The geopolitics of Covid19 – international webinar

On Sunday 28 June at 1400 BST, a time chosen to suit a global audience, LibDems Overseas (LDO), a g(local) party, co-hosted our first webinar with the Paddy Ashdown Forum, the centrist think tank supported by the European Liberal Forum. Participants who joined via Zoom were largely drawn from LDO’s 1000 members and supporters living in over 40 countries outside Europe. The event was moderated by LDO Chair, George Cunningham.

Covid19 has been called a “game changer”, knocking all countries sideways economically and in the sphere of public health. It has also awoken the world to the rise of China, where the outbreak started, and which may be perceived as the nation to come out “on top” after the pandemic.

Our first speaker Dr Christine Cheng, (lecturer in War Studies at Kings College London and key member of the Federal Policy Committee) focused on the impact of Covid19 on UK-China relations. Based on a 2019 Delta poll, Brits over-estimated UK’s influence in the world as #2 after the US and ahead of China at #3. Cheng recommended that the UK should stay aligned with the EU for greater clout. The diplomatic row between China and Canada, sparked by the detention of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, was followed by China’s arrests of two Canadians on suspicion of espionage. More recently, Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus resulted in tariffs being imposed on Australian goods. These instances point to a more confident China, ready to defend its ground.

Professor Paul Reynolds (former lecturer at the University of Westminster and member of the Federal International Relations Committee) was our second speaker and shared a nuanced view of China’s growth under President Xi JinPing. With slides of maps of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and ‘String of Pearls’, he demonstrated how China’s expansion may be driven more by domestic needs and protection of its trade routes – especially as the world’s largest importer of oil. There have been news reports of China’s militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea, but another slide showed where the balance of power really lay with the already well-established US military bases across Asia. The key, says Reynolds, is to try to engage China in the international rules-based system and organisations, and not be stuck in a spat between the super powers.

There followed a lively Q&A with questions coming from the US and Latin America to Zambia and Indonesia. I managed to get in one, quoting the World Health Organisation’s Director General who famously said:

The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself, it’s the lack of global solidarity and global leadership.

Indeed, it was generally agreed that we cannot defeat the virus with a divided world.

If anyone missed the webinar but is interested in catching a recording, you can view it below or via this link:

* Merlene was co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats and on the executive of the LibDems Overseas. She co-edited “Rise of China – Fresh Insights and Observations” published by the Paddy Ashdown Forum (2021)

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This entry was posted in Europe / International.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '20 - 1:08pm

    Merlene as usual informs well.

    The elephant in the room is this, and nobody is mentioning it.

    Standards of practice in animal products, before that, their treatment, afterwards, their sale, are abysmal in China.

    They are lousy in the US.

    The economic nationalism we supposedly loathe, is rampant in the EU

    The advantage to us all, is the EU has good standards.

    We need more , far, more of us top put a slant in favour of the standards that are humane. Anti meat is now rare, but, it is going to be more common if meat consumption is the cause of most viruses, and it is.

  • No-one will trust China or Trump on global leadership so may be a job for Angela Merkel when she moves on from leading Germany or perhaps someone neutral like NZ’s excellent PM, though you can see the Conservatives leaping up and down about either choice.

    There is always the possibility that aliens meandering around China and coughing up their homegrown virus started the pandemic rather than mere Chinese doing strange things to bats, an intergalactic incident.

  • Lorenzo, I have a sneaking suspicion that vegetarians are very rarely affected by the virus but no idea if it is because they don’t eat meat or because not eating meat gives them a better immune system or because they tend not to be fat.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 30th Jun '20 - 1:47pm

    Frank West, as a matter of interest, what is your evidence for thinking vegetarians are very rarely affected by the virus? I’m vegetarian myself, but that’s mainly for ethical rather than health reasons. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is good for the immune system, but not eating meat does not in itself boost the immune system. Nor does being vegetarian necessarily aid slimming – would that it were that simple! You may be correct in your suggestion, but its unwise to suggest that certain groups of people are not at risk, unless you have good evidence

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 30th Jun '20 - 1:55pm

    Frank, I did a quick google – it seems a post was shared on social media, claiming that WHO had stated that not a single vegetarian had caught the virus. This was of course fake news. The virus may have originally spread to humans through meat eating, but that isn’t how it’s spread now. Some vegetarians are in high risk groups. We do need to be very careful not to spread fake news.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '20 - 2:26pm

    Frank, Catherine, get an interesting aside going started as a result of my comments.

