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What has happened to Western liberal idea?

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In the recent interview with President Putin, the Financial Times seems to have launched a discussion on liberalism only at its own peril. Inadvertently, a real problem was touched upon, whose pressing nature is no longer denied by anyone in the West. The newspaper had to admit it in its Editorial of 29 June. Its authors claim that the threat to liberalism comes from within, including President Trump and his policies, Brexit and, certainly, the rise of “populist nationalism”. They refer to voters’ disillusionment with liberalism and loss of confidence in the economic system and trust in political elites. The latter are invited to redouble their efforts to take into consideration issues raised by voters and “to renew liberalism”.

Hence, the Russian leader has only identified a problem that Western elites are unable to acknowledge, desperately defending the status-quo as having no alternative. But where is the problem?

The systemic crisis of Western society, if we are to call a spade a spade, has its roots in Reaganomics and Thatcherism. In early 1980s, disregard for the lessons of the Great Depression led to Anglo-American attempts to sort of try the pre-1929 Pure Capitalism. This unleashed the forcers of a “self-regulated market” with the state playing a minimal role – a key concept of liberal economics. The idea of social accountability of business had no place in that system.

At the same time, financial sector was deregulated through the step-by-step repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was one of key elements of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Its architect was British economist John Maynard Keynes. It was only natural that the 2008 crisis also started in the financial sphere which had practically lost touch with the real sector of economy.

Then neoliberalism (as it became known) came to be imposed by Anglo-Saxon nations on the whole of the EU through the Lisbon agenda. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair was pretty good at it. When asked what she considered as her key legacy, Margaret Thatcher pointed to Blair who continued her economic policies under the “New Labour” slogan.

For instance, everyone knows what the nationalization of British railways led to. Profits are reaped by operators, while costs are borne by taxpayers who finance UK Rail, the state-run company responsible for railroad infrastructure. And this is not the only way to privatise profits while collectivising costs. In fact, globalisation has become one such practice for Western elites. Its original motive was quite liberal and far from being altruistic or even geopolitical (Donald Trump has reassessed this part of it when he blamed globalisation for China’s economic rise). It was about cheap labour for increased profits. The jobs  that were to be transferred abroad should have been compensated for by a new technological revolution. But it’s not happening, not even in the second generation. Information technologies do not create as many jobs, and we are already talking of robotisation and artificial intelligence, as well as a universal minimum living allowance as a solution to the problem of poverty and unemployment. It was Keynes who said: “Free trade assumes that if you throw men out of work in one direction you re-employ them in another. As soon as that link is broken the whole of the free trade argument breaks down”.

Liberalism in politics, especially after the end of the Cold War, has degenerated into averaging and alternative-free policies in the “end of history” spirit. Even Henry Kissinger admitted in his “World Order” (2014) that Western elites had again relied on automaticity, as was the case with the market. But as it was shown by Karl Marx supported by modern economists (Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Thomas Picketty and others), free markets always give advantage to the investing classes, which only leads to more inequality.

In this respect, the 45-year post-WW2 period was an exception to the rule due to the creation of a social welfare state – the one that is now being destroyed by the neoliberal economics. Along with it the middle class is being destroyed – the pillar of Western democracy. For these reasons the real discourse of democracy is being substituted in the West by a discourse of liberalism. This involves labelling all protest voters as “populists” and “nationalists”, allowing to side-step the issue of the inability of the actual political system to represent this silent majority. Yet, that is what’s going on when differences blur between the Right and the Left, Tory and Labour in Britain, Republicans and Democrats in the US, or Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany’s “Grand coalition”. Is it any wonder that when an opportunity arises to have a say, this majority votes for Brexit, Trump, or newly-created anti-system parties and movements, often with marginal ideologies?    

In social terms, as BBC is trying to explain in this ongoing debate, liberalism is about protecting the rights of minorities of all kind, including transgender persons. It turns out that there’s nobody to protect the interests of the majority. Yet, we are speaking of the post-war “social contract”, which simply does not work in liberal economics. Anglo-Saxons are on the path of further liberalisation, which the continental Europe cannot afford. Boris Johnson, contributing to the discussion, has said the other day that Brexit is precisely aimed at giving a new lease of life to it by following the US in income tax reductions for business and private individuals.    

