The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world in ways that no one could have predicted just a year ago. In the six months since the World Health Organization declared the pandemic in March, some 750,000 people have died of the virus.

Beyond the wrenching human cost of COVID-19 and the widespread lockdowns to contain its spread, the pandemic has shrunk economies and shaken international relations.

China was condemned for its initial cover-up of COVID-19 that critics say allowed the virus to become a monumental cross-border problem. The United States, in particular, has been scathing of China, sending relations between the two world powers into freefall. But the overall effect of the pandemic on China’s world standing has been a complex one.

COVID-19 has set back the One Belt, One Road initiative. Construction on big-ticket infrastructure projects has slowed and Chinese workers have been stranded overseas. And yet, the huge impact of the virus has also shown how closely nations’ economies are tied to China’s.

The recessions triggered by the pandemic will have a profound impact on flows of foreign investment and development aid to the global South for years to come as governments everywhere, including China, contend with mounting debt. But the economic turmoil may increase China’s importance internationally, not diminish it. Already, many developing nations have turned to Beijing for help in dealing with the health crisis – although the U.S. and others have also provided assistance.

The pandemic has certainly not dented China’s ambition to assert itself as a world power, although unease in other nations over how it conducts itself is growing. As its neighbors scrambled to cope with COVID-19, China doubled down on its sweeping territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea in defiance of international law.

Web page produced by: Minh-Ha Le
Videos & Photos: Radio Free Asia
Editing: H. Leo Kim, Mat Pennington
Produced by Radio Free Asia

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