Post Pandemic: Gas On the Rise and Worse Yet to Come
The United States may be slowly coming out of the COVID crisis, although that oft-predicted occurrence has been repeatedly miscalculated. In the U.S. we are suffering from the economic impacts of the pandemic: gas prices are up over 40% from last year, grocery prices are markedly higher, 10 million jobs are unfilled, housing prices are through the roof, and Americans feel less secure economically than they did prior to March 2020.
The situation in the rest of the world, however, is more grim. In the past year and half since the onset of the pandemic, the number of people who are now classified as refugees or internally displaced is up over 17% with an estimated 82 million people displaced. Civil war is raging in Ethiopia, the government of Afghanistan surrendered to the Taliban amidst the botched U.S. military evacuation, the president of Haiti was assassinated followed by a devastating earthquake and a recent wave of kidnappings for ransom, women and girls in poor and rural communities around the world have seen the gains they achieved over the past twenty years diminish significantly in terms of economic and educational advances which has led to an increase in human trafficking, and the Chinese Communist Party is flexing its muscles through internal clampdowns on private enterprise and through the external launching of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile.
Thornton Wilder coined the phrase “the world is at sixes and sevens” in his play “The Skin of Our Teeth,” and the topsy-turvy nature of things is unsettling.
And it’s going to get worse.
New strains of the COVID-19 virus have emerged, so much so that we have taken to naming them in much the same way that we name hurricanes. We have had the deadly delta variant, and now we have the mu variant. We have an array of vaccine options around the world, but the world’s population only wants the American vaccines – the Chinese and Russian vaccines have proven to be less efficacious and, in some cases, not efficacious at all. American pharmaceutical companies are producing as much as they can, around the clock, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is facilitating shipments to countries around the world. We are all hoping that the global efforts to stem the advancing tide of the virus are successful.
But hope is not a strategy. Action is.
Even if the hoped-for success arrives, the damage around the world left in the wake of the pandemic will lead to a decades-long recovery. The actors that emerge to facilitate the recovery will look oddly like an array of options the world considered during the Cold War. The difference will be that in the Cold War the United States faced off with the USSR. Today the faceoff is with the Chinese Communist Party.
Some partial solutions have emerged from crisis. We have become more dependent on technology. At the same time, we have also faced a technology crunch – global supply chains for critical semiconductors have weathered shocks due to the shortage of raw materials and an over-arching dependence on the People’s Republic of China for material inputs. The same is true for access to raw material inputs for pharmaceutical inputs over which China maintains a stranglehold. The PRC has demonstrated an unwillingness to cooperate or collaborate with the global community on the response to the pandemic, rather it has cast blame at every turn on the United States in ways that are universally viewed as nonsensical.
America, in the meantime, has turned to its allies to rally a global response – the Quad (U.S., India, Japan, and Australia) has stepped in to re-imagine global supply chains as efforts are made to on-shore, near-shore, and allied-shore production. The EU is slowly emerging from the stupor of its addiction to “cheap goods from China” of the past 30 years to realize that “cheap” is a relative terms when considering the price one pays in terms of control. European countries like Estonia and Finland are engaging in efforts to promote trusted technologies and trusted networks. Free-market countries with 5G solutions have hammered on Huawei’s once-preeminent leading position as the global 5G provider, leading to a retrenchment of the Chinese networking company. Western biotechnology firms are exploring ways to develop vaccines using gene splicing technologies in order to prepare for the next novel coronavirus or other emerging health threats. Developing countries are reexamining development agreements reached with the PRC and discovering the “fine print” in agreements that threatened their sovereignty, data privacy, and national security. In short, technology diplomacy is becoming a factor in international relations from semiconductors, 5G, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence to hypersonics and synthetic biology.
Some of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng’s planned advances to overtake the United States as the global technological and economic superpower are slowing, some are stalling, some have stopped.
Like a petulant child who doesn’t get his way in a game of tiddly winks, President Xi is lashing out against the West. He crushed democracy movements in Hong Kong and canceled the One China-Two Systems acceptance of Hong Kong’s Special Administrative Region status. He threatens Taiwan daily with dozens of provocative military overflights and dangerous rhetoric. His People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was quick to land in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country, and the PLA has begun to cull through the volumes of intelligence left behind by U.S. forces when they abandoned Baghram Air Base. He has supplied hundreds of millions of doses of Sinovac vaccine to countries without ever acknowledging the vaccine’s low efficacy rate such that countries from Brazil to Bahrain are requesting booster shots from U.S. drug manufacturers to curb waves of “breakthrough” cases. At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party continues its genocidal policies toward minority populations of Muslim Uighur and Tibetan Buddhists.
Western pundits speak of a “Great Power Competition” in which the United States is pitted against the People’s Republic of China. This characterization is far too simplistic to categorize the nature of international relations today. Indeed, a “competition” implies that all players are playing on the same playing field and playing by the same rules. This is not the case. China is writing its own rules atop its own landscaped view of the world. The 40% increase in the price of gas and runaway inflation for groceries and home prices in the U.S. will seem like nothing if Xi realizes his vision of a “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind.” President Xi wants to transform the world order to be more aligned with China’s – he wants China to lead the reform of the global governance system away from relations with Washington and toward alliances with Beijing. Action is required now in order to derail his malign intentions. More By The Author
The author’s view of the world and the impact of the COVID pandemic is comprehensive and realistic; it reveals a good understanding of global issues and the American and Chinese positions in the race to the top. However, when the author says that ‘hope is not a strategy. Action is’, she assumes that action can be taken without a strategy, or that America has a strategy and needs to implement it now. But for a nation to accomplish anything meaningful, it has to have 4 elements; a vision focusing on the future, a strategy to translate the vision into facts on the ground, a trusted and capable leadership, and a popular movement to back the leadership. America of the 21st century has none of those elements. Therefore, it cannot stop China’s actions or its president’s ambitions. Ideological polarization, racism, and the spread of cultural ghettos are hindering corrective action to address almost all issues of public concern.