British political analyst David Goodhart (in “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics”, 2017) shows another perspective of the issue. In his opinion, the elites have become cosmopolitan, but the majority has remained rooted in their own countries, regions and communities. In other words, the majority sticks to its national identity, unlike the elites. Even the European middle class, united by similar living standards and occupations, becomes aware of its nationality when hit by bad economic times.

Those who accuse Russia of meddling in internal affairs of Western countries are essentially denying their voters the right to vote, while the genesis of the liberalism crisis clearly points to its roots and origins inside the system. It was no-one else but Angela Merkel who in 2010 spoke of failure of multiculturalism in Germany, while calling for intensifying efforts at integrating immigrants into German society.

It was not Moscow that drew the attention to this problem. As early as 2007, the Economist wrote of a “secular overreachl” in the West, while today many are voicing concerns over a “liberal overreach”. Speaking broadly, it can be said that in the absence of a competitive environment in the realm of ideas after the end of the Cold War (which ended up doing a disservice to Western elites), liberalism has mutated into a dogma, a totalitarian ideology which does not tolerate dissent or pluralism of ideas. No wonder that the elites have resorted to political technologies, media control and political correctness to tighten the grip on the freedom of speech and generate semblance of an alternative-free existence. Social media have put an end to this, becoming a tool for politically alienated electorate to self-organize. As a measure to protect the status quo, the elites are now constructing an artificial dichotomy of liberalism vs authoritarianism, i.e. if not one, it’s definitely the other.

It is, therefore, not about the end of the liberal idea, just as President Putin pointed out, but that it cannot claim to be a one-size-fits-all model negating the wealth of ideas in Europe and the world. The problem is that any ideology, as history has shown, is always aggressive when it claims the ultimate truth, exceptionalism and, as a result, becomes a threat to the world. The notion of a “liberal world order” has also been introduced only recently, as a defensive reaction of the West when its dominance in global politics, economy and finance is coming to an end. Everything could have been different, had Western elites bothered to make this order, Bretton Woods institutions included, truly liberal, open and inclusive. Nobody was preventing them from doing so.

From our partner International Affairs

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Americas

Gallup: Trump Globally the Least Respected U.S. President This Century

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On January 15th, the Gallup World Poll issued its preliminary report for their upcoming “Rating World Leaders: 2021” report. It shows the results that have been tabulated for 60 of the 135 countries where they annually sample global public opinion about U.S. leadership. One especially clear finding from it is that when their final report for all 135 countries will be issued, it will show that among the three U.S. Presidencies on which Gallup has internationally surveyed — which are only the three U.S. Presidents in this century — Trump is clearly the one who is globally respected the least, even lower than George W. Bush was respected.

Here are the findings, in each of the 60 nations, and the percentage increase or decrease from Gallup’s last completed survey report, “Rating World Leaders: 2020”:

“Approval of U.S. Leadership Across 60 Countries and Areas”

“Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States?”

%  “Approve”:

