Time to Rebuild International Cooperation amid Pandemic / Unity of Democratic Nations under Threat

Building a world in which people can travel freely and prosper together under common rules: The blows and unrest brought about by the novel coronavirus have highlighted the importance of this vision.

Cooperation among nations is indispensable for the early abating of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the recovery of the global economy. The international system of cooperation needs to be rebuilt, using the change of administration in the United States as an opportunity.

■ U.S. must recover leadership

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has advocated multilateralism and the importance of alliances. The question now is whether the United States will be able to make a smooth transition from President Donald Trump’s “America first” initiative.

During the four years of Trump politics, which neglected international agreements and frameworks, U.S. leadership and trust have been lost. Even though the United States is a medically advanced country, it is seeing the world’s highest number of infections and deaths from the virus, instead of taking a leading role in countermeasures against the pandemic.

Trump’s unpredictable actions also caused confusion in the fields of trade and security. The collapse of the international order centered on the United States cannot be allowed to continue.

Biden must reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization and demonstrate the United States’ presence in the fight against the infectious disease. It is also important for the United States to return to the Paris Agreement, an international framework for tackling climate change, and accelerate efforts to deal with the issue.

One country alone cannot cope with infectious diseases, global warming and threats of international terrorism. Advanced countries, led by the United States, need to cooperate with each other to help developing countries distribute novel coronavirus vaccines, fight against poverty and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That will likely benefit the world from a long-term perspective.

The functions of the United Nations and other international organizations have further deteriorated due to the battle for hegemony between the United States and China, which was not anticipated when those organizations were established after World War II. It is symbolic that the authority of the WHO was shaken after the United States criticized the organization as “China-centric.”

In new domains such as the cyber world, space and artificial intelligence, it is urgent to draw up rules on military development and oversee them internationally. A stable order can be expected only when the major powers cooperate with each other.

The case of the European Union overcoming various conflicts and putting together a coronavirus recovery fund should be used as a model.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is pursuing a strategy to rival the United States militarily, economically and technologically. It is highly likely that he will continue to hold power even after his 10 years over two terms in office end in 2023. How to deal with the challenge presented by China is a common issue for the international community.

■ Defects in ‘China model’

The Xi administration is gaining confidence in its regime as a result of its containment of the virus. Behind this, however, has been the strict monitoring of residents and restrictions on their movement. How many people would be attracted to governance that makes light of individual freedom and dignity? China could not be a model to lead the world.

When infections first spread in Wuhan, the Chinese authorities failed to properly disclose information and delayed their response. The harmful effects of an authoritarian regime, such as the suppression of freedom of speech and violation of human rights, are clearly evident in Hong Kong, where the idea of “one country, two systems” has been trampled on.

There is constant friction over China’s unfair trade practices and maritime expansion. No matter how much Xi advocates multilateral cooperation, it will only echo hollowly unless he changes his rule-breaking behavior.

Biden has indicated his intention to restrain China by strengthening cooperation with U.S. allies.

The broad U.S. alliance network is a strength that China lacks. Countries that share the values of freedom and democracy should unite to deal with China and Russia, which are trying to change the status quo by force.

The framework of the Group of Seven advanced nations as well as the Quad of Japan, the United States, Australia and India are effective tools for this purpose.

■ Reject conspiracy theories

With the advance of the internet and social media, the world is filled with information. The rapid development of novel coronavirus vaccines was due in large part to the sharing and effective use of data and knowledge on the virus among medical professionals and scientists around the world.

On the other hand, there have been many rumors that lack scientific and objective foundations related to the conflict between the United States and China over the origin of the outbreak of the coronavirus as well as Trump supporters’ assertions that there were irregularities in the U.S. presidential election.

Free speech is a source of power for democratic countries, but if fake news or conspiracy theories prevail, it could turn into a weakness. It should be recognized that it is dangerous to accept implausible discourse without doubt or unconditionally believe the words of supporters.

Powerful nations could spread false information to manipulate public opinion, as Russia did when it staged a cyber-attack on the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

It is important for people who receive information to confirm the credibility of the source and verify the facts. It is individual awareness that supports a strong democracy.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 3, 2021.