Authors: Yang Yizhong & Paul Wang
Since the coronavirus outbreak was officially announced several weeks ago, it has stirred many concerns and uncertainties within China and around the world. For example, there are quite a few criticisms and discrimination about human rights violation, political inefficiency and economic policy of China due to this virus crisis throughout the country. However, it is self-evident that China is not alone in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, also called “The COVID-19”. As Sivanka Dhanapala, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in China, put it “Let me say straight away, this is a time for solidarity, for international solidarity. Now it’s important, really important, that we need international solidarity and cooperation to share and to pool resources where they are most needed and to make sure vulnerable people get the help that they need. It needs to come together, as an international community, in fighting the virus.”
Under such circumstances, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke at the 56th Munich Security Conference on 15 February, reiterating the Chinese resolve, confidence and goal which could be put into the official line: “Under the strong leadership of China, the 1.4 billion people are united as one in fighting the sudden outbreak of a novel virus; and the final goal is only: to win this non-conventional war.” In light of so dangerous uncertainties ahead, it is necessary to understand China’s strategy, capability and approaches as well.
Obviously, the leading elite and the people of China have demonstrated firm resolve in dealing with the epidemic. The high speed and massive scale of China’s response are rarely seen in the world. More accurately, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged medical staff from the Chinese armed forces to move towards Wuhan and the other virus-hit cities to protect the locals and called for enhanced coordination between local authorities and the military. Until this point, a total of over 4,000 medical staff from the Chinese armed forces have been dispatched to this area. As a result, all relevant parties have taken effective measures to stop the spread of the virus, including requiring the Chinese military to bear the responsibility to make sure of the prevention and control of the outbreak of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus. For sure, their efforts are consistently supported by medical and pharmaceutical researchers who have been working day and night, isolated the first virus strain and developed the test reagent in less than seven days. Hailed as heroes in harm’s way, over 20,000 healthcare workers in 100 plus medical teams converged in Hubei, the hardest hit province, from across the nation to support epidemic control. Exemplifying professional dedication, all medical workers are saving and protecting lives around the clock despite the risk of infection and exhaustion from overwork. Here overseas Chinese around the globe have continued rushing to make donations in cash and all kinds to help combat the virus outbreak.
Meanwhile, China has timely released the latest information about situation of the disease and called for deepened international cooperation, such as working closely with WHO, inviting international experts to join our ranks, and providing assistance and facilitation to foreign nationals in China. To date, confirmed cases outside China account for less than one percent of the world’s total. It means China has effectively curbed the spread of the outbreak beyond our borders. For that, China has made extraordinary efforts and a heavy sacrifice as well. That said, China is not fighting alone. The international community has given China valuable moral and material support. For example, Russia, Belarus and the ROK swiftly delivered badly needed medical supplies to Wuhan through chartered flights. Pakistan sent its Chinese brothers virtually all the masks in its stock. At the peak of the outbreak, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia paid a special visit to Beijing to offer his staunch support for China. The leaders of some countries, such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Italy, also conveyed their warm messages in support of China’s epidemic response.
Here is self-evident to mention that Japan, as the most wealthy neighbour of China and also having the long-time historical and territorial disputes with China, has sent huge assistance supplies to China, attached with ancient Chinese poetic lines: “Fear not the want of armour, for mine is also yours to wear”, conveying a touching message of empathy from an ancient Chinese poem. In other parts of the world, Americans from all walks of life donated medical items and supplies; not to mention the emergency aid supplies to China from EU countries. Individually speaking, Philippe Klein, a French doctor working in Wuhan, did not hesitate to stay and fought alongside the Chinese colleagues. He revealed that he kept a bottle of champagne to be popped open for celebrating the end of the epidemic. It was also reported that a Zimbabwean student who lived in Wuhan for three years, chose to stay and signed up to be a volunteer. As the Chinese are a grateful nation, they will remember and hold dear every act of support. What are discussed here aim to remind all that we live in a time when traditional and non-traditional security issues are entwined, and when local issues easily become global and vice versa. No country can prosper in isolation or meet all challenges on its own, as our interests are closely inter-connected in the age of globalization. Now for virus respects no borders, it requires a collective response from the international community.
In sum, it is true that now in China Xi wields near-absolute political power over the ruling party and the Marxist-directed state. Arguably, only an socialist regime could have pursued the draconian methods that China has in trying to control the virus since January. Yet, time will tell how effective these measures ultimately prove to be. What is certain, however, is that the crisis, once resolved, will not change the goal that China is going to achieve in the near future.