  • Dominican Republic, 66% was 56% in 2020
  • Cameroon, 62 was 61
  • Georgia, 61 was 43
  • Zambia, 56 was 26
  • Albania, 56 was 67
  • Philippines, 55 was 58
  • Uganda, 53 was 47
  • Mauritius, 50 was 59
  • Zimbabwe, 50 was 59
  • Ecuador, 43 was 34
  • Colombia, 42 was 41
  • Moldova, 40 was 45
  • Brazil, 40 was 38
  • Japan, 39 was 34
  • Kyrgyzstan, 34 was 32
  • Namibia, 34 was 31
  • Bulgaria, 32 was 26
  • Cambodia, 32 was 49
  • Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, 31 was 31
  • Poland, 30 was 59
  • South Korea, 30 was 41
  • Bolivia , 30 was 31
  • Australia, 29 was 23
  • Taiwan, Province of China,    28 was 40
  • New Zealand, 26 was 17
  • Mexico, 26 was 17
  • Malta, 26 was 30
  • Ethiopia, 25 was 37
  • Argentina, 24 was 26
  • Ukraine, 24 was 32
  • Greece, 21 was 19
  • Croatia, 21 was 25
  • Morocco, 21 was 22
  • Serbia  , 20 was 19
  • Ireland, 20 was 30
  • Finland, 20 was 20
  • Slovenia, 19 was 20
  • Cyprus, 19 was 27
  • Tunisia, 19 was 24
  • Italy, 19 was 22
  • France, 18 was 23
  • Russia, 18 was 11
  • Netherlands, 18 was 20
  • Canada, 17 was 22
  • Spain, 17 was 23
  • Chile, 16 was 16
  • Estonia, 15 was 17
  • United Kingdom, 15 was 25
  • Denmark, 14 was 24
  • Turkey, 13 was 12
  • Slovakia, 13 was 28
  • Norway, 12 was 15
  • Portugal, 12 was 14
  • Belgium, 12 was 17
  • Sweden, 11 was 12
  • Switzerland, 10 was 13
  • Austria, 9 was 11
  • Iran, 6 was 6
  • Germany, 6 was 12
  • Iceland, 5 was 9

Remarkably, Gallup doesn’t poll in China on this question. (Nor does Pew.)

Notably, Trump is more disapproved-of in Europe than in any other part of the world. (Also, as Pew reported on 16 December 2020, “In Europe, more trust Putin than Trump.”)

Those percentage-changes that we’ve just shown total to a decline, among all 60 countries, of 121 percentage-points (-121%), or, almost exactly, a -2% change from the 2019 findings that had been reported in Gallup’s “Rating World Leaders: 2020”.

Gallup says that “until all of Gallup’s 2020 fieldwork is complete in a few months, it is still too early to say that the U.S. will see its worst ranking in the history of Gallup’s World Poll.” However, Gallup’s “Rating World Leaders: 2020” report covered 135 lands, and the 60 lands that they have tabulated as of now, for the 2021 report, seem to be a representative sampling of all of those 135, and collectively those 60 populations have reduced their respect for America’s leadership by 2%. In the 2020 report, the global level of approval for America’s leadership was 33%. The all-time-low had been the 30% figure in 2017, Trump’s first year, a finding which was based on Trump’s promises, not on his performance. The upcoming final Gallup report “Rating World Leaders: 2021” will — if the results from those 60 lands do turn out to be representative of the global findings — produce a 31% global approval level by all of the approximately 135 lands that will be covered in it. For each of Trump’s four years, then, the global percentages will have been (for each one of his four years) 30%, 31%, 33%, and (now, in his final year) 31%. Each year, it was even lower than the prior record low, of George W. Bush, had been, at 34% in 2008

There was higher disapproval than approval of America’s leadership during the Presidencies of George W. Bush and of Donald Trump than there was approval of either U.S. President’s leadership. Strikingly, however, there was higher approval than disapproval during (and throughout) the two terms of office of Barack Obama. That Nobel Peace Prize winner was/is internationally admired. (Crazy, but true: he was an international charmer.)

Here are summarized (with links to the evidence regarding) the actual chief international achievements of each of these three U.S. Presidents:

George W. Bush: destroying Iraq, and destroying Afghanistan.

Barack Obama: destroying Syria, and destroying Ukraine, while continuing Bush’s destructions of Iraq and of Afghanistan.

Donald Trump: destroying Iran, and destroying Venezuela, while continuing his predecessors’ destructions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine. He also made the destruction of Palestine even worse than it had previously been.

So, the question regarding incoming U.S. President Joe Biden will be whether he will continue this tradition further, or reverse it. Because, it’s really all the same tradition, throughout all three U.S. Presidencies this century. By contrast, global perceptions are that those three U.S. Presidents were drastically different from one another.

On 15 September 290290, Pew bannered “U.S. Image Plummets Internationally as Most Say Country Has Handled Coronavirus Badly” and reported that:

The publics surveyed also see Trump more negatively than other world leaders. Among the six leaders included on the survey, Angela Merkel receives the highest marks: A median of 76% across the nations polled have confidence in the German chancellor. French President Emmanuel Macron also gets largely favorable reviews. Ratings for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are roughly split. Ratings for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are overwhelmingly negative, although not as negative as those for Trump.

