Diplomats gather to discuss post-COVID-19 recovery
By Wen Qing  ·  2022-06-27  ·   Source: NO.26 JUNE 30, 2022
Participants pose for a group photo at the Ambassadors' Roundtable of the Eighth China and Globalization Forum in Beijing on June 20 (COURTESY PHOTO)

As the world enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact continues to pose a critical threat to the global economy. On June 20, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), a think tank based in Beijing, hosted an ambassadors' roundtable on the global economic recovery. The event was part of the Eighth China and Globalization Forum in Beijing from June 19-21. Participants shared their views on the most pressing global issues of the day and their suggestions and proposals on fostering global mobility and economic recovery from the pandemic.

Pandemic response

"While the global economy is recovering, the world is still shrouded in the darkness of new outbreaks and new virus variants, and the pandemic seems far from ending," Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to China, said.

According to the United Nations Development Program's Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity, three in four people or 72.07 percent have been given at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in high-income countries as of June 15. The number in low-income countries is one in five people, or 18.25 percent.

High-income countries like the U.S. have continued to loosen their pandemic restrictions, such as by ending mask mandates and testing requirements for people entering from overseas—all efforts to allow their citizens to return to normal life. However, as the oft-repeated mantra goes: No one is safe unless everyone is safe. The World Health Organization recently warned the unequal distribution of vaccines around the globe has led to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, such as Omicron, that threaten the global economic recovery.

Strengthening international cooperation is still the key to effectively addressing the challenges posed by the outbreak. The fair and equitable distribution of vaccines is both a strategic investment and a moral obligation. Countries must work hand in hand to ensure its realization, Dhaheri added.

Countries have adopted different approaches in countering the pandemic, living with the virus or not, which have produced differing results. During the roundtable, some ambassadors from European countries expressed their concerns about China's current response. For example, Bernardino Regazzoni, Swiss Ambassador to China, stressed the importance of the global mobility of people and goods in the post-pandemic world. He noted the difficulties foreign students are facing in returning to China to continue their studies, citing reasons including the strict quarantine and isolation requirements for inbound travelers.

Lin Songtian, President of Chinese People's Association With Foreign Countries and former Chinese ambassador to South Africa, explained China's dynamic zero-COVID-19 policy. Instead of pursuing zero cases, the Chinese approach features prompt action in cutting off community transmission chains and precise identification of sources of infections. Lin admitted that there is a mix of feelings about China's current approach to the virus, but he said China has always put people and their lives first during the fight against the pandemic.

As a person who personally went through the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in Beijing in 2003 and worked to provide Chinese assistance to African countries in the fight against Ebola in recent years, he stressed that the public health threat of highly infectious diseases should not be downplayed. "In the past three years, the pandemic has killed over 1 million people in the U.S. and 2 million people in Europe. If China followed their policies today, total deaths might reach 4 or 5 million," Lin noted. "Moreover, if that happened, production would be halted, which will definitely cause disruptions to the global supply chain."

New growth models

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, new economic models began to flourish. Among them, digitalization is one that should not be neglected. The outbreaks worked as a catalyst for remote work, home schooling, online consumption and virtual socializing to reduce infections through crowds and commuting. Digitalized economy is the new normal, Arthayudh Srisamoot, Ambassador of Thailand to China, said.

For example, digital job applications from WeChat Work (now WeCom) and DingTalk saw a rapid increase in use in China since January 2020, when lockdown measures began to take effect, according to analysis from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

However, COVID-19 also further highlighted the digital divide between rich and poor within nations. In the U.S., 97 percent of residents in urban areas have access to high-speed Internet, however, the number falls to 65 percent in rural areas and to 60 percent on tribal lands, based on data from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The gap between rich and poor nations is even more noticeable. According to an International Telecommunication Union report, in the developed world the Internet penetration rate is 87 percent, but it's just 47 percent in developing countries and 19 percent in the least developed countries.

Globalization and multilateralism

Globalization has enabled developed countries to access a broad market and huge profits with their advantages in capital, high technology and skilled professionals. It also helps developing countries grow their economies, and improve infrastructure and people's standards of living by introducing capital, technology and management experience. For these reasons, globalization facilitates win-win cooperation for common development, Lin said.

Although globalization has driven economic growth, it does not necessarily solve the problems of unfair distribution in countries where the rich-poor gap is wide. This is one of the reasons why anti-globalization sentiments have been growing in some countries.

"There is competition among countries, but we are also all members of the human race. Therefore, we need to take common responsibility for our future development. In the global community, we need to cooperate and stand together through thick and thin, and we need to stick to multilateralism and solidarity," Moin ul Haque, Pakistan's Ambassador to China, said during the meeting.

Many other participants echoed that sentiment. South Africa's Ambassador to China, Siyabonga Cwele, said his country is pursuing stronger practices of multilateralism and effective inclusive global governance to support those most vulnerable. South Africa supports the idea the UN must play a leading role, and the country has also participated in other important platforms such as the Group of 20 and BRICS.

(Print Edition Title: Sharing the Path)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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