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Ms Ashley Müller: Welcome to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy Podcast. I’m Ashley Muller. This week’s episode explores some of the latest global issues affecting peace, security, and international cooperation.
Ms Ashley Müller: As reports across Asia linked to the coronavirus are released, we hear about how Asia is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic from Dr Elena Atanassova Cornelius, senior lecturer in International Relations of East Asia at the University of Antwerp, and a visiting Professor at the University of Kent in Brussels as well as an Associate Fellow with the GCSP's Global Fellowship Initiative (recorded on 03 June 2020).
Ms Ashley Müller: We look at Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa’s long and complex relationship and explore what mutual prosperity could look like with Ms Faten Aggad-Clerx Consultant for the African Union and Business Associate for the Maendeleo Group (recorded on 04 March 2020).
Ms Ashley Müller: Thank you very much Dr Elena Atanassova Cornelius for joining us here today at the GCSP. What is the current situation in Asia with regards to the Coronavirus now?
Dr Elena Atanassova Cornelis: I think that the pandemic has to a large extent exposed and even intensified the existing competitive trends which I have been describing. We see this escalation of the US-China rivalry we see in rhetoric, in mutual blaming right for the COVID-19, United States calling it the “Chinese virus” where there have been certain Chinese statements suggesting that possibly the virus was important to China. And of course, Sino-US relations, this is a very complicated relationship, because they're at the roots of US-China relations, these are unresolved structural issues, if we look from a perspective of the very different political systems, different values, obviously, that that for the United States and for China, which has been at the root of this very problematic relationship and then related to these the different aspirations and visions of how they see regional order in Northeast Asia, in the Asia Pacific, or even at the global level. And now, with this pandemic, this has really exposed this competition for influence even though we tend to often describe US policy as isolationists under President Trump and indeed, the rhetoric of the “America First”, even some statements recently that if there is a vaccine that will be first distributed to the American people. And there is a certain perception that the United States is really, you know, losing out the battle with China in terms of global leadership. I think that the United States of the term is still continuing to emphasise the global US position both in Asia and at the global level despite this perception of isolationism or maybe retrenchment. Now, both in my view, both US and Chinese leadership has been undermined in both cases by the pandemic. And that has led also to the declining confidence, I would say, in both Asia and Europe, in the capabilities of either the US or China to lead the world. So there has been virtually, of course, very little international cooperation concerning COVID-19. There has been this growing international scrutiny over China's delayed response or China's possible misinformation concerning when and then we started when Chinese informed about the first cases in China, however, it has tried to act as a responsible great power. This is very important for China. China's transformation of identity, China's rise as a responsible, great power. We all have seen, of course, the kind of publicity surrounding China's donation of materials, personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and other related equipment to countries, sending experts to Italy, donating to countries in Europe. And this has been, I think, a way for China to shift a little bit the global attention away from US blame of China for the “Chinese virus” towards China's being acting as a global responsible power. And China is trying to contrast its own cooperative behaviour right now with the US inability to cooperate at the global level, for example, the US deciding in the middle of the pandemic to help us financially. support to the World Health Organization, right? This has been presented, of course, by Chinese commentators as extremely irresponsible, where China has been the responsible, great power trying to collaborate. And even now this interestingly, the Silk Road, something which President Xi Jinping announced back in 2016, now he has become more important than average and has been very, you know, active and trying to repair its image by promoting this international cooperation, you know, on dealing with pandemics, with infectious diseases and in the medical sector led by China, this is yet another signal that the Chinese leaders are giving to the world, look how responsible we are. But of course, we have also the inside of the story of China that there is a growing perception that China is kind of trying to take this somewhat advantage of the crisis of the fact that the United States and all other countries are distracted that they're dealing with a pandemic, with a lot of, of course, issues related to the pandemic economic concerns in many of the countries, and there is a concern of the Chinese using that to advance its interests in the South China Sea with continuing reclamation activities. Also, with regard to Hong Kong, I would say that it's not a coincidence, in my view, that all of a sudden right now, you know, we have these national security legislation in Hong Kong that has passed right. And also, with regard to Taiwan over the past couple of months, we see an increased number of military exercises by China bomber drills and Chinese first domestically made aircraft carriers also passing very symbolically through the Taiwan Strait to show to the world to the United States to Taiwan, that China has this resolve. So indeed, there is a perception that China is taking advantage of the situation. But perhaps so is North Korea because again over the past few months as the epidemic and as the crisis has deepened, we see more drills and more missile tests conducted by North Korea. Only in March for example, North Korea conducted nine tactical missile launches and as well as in April, so perhaps North Korea too is taking advantage of the world being distracted due to the pandemic to advance their own interests. And perhaps some, a few words on how in Asia, the pedantic or the COVID-19 has been tackled. They have been quite, I would say, divergent in different measures that have been adopted, you have had some countries, for example, the Philippines and Thailand where we have had quite strict restrictions. And it is only now after a number of weeks that both style and then the PDP, some sort of lifting up some restrictions of curfews that for example, in every place, you have very limited restrictions in Japan. So, in Japan, there was never a lockdown or a curfew actually imposed. He said you had an emergency kind of situation declared and Japanese citizens were advised to stay at home. And then you can of course, the South Korea case when we did not have a fully fledged low down. But there was a very aggressive policy of large scale testing, a contract racing, which has to large extent become when I hear to listen to the debates in Europe as a model for perhaps some European countries to follow.
Ms Ashley Müller: Is the security in Asia affected? If so, how?
