Is coronavirus ushering in a Chinese future?

But if most of the world is presently skidding into a depression in order to avoid public-health catastrophe, in China, Maçães points out, the country is already recovering — almost certainly more haltingly than it says, and yet in ways you can more or less track, and more or less verify. “The most recent data show renewed activity in the flow of goods across the country, as well as at ports worldwide that do business with China,” he writes. “If the freeze in Europe and America continues for much longer, Chinese companies will be able to dramatically expand market share and replace Western-led value chains.”

A more dramatic reordering is possible, too, if “important countries could experience the kind of economic shock that leads to widespread social and political collapse,” he writes, in what he calls an “extreme scenario” that is nevertheless, given the scale of the coronavirus threat and its economic fallout, conceivable. “At that point, China would have a unique opportunity to step in, provide aid, and refashion these countries in its image. It would look like a repeat of the Marshall Plan and the beginning of the American world order after the ravages of World War II. Indonesia, South Asia, and even Russia might be of special interest in such a scenario.”

Other nations, Maçães says, may find themselves refashioned in less profound ways — but nevertheless emerge from the pandemic much more dependent on China than they entered. But while that world may seem alien from the vantage of today — or, more to the point, six months ago — it is, indeed, a quite familiar model, as all those invocations of the Marshall Plan suggest. As much as Americans like to believe otherwise, Maçães told me, “American power was not based on a pristine reputation, but on hard power.”

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