Right above that was this graph, which shows starkly the false European perception that Barack Obama was vastly superior to George W. Bush and Donald Trump:

Apparently, most Europeans have no problem with a U.S. President who continues America’s use of torture, and who continues America’s legal immunity of prosecution for banksters, and who imposes ethnic cleansing abroad, and who aims for achieving a U.S. first-strike ability to conquer Russia by a sudden nuclear blitz attack. Style is everything, for them; substance is nothing, to them. Why didn’t they like Hitler? Is it only because he did it to them?

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Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now?

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“Day of fire”. That’s how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the Capitol insurrection, which happens to be the exact same phrase President George W. Bush used on the occasion of 9/11. That is not coincidental. But why won’t the FBI draw 9/11 parallels now?

In spring last year, when I was running for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech, in a leaked memo to the New York Times, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich was quoted in a reaction to the Black Lives Matters protests. Bowdich maintained that the protesters should be arrested under an outdated racketeering law from the 1940s. The leaked memo showed that Mr Bowdich considered the social justice movement “a national crisis” comparable to 9/11. The hundreds of thousands of people mourning and marching across the country, unified by the simple thought that no life should be taken lightly, for nothing, were actually similar to terrorists in the eyes of the FBI who wanted to charge them as racketeers. Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now, when it comes to far-right actual terrorism? We are talking about plans to blow up buildings and assassinate law-makers.

There is evidence appearing now through the courts that the Trump mob indeed intended to capture and assassinate congressmen. A new court filing by federal prosecutors says that Trump supporters intended to “capture and assassinate” elected officials during the Capitol riot.

The FBI has a misplaced terrorism obsession with the progressive left, while lightly ignoring the far-right, which is by far the more violent and much more organized group. The Capitol events security mishandling demonstrated a different attitude when it comes to the latter group.

There is a difference between street clashes with police in social justice protests that have gone overboard and have turned violent, on one hand, and placing bombs at political buildings, plans to kidnap and assassinate politicians, and violent usurping of the certification of a democratically elected president. The difference should be obvious, and yet the FBI is pursuing its obsession with the left voices, largely ignoring the violent extremists and the real violent terrorism threat on the far right, as recently revealed by an Intercept investigation.

In a public statement, the FBI made sure that the public understood its own misguided standard used in the threat assessment in the Capitol attacks by the Trump mob, namely the aspirations vs intentions test. The FBI official explained that the FBI needs to consider that some online activity and planning by the far right could simply be “keyboard bravado”. So, “keyboard bravado” is now the new “locker room talk”.

It is not surprising that the FBI uses different standards to assess the threat on the far-left and on the far-right. Former FBI director Hoover called Martin Luther King “one of the most dangerous negroes in America”. MLK was far from a hero for the FBI. It is not uncommon for the FBI even today to mischaracterize center-left voices of reasonable progressives who are anti-violence, pro-rights and pro-equality as far-left anarchists and communists, magnifying the threat on the left while ignoring the bigger threat on the right. Calling reasonable center-left Democrats anarchists and communists is a classical President Putin move. Let’s recall that ahead of the presidential elections in November, Russian President Putin endorsed Biden and the Democrats as communists whom we would get along with, in order to discredit them.

Let’s look at the actions and the security measures present around the two types of crowds. In a recent interview I wondered why FBI deputy director Bowdich won’t evoke 9/11 now in relation to far-right terrorism, in the context of the methods that the FBI sometimes uses to suppress and deal with progressive voices.

The FBI have opened mow many cases for “domestic terrorism” into the Capitol attack and it is true that they are saying that they are treating these cases as “international terrorism” but where is the FBI public condemnation of terrorism? We have not seen public statements by the FBI director Christopher Wray and FBI deputy director David Bowdich. Why won’t Bowdich come out and evoke 9/11 now, just like he did with the Black Lives Matter movement?