Dr Elena Atanassova Cornelis: Some countries in Asia have succeeded with flattening the curve much faster. The Taiwan case,as the Trump administration has been also calling the Taiwan success story, as opposed to the China story. So, you know, the juxtaposing Taiwan, the democratic Taiwan against China in. Other countries, for example, in Southeast Asia have been struggling, the Philippines and Indonesia. Indonesia, for example, still has growing numbers of infections, unfortunately, and whether or not there has been any region wide response. I would say there have been online meetings for example between ASEAN leaders and Japan, China and South Korea, video conferences and certain agreements that there would be a more collaboration between Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, especially to ensure that the supply chain so provision of any necessary medical materials or food or other will not be blocked in a possible next pandemic or crisis. But to a large extent, we see really diversity in responses. When countries actually decided to impose more restrictions, and some countries even like Japan, not even imposing civilisations in comparison to countries such as, for example, the Philippines. But I could say that perhaps one of the, I guess the outcomes maybe of the COVID-19 crisis will be the, in the near term, realisation in Asia that there should be some sort of regional or sub regional mechanisms, ASEAN mechanisms, that we'll be able to tackle crisis and disasters that have a direct implications for the Asian region as opposed to relying on global leadership, which to a large extent, is perceived right now as in unfortunately, steady decline.
Ms Ashley Müller: Thank you Dr Atanassova Cornelis for joining us today.
Ms Ashley Müller: Ms Faten Aggad-Clerx Consultant for the African Union and Business Associate for the Maendelo Group shares on mutual prosperity between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Thank you for joining us Ms Aggad-Clerx.
Ms Ashley Müller: My first question to you is what does mutual prosperity mean? And is it realistic?
Ms Faten Aggad-Clerx: I think when we speak of relations, particularly between Europe and Africa, but also Africa and its relationship with the world, I think there is real space for mutual prosperity. And what do I mean by that? And let me perhaps illustrate that with specific examples, all the old world basically will be aging, but Africa would not be facing that particular challenge because there is a youth, a young population. Now, one can say well, a youth bulge is interesting, but the world is moving towards AI and new technology. So, it's fantastic that Africa has young people, but there will be no role for them as such in the economies. And what I often like to say is that robots will not be the ones who will pay for social security, for retirement, etc. We need humans who are working to be able to do that. And so that particular security can come from Africa, because of its young population. So it goes beyond the availability of labour, not just for Europe, but I would argue for the rest of the world. And in that sense, I think there will be, there is space for mutual prosperity for both Africa, Europe, and the entire world. The other space I think where there is possibility for mutual prosperity or a win-win situation for Africa and its international partners, including Europe, is that Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. It has some of the top growing, fastest growing economies worldwide. And as such, that can provide an opportunity for international investors, for international partners to benefit from that economic growth. So there are certainly opportunities, it's a matter of sizing them.
Ms Ashley Müller: What challenges or opportunities are there to mutual prosperity?
Ms Faten Aggad-Clerx: I would say in terms of challenges, the key challenge, if you will, is to break away from the current mindset and start looking for opportunities for that mutual prosperity, beyond the current frame that we are and have been used to for so long. Looking at Africa as a region where there are opportunities, a region where youth can provide and cater for the interests of many partners, as much as , Africa's interests itself is important. We need to stop thinking of Africa only as a hopeless continent that requires help, but also a continent that can help and contribute to the prosperity of the world. So it's really I would say, in terms of challenges, the key one is breaking away from traditional ways of thinking, and letting go of old ideas, embracing new ones and embracing new possibilities. Now, the good thing is that the opportunity is there to move beyond that mindset and I would say a lot of this. This challenge is driven by Africa's own assertiveness. There is a new generation of Africans who are very clear in their head on what they want. In fact, just last week, there was a survey that was released, looking at how African youth sees itself and sees its place in the world. And there's generally optimism and optimism in the way the young population sees its contribution to the continent, optimism about the prospects of youth on the continent, but also with what we are seeing and which is extremely refreshing and extremely positive, is that Africans are assuming what I would call agency. They do see a role for themselves in their future. And I think that is certainly an opportunity which we can embrace, we can work with as Africans, but also as an international community.
Ms Ashley Müller: There was discussion at the last African Union Summit about a unified trade zone in Africa. What would that look like?
Ms Faten Aggad-Clerx: So African countries, 54 of them have signed up to the Continental Free Trade Area. 29 countries have ratified that agreement. The ambition is to start trading under the terms of that agreement as per the first of July this year (2020). And so what the African continental Free Trade Area provides is, for Africa, it provides the opportunity of connecting the continent, it's important to recall that if one compares the composition of trade, from the African continent to the rest of the world, there continues to be very little diversification in terms of the products. A lot of the exports continue to be extractives based, there's very little space, I would say, to promote industrialisation on the continent. And the contrary to that, intra-African trade as small as it is with, we're at the moment at 19% of trade, being conducted within the African region. But the composition of what is traded within the continent is very much different. What we see is that much more manufactured goods are being traded within the continent. And so the space that the internal markets provide for countries is significant. As such that will promote the industrialisation within the continent. It provides new opportunities for the private sector, then to engage. Now for the international partners, it’s an opportunity, it's an opportunity to tap into a market of 1.2 billion people. It's an opportunity to tap into a rising middle class on the continent that is interested in consumption. It's also an opportunity to provide space or to tap into a manufacturing capacity that will be provided by labour that will continue to be much more affordable as all the regions move into different levels I would say, of economic development. So it can be a win-win situation again for both Africa and the international community, and one that should be certainly exploited.
Ms Ashley Müller: Thank you Ms Aggad-Clerx.
Ms Ashley Müller: That's all we have now for today's episode. Thank you to Dr Elena Atanassova Cornelis for joining us along with Ms Faten Aggad-Clerx. Listen to us again next week to hear all the latest insights on international peace and security and don’t forget to subscribe to us on Apple iTunes, follow us on Spotify and SoundCloud. I’m Ashley Müller and until next time, bye for now.
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