As China holds that as human society has entered the age of globalization, it is necessary to transcend the old concept of East-West divergence and the North-South divide, to see our shared planet as a community for all. In so doing, China argues for all nations go beyond the ideological gap and accommodate historical and cultural differences. During the crisis moment, it is sensible to see that repeated relationships can nurture co-operative restraint and reciprocity. Yet, the COVID-19 epidemic has inspired cover stories across the world. Some focused on the virus, others described the life changed by the quarantine measures, but among them, Time magazine predicted that disease could “Derail the China Dream,” and Bloomberg Businessweek warned that there is a “Fragile China” that we need to “Handle with care.” However, the China collapse theory is doomed to fail as China and its people have showed much of the strength and creativity in the epidemic time and again.
In this contest, IMF chief Georgieva said recently, it was “too early” to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation. If the disease is “contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound”, in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said. To be fair, China has done a good job so far in responding to the epidemic. Obviously, President Xi’s management of the coronavirus crisis at home, and of politically totemic projects such as 5G expansion abroad, assumes a critical new significance.
The complex puzzle of Canberra-Beijing ties, as diplomacy takes a back seat
Australia and China seems to be engaged in a repulsive tariff war targeting each other’s goods. Canberra is struggling to manage its complex economic relationship with Beijing even as it finds itself in the strategically opposite camp. How did things turn out this way? Here, I analyse.
There was a time when Australia under the Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was in office from 2007 to 2013, had the highest level of warmth in relations with China.
The Labour premier saw a promising prospect of economic partnership with a rising China at that point of time, but gravely under-estimated the geopolitical threat that would be soon posed by Beijing, a mistake later governments would realise and is still striving to rectify.
Quad pullout and comeback
Rudd even pulled Australia out of the four-nation Quad grouping in 2008, a year after it was conceived by former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, in a move to appease Beijing with which Canberra’s economic partnership was progressively moving upwards. But, nine years later, Malcolm Turnbull’s premiership brought Canberra back to the Quad as regional and global security dynamics witnessed a paradigm shift.
A decade later since Rudd took office, despite closer economic ties with Beijing, Canberra pushed for a closer alliance with the United States since 2017, the year Quad Security Dialogue was revived during the ASEAN and Related Summits in Manila.
It was a result of changes in security assessments by Canberra with regard to new threats and challenges from an increasingly assertive Beijing in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
The rift between Australia and China further widened, earlier this year, when the Australian government supported an inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus, annoying China where it originated. Australian politicians also became increasingly divided on hawkish and dovish lines.
Huawei and ZTE ban
Tides were turned in 2018 when Australia became the first country in the world to ban Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE from 5G trials and rollout, citing security concerns, as these companies ‘allegedly’ had links to the Chinese ruling establishment which they deny.
Beijing also reciprocated with tit-for-tat measures from time to time. The latest in line of such measures was the imposition of temporary anti-dumping tariffs up to 212.1 per cent on Australian wine imports with effect from November 28, this year.
Ongoing tariff tensions
2020 saw a foray of imposition of tariffs and reciprocal duties from both sides right from the beginning of the pandemic. Attempted mergers and acquisitions by Chinese companies involving companies in Australia were also blocked by Canberra citing security reasons.
Adding oil to the fire, anti-dumping investigations were initiated by both sides against each other, for using its findings as rationale for imposing more tariffs on different sets of goods such as aluminum, steel, paper, coal, copper, sugar, log timber, and barley.
What will be the fate of the 2015-signed China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA)?
The worsening ties might take a toll on ChAFTA as it readies for a five-year review next month, notwithstanding the other broad-based trade pacts in which both countries are participants such as the recently-signed, 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
ChAFTA took about a decade to complete and led to zero tariffs on many goods, but RCEP is still in its infancy.The main issue is not whether a review of ChAFTA is possible, but how to prevent the looming prospect of Canberra and Beijing retreating from the current commitments directly or indirectly that would effectively reduce the pact into a state of coma.
As ChAFTA goes for review in December, the most likely outcome could be both countries agreeing to maintain the deal’s status quo. If any of the parties wishes to terminate the pact, there is a six-month notice period after which they can leave, with or without a review.
Still economic partners, but political rivals
Today, China has positioned itself as Australia’s largest trading partner. Moreover, Australia strongly benefits from its close proximity to the vast markets of China and Japan which together represent over 40% of all Australian exports, in which a little over 32% amounting to $89.2 billion, are exclusively to China, as data from 2019 show. Despite this, Canberra and Beijing remain at odds politically.