America has a long way to go to recover from the damage that Trump and his cronies spread across the various US agencies have done to democratic principles and human rights. The Trump institutional capture of key agencies such as the FBI and the CIA, let alone DOJ, has led the country into a downward spiral. I myself just launched a $1 UN lawsuit against the Trump circle at the UN, in attempt to clear the Trump circle also from the UN.

The capitol events were an embarrassment for the FBI who failed the due diligence standard of the reasonably expected measures that should have been taken in a similar situation because they were dealing with the President’s supporters. Then, the FBI decided to justify their inaction with the false “keyboard bravado” explanation, which does not explain anything.

The FBI are now running social media campaigns for the collection of evidence on suspects in the Capitol attacks but the truth is that the FBI does not need random people to phone them and point them to the bad guys. The FBI follow these groups and people, they know everything. It’s just a question of choice as to when to bring out the collected over time evidence. The FBI is in a hurry now only because there is public and social pressure to do something. All of America is watching what will happen to the bad guys.

A couple of days ahead of the Capitol events, I noted on Twitter that Homeland Security acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, was on a trip to Cyprus, while America was “burning”.  The Cyprus frictions in the European Mediterranean seem like a holiday now, in comparison to the Capitol events. Several days later, Wolf resigned.

With the news that President Trump intends to issue over 100 new pardons during his last two days in office, the question of justice for the Capitol events is as relevant as ever, as it is reasonably expected that some of the pardons could relate to the Capitol attacks.

It is safe to say that former Attorney General Bill Barr is not missed by many people. The Trump supporters’ cases would not have received fair treatment at the Department of Justice under his watch. The new Attorney General in the Biden Administration, judge Merrick Garland, in fact, might discover that many cases from the Bill Barr time will have to be reopened.

The top security priority now is President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, 20 January, while Trump holds a separate rally. The Capitol events served as a warning.

Looking forward, it is time for American democracy to demonstrate its elasticity. And legal justice necessarily has to be a part of that, ignoring phony calls for “unity” and “healing” made by the criminals themselves who are trying to escape justice now.  There can’t be unity without ensuring justice first.

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Latin America and China: The difficulties in relations and Covid-19

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The relations between China and Latin America have developed positively, but some problems and challenges are also being faced. Firstly, the intensified strategic and economic competition between China and the United States has increased the negative impact on the relations between China and Latin America. Trump’s Administration already used zero-sum competition and Cold War mentality to mark Sino-U.S. relations, believing that China’s rise in Latin America could upset the U.S. order in the Western Hemisphere.

Back in February 2018, during a visit to Latin America the then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that China was using its economic influence to bring Latin America into its sphere of influence, and criticised it as seeking a new imperial power for its geopolitical expansion.

In 2018, Rand Corporation published the 400-page report At the Dawn of Belt and Road. China in the Developing World. The report pointed out that China’s contacts in Latin America and its geopolitical advantages held back the U.S. presence in the region.

Specifically, the report explored China’s economic, political and security roles in Southeast Asia, Oceania, Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report also analysed China’s bilateral relations with key States in each region. Finally, it dealt with the negative consequences of the Chinese strategy towards developing countries for the United States. Therefore, it maintained that strategists and decision-makers in the Armed Forces, and all U.S. military staff, needed to focus on China and anyone interested in developing international relations with that country. An attitude of threat not only towards China.

Another factor preventing – at least apparently – the development of China-Latin America relations is the retreat of Progressives and the advance of Conservatives in the landscape of political change in the Subcontinent: this poses a challenge to the development of mutual relations.

2017 and 2018 were general election years in thirteen Latin American countries. In Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and other countries, the old traditional and left-wing parties lost elections. Therefore, Latin America is divided into two camps: one is the left-wing one represented by Cuba and Venezuela, and the other is the right-wing camp composed of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

Conversely, the fast development of China-Latin America relations from 2003 to 2013 was favoured by the political atmosphere of the left-wing camp. Currently, however, the transition from the Left to the Right tells us that some countries rely on the United States in terms of development projects and ideologies. Therefore, the political transition has become an additional challenge for the development of relations between China and Latin America.

