmental degradation, terrorism, diseases, drug trafficking, and human smuggling.  Effective solutions to these complex issues require global stability and cooperation that involve multiple actors—state and non-state—at multiple levels—local, national and international. The ravage of COVID-19 with its disregard for national borders and races and its destructive impact to the global economy is a testimony to the need for cooperation between China and the US.

By Heng Panha