Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, The University of Tokyo
The huge impact of COVID-19 crisis showed China’s global influence.
There was a famous phrase “When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches the cold.” That was a bygone era when American influence quite obvious in all corner of the world.
The proper sayings in the new Asian century would be the following: if China sneezes, the rest of the world gets pneumonia.
After the COVID-19, the world cannot help but look at China differently. The issue is how. There is a lot of grey area in the relationship with China for countries all over the world.
It doesn’t mean China is avoided or ostracized.
What is certain is that we cannot live without China for the rest of this century. China’s economy after the coronavirus crisis still remains to be the indispensable part of global economy and many countries are inevitably dependent on it.
The US-China confrontation will intensify in the presidential election year in the US. Increasingly countries are to be under the pressure from the US to choose either of them. That is the most undesirable moment for many.
For the East Asian and South East Asian countries, that decision is particularly difficult. China is and will be always there and won’t go away as the US president will.
For the Middle Eastern readers, it might be easier if I explain it by analogy taking up the example of Iran in the Gulf region and also Turkey in the Balkans region. Russia for the East European countries has a similar position. However, while Iran and Turkey remain to be regional powers and possible threats mainly to regional neighbors, China has a more global outreach that is what was shown by the COVID-19 crisis and now obvious to everyone including those in the Middle East.
What we need now is to focus other Asian powers which hedge and counterbalance the day-by-day aggressive China while avoiding the unwanted decision forced by the US to choose one of the two feuding superpowers, old and new.
Japan, India and Australia are possible those benign Asian powers which have interest in securing the safety and prosperity the Indo-Pacific region. That doesn’t mean the Arab and Middle Eastern nations are left behind in this new situation.
We must remember, once upon a time, Indo-Pacific Ocean was the area where Arabian seafarer actively navigated.
An Asian Century have to develop in the direction of the return of the era when the global commerce and civilizations were most prosperous surrounding Indo-Pacific Ocean.