Another crisis point is the impact of the pandemic. Here are some data regarding the Covid-19 cases until January 17, 2021:

Latin America: 16,753,447

North America: 23,091,187 (USA: 22,423,006; Canada: 668,181)

Europe: 28,291,217

Asia: 18,549,010

Africa: 3,059,974

Oceania: 56,556

Latin American countries record relatively high urbanisation rates, with peaks of 70-80%. Large cities are very densely populated, with a high percentage of informal employment and weak national control abilities, which create the conditions for the spread of Covid-19.

On the other hand, the United States-which is the worst affected country in the American Continent – has increased the repatriation of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries for reasons of epidemic prevention and control, thus further aggravating the situation in these already disadvantaged countries.

Why is the pandemic in Brazil so severe? The indifference of President Bolsonaro’s government towards the epidemic, as well as ineffective measures and omissions in control are the main reasons for the spread of the epidemic in Brazil. The first case was discovered in Brazil on March 12, 2020 and the epidemic soon began to spread throughout the country, which currently records 8,131,612 cases and 203,580 deaths.

Brazil’s former Health Minister, Nelson Teich, advocated isolation, but Bolsonaro’s philosophy is different. He believes that imposing quarantine curbs economic development. Health Minister Teichresigned. The new Minister is Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who has no medical training and no experience in managing public health disasters.

An official of the Brazilian Ministry of Health said that the number of people infected by the pandemic is officially eight million, but it has actually exceeded ten million. This unprecedented public health crisis has triggered economic recession and could lead to new social unrest. These are all new challenges.

The impact of Covid-19 on the entire Latin American region is very severe. According to the World Bank statistics, it has been the most severe crisis ever since the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s. The blow to the region is reflected mainly in four aspects:

1) exports have declined.

2) The prices of raw materials have fallen. Due to reduced demand, prices have inevitably fallen. Recently, everyone has seen a drop in copper prices, especially as Peru and Chile, the copper mining centres of the world, have been forced to close their mines due to the impact of the pandemic.

3) Tourism has collapsed. Latin America is a kind of cultural-exotic attraction for North Americans and Europeans. With Covid-19, there is no way for tourism and passenger transport to go back to the traditional levels of normalcy.

4) The inflow of remittances has decreased significantly. They are one of the main driving forces for economic development in the area, especially in regions like Central America and countries like Mexico.

The Latin American immigrants working in the United States put aside the money they earn and send it to their families – a key source of income for Latin America. As the U.S. economy has been severely hit, also remittances have been significantly reduced, to the detriment of the entire subcontinent.

With specific reference to Covid-19, it should also be mentioned that on June 24, 2020, the U.S. Congress held a full-scale hearing and invited a number of U.S. experts to express their views.

Those experts included Robert Evan Ellis of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. One of the main points he made was that the U.S. government should strengthen its support for Latin American allies to prevent China from using ‘medical diplomacy’ to expand its sphere of influence in Latin America, along with advances in supply chains, strategic acquisitions and loans to troubled governments, while the West remains economically weakened and politically distracted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hence, in his view, the United States should resolutely stop China’s technological expansion in Latin America. This means that the United States should not acquire and share Chinese medical know-how.

Ultimately, the pandemic has not changed China’s goals or overall strategy. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for China to move forward with its implementation. With the help of the Chinese government’s controls on its population to impose and enforce quarantine, and thanks to its huge financial reserves and leverage on the economy, China is emerging from the crisis (albeit certainly weakened) ahead of most Western and non-Western countries.

The pandemic and its health, economic and other effects are likely to persist and continue to weaken the United States and Europe for some time. The interplay between partial economic reopening and the time needed to develop, test and massively produce a vaccine will extend this process.

In Latin America and in other less developed parts of the world, the situation is likely to be far worse. Less capable public health systems, large informal sectors, vulnerable small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as limits to governments’ ability to borrow money to protect vulnerable populations, and the related economic sectors will put pressure on economies as they suffer from Western countries’ declining investment and demand for their exports. In China, on the other hand, things are being solved.

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