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Democracies better handle COVID-19; Korea is example: Nye

Former Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan and Joseph Nye, professor emeritus at Harvard Kennedy School, discuss COVID-19 challenges at a forum hosted by the Korean Foundation and Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center and broadcast live on YouTube on Wednesday. (The Korea Foundation).
Former Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan and Joseph Nye, professor emeritus at Harvard Kennedy School, discuss COVID-19 challenges at a forum hosted by the Korean Foundation and Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center and broadcast live on YouTube on Wednesday. (The Korea Foundation).

The view that authoritarian states will do a better job of responding to the coronavirus than democracies has been proven wrong, said renowned US scholar Joseph Nye -- best known for pioneering the “soft power” theory -- pointing to South Korea as a positive example.

“Authoritarian leaders have used COVID-19 as an excuse to deepen their power and control,” Nye said in an online forum broadcast live on YouTube on Wednesday, whereas in “notable democracies” such as Korea, Germany and New Zealand, health authorities have managed to effectively contain the outbreak.

The pandemic will only deepen the feud between the US and China, said the Harvard Kennedy School professor emeritus during a conversation with former Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan at the event, jointly hosted by the Korea Foundation and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.

China will not outcompete the US, though they both have to deal with major political and economic fallout from the global crisis, Nye added. Yoon agreed, betting on US preeminence for some time to come.

“The US will continue to have advantage over China in terms of capability,” Yoon said. “Real problem is not the decline of US capability but China’s becoming too confident too soon.” But he admitted that the power gap between the two rivals was narrowing.

Yoon said China had increasingly become assertive in its foreign policies while refusing to redress unfair trade practices, defeating hopes that China would embrace more liberal democratic values.

Washington’s policy toward Beijing has also become confrontational, and its anti-China policy will remain unchanged even if US President Donald Trump loses his reelection bid, according to Yoon.

Nye acknowledged that the Trump administration was devaluing alliances and multilateral institutions, describing Trump’s approach to global initiatives as “narrow and transactional,” but pointed to the Marshall Plan as a precedent where America championed “broad and farsighted” policies.

(The Korea Foundation)
(The Korea Foundation)

“A different US government might take a different view,” he said, adding that the US was assisting poor countries through a COVID-19 relief plan.

The professor dismissed the idea that globalization was nearing its end as an “exaggeration.” And, he advocated “ecological globalization,” which would include strategies to fight pandemics and climate change. He went on to highlight the need for institutions to cope with transnational issues, saying no country can “deal with this alone.”

Meanwhile, former Minister Yoon said the pandemic had worsened economic inequality in many countries, and predicted that a new economic doctrine would reshape the global economy now that it has been ravaged by the crisis.

“2020 marks inflection point of historic transformation of political economy like the 1930 and 1970s,” Yoon said, adding “the current form of capitalism, neoliberalism, is pressured to go through self-reform.”

He mentioned the trend toward a changing state-market relationship with the former growing stronger, as illustrated by the increase in protectionism among major economies. But he was uncertain exactly what kind of relationship to expect in the coming years.

The global disarray the pandemic sparked signals not “temporary disruption” but “fundamental transformation” of the international order, Yoon said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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