    I think Frank is correct in that vegetarianism, as a practice of mine for twenty years, is the far better and healthier choice.

    I reckon catherine is right on the virus.

    I know I am correct and right and indeed sensible, to advance the cause of the virus, as almost certainly being the same cause of every pandemic, namely and wholly, meat consumption, swine, birds, cows, bats, name an epidemic that has not had this at the fore.

    Bring back Tim farron the vegetarians choice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Meat processing plant workers hit by the corona virus.
    Bat corona virus research in Thailand
    Northern Burma and Vietnam have similar bat populations to China

  • Paul Barker 30th Jun '20 - 2:36pm

    Can we please stop commenting on the silly vegetarian comment, this is how comment threads get derailed.
    The International Community needs to develop a concerted Strategy to contain China as The Russian Empire was contained during The Cold War.
    The big Danger is not so much Chinas growing strength as the weakness of The Chinese Dictatorship. Their actions in Hong Kong dont suggest confidence & neither does the Anti-Uighur campaign.
    Frightened, paranoid Regimes can lash out & do really stupid things, thats the immeidiate danger.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '20 - 2:44pm

    Paul the comment that Catherine revealed to be silly, the false news about vegetarians never catching a virus, is one she has dealt with, but please let in no way your comment imply to deal with these issues is silly, i can assure you that all the concern about China, ignores the practices that I allude to, which cause these virus spreads and can originate in any smaller country with terrifyingly bad practices.

    Complacency on one issue is never erased by concern on another, the former the cause of horrors too often.

  • The legacy of the Opium wars continues to influence China’s foreign policies but geopolitics has shifted considerably during this century, China has a powerful economic presence in SE Asia, Africa, and to some extent Latin America.

  • Christopher Haigh 30th Jun '20 - 3:42pm

    It’s time we put massive import duties on containers coming in from China.

  • “It’s time we put massive import duties on containers coming in from China.”
    Oh yes, protectionism. What with the covid economic fallout and Brexit, that should bring a long lasting slump.

  • I did not claim that vegetarianism provided a way to avoid the effects of covoid-19 I said I had a sneaking suspicion that it might, merely from observation that I have yet to find a vegetarian who has been rushed to hospital. It is worth asking the question, if it turned out to be true there would be a fantastic opportunity to turn the UK into a vegetarian country – I like both chicken and fish so would be rather annoyed by them being heavily taxed to discourage their consumption but on the other hand would probably be eventually happy at the benefits of reforming my eating habits, my main problem the lack of protein does affect my musculature, as I don’t have an excess to begin with. The long term savings for the NHS would also be radical.

    Someone with the contacts should at least run the data.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 30th Jun '20 - 5:16pm

    Frank, thank you for replying to my question, but I’m sure you will agree that the fact that you have not personally known a vegetarian who has become seriously ill with Coronavirus does not really prove anything. We do need to be very careful not to spread any unfounded rumours about the virus.

  • Britain could do little to stop China from blocking Hong Kongers from coming to the UK, Dominic Raab has suggested. I don’t know on what basis he has made this suggestion but mainland China has always allowed emigration. The British government needs to keep its promises to BNO holders. Indeed this needs widening to others that do not qualify to a BNO passport.

  • Breaking news
    China’s Foreign Ministry has reacted angrily to Britain’s offer of citizenship to BNO passport holders as an interference in its internal affairs.

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