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Photo: “Tiananman Gate“, by allen watkin, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Zhao, Suisheng. “Rhetoric and Reality of China’s Global Leadership in the Context of COVID-19: Implications for the US-led World Order and Liberal Globalization.” Journal of Contemporary China (2020): 1-16.


When President Trump-led America abandoned the global leadership, China casted itself as the global leader in response to COVID-19, placing challenges to the US-led world order and liberal globalization. China’s rhetoric, however, has not matched its actions in comprehensively providing global public goods and developing universally accepted values. As neither the US and China have taken the global leadership that most countries can trust and count on, the world is in the danger of moving toward the vicious power rivalry, hampering the multilateral responses to global crisis such as COVID-19.

The US response to COVID-19 was sadly emblematic. Spending more than a month to play down the threat, delaying the diagnostic testing and stockpiling essential equipment after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Public Health Emergency on 30 January 2020, the Trump administration was unprepared, ill-equipped and overwhelmed. Disdaining international cooperation and focusing the bulk of its efforts on blaming the WHO and China, President Trump astonished the world by suggesting disinfectant and ultraviolet light could possibly be used to treat Covid-19.

Containing the outbreak by strict confinement measures and coming out of the crisis in a stronger position than many other countries, the Chinese government wasted no time to launch a propaganda campaign, trumpeting its powerful state capacity in time of crisis in contrast to the contradictory and incoherent response of the US and European democracies. As the US faltered in its handling of the pandemic, China enhanced its influence across the world by exporting medical equipment, expertise, experience, and largesse to other hard-hit countries through the so-called coronavirus diplomacy.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.