Exercise Malabar 2020 and beyond
One of the striking questions in the strategic circles of all Quad partner countries is, will Australia continue to take part in the annual Exercise Malabar in the coming years, annoying Beijing further?
While Japan is a strategic partner in the Quad, ties with China are moving on an adversarial path, particularly worsening since Canberra took part in the annual Exercise Malabar in the Indian Ocean this month, after a gap of 13 years since it left the mega naval war games.
The exercise by the four Quad partners of India, United States, Japan, and Australia is apparently a warning to Beijing’s naval ambitions in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.
Supply Chain Resilience Initiative
In fact, all the Quad partners and other democracies in the Indo-Pacific wish to decouple itself from over trade dependency on China. But, domestic economic realities prove otherwise. With a raging pandemic and the unravelling US-China cold war threatening supply chains, Japan has recently put forward an idea – the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative or SCRI.
It is a trilateral approach to trade, with India, Australia, and Japan as the key-partners aimed at diversifying its supply risk across a group of supplying nations instead of being disproportionately dependent on just one, apparently keeping China in mind.
Despite all these measures, the prospect of closing of huge Chinese markets for Australian exports, owing to a disproportionately high level of tariffs is haunting domestic producers in Australia that could potentially make Australian wine largely unmarketable and non-feasible in Chinese markets.
Ineffective diplomatic efforts
Current Australian PM Scott Morrison has been trying to bridge gaps in a reconciliatory tone by stating that his government’s actions are wrongly seen and interpreted by some only through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the US. But, Beijing doesn’t seem satisfied, as evident in the decision to impose the recent set of disproportionate tariffs on wine.
Loss of businesses for Australian domestic producers is already hurting the Australian economy badly as goods remain stalled at ports. But, the behemoth of Chinese economy appears to be largely resilient to adverse impacts, compared to the Australian economy.
Australia’s producers and farmers are largely unhappy and unsatisfied with the way Canberra is dealing with Beijing as it directly threatens their livelihoods.
As things turn out worse, Canberra will have to strategise newer options to effectively balance geostrategic and economic considerations with regard to Beijing, possibly through the diplomatic route, in a way to immediately diffuse the prevalent confrontational approach to come out of this diplomatic impasse.
Is China on the brink of a food crisis?
It is not a secret that the current COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting people all around the globe. The virus touched almost all spheres of regular life – i.e. it resulted in temporary or permanent closure of businesses, a rise in the unemployment rate, inability to physically spend time with family and friends. Such drastic changes in times of uncertainty significantly impacted the well-being of the world population. Moreover, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned about the emerging food shortages worldwide. According to FAO statistics, global food prices have been on the rise for four consequent months, hitting their maximum in September 2020. China – the place where the virus originated – is one of the states that have been seriously affected by the disruptions, including production and distribution of food.
In his speech on August, 11 Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not admit any food shortages. However, he promoted food security through the campaign “operation empty plate,” thereby encouraging people to stop wasting food. It is interesting to note that Mao Zedong introduced a similar food campaign before the 1959 Great Chinese Famine. Meanwhile, there has undoubtedly been a significant increase in food prices in China. Many experts claim that China is on the brink of a food crisis that has been manifested as a result of lockdowns, infected livestock, and poor weather conditions. It is difficult to give any predictions or estimations about the future food situation in China because the country does not share enough of its data with the rest of the world, yet it is possible to answer the question why the state faces food difficulties.
Average food prices increase
The National Bureau of Statistics of China reported that, on average, food prices have increased by 11.2% compared to 2019. The price level of vegetables increased by 6.4% in one month; egg prices soared by 11.3% within the same period. Pork prices grew the most, by 52.6% compared to the last year’s statistics. Why is it important?
Firstly, many workers and their families who faced loss or decrease of income or remittances became food insecure. That, in turn, has had social repercussions for the overall level of crime, health concerns among adults and infants, high death rate, different demographic and economic challenges. Furthermore, international trade will also suffer: due to the lack of labor force Chinese imports in foreign countries will seemingly increase in price.
Secondly, China, along with other countries, was in a period of recession earlier this year. Food insecurity will cause difficulties in coming out of this financial downturn.
The impact of lockdowns on food supply chains
One of the main factors contributing to the declining agricultural productivity and spiking food prices in China is the restrictions on personal mobility and transportation of goods. In January Chinese authorities adopted measures to limit mobility within the country; they imposed “city lockdowns, traffic control, and closed management of villages and communities.” Such restrictions impacted food supply chains. For the production part many workers experienced difficulties getting to work that created a shortage of physical labor. That is why some crops were not picked, others were not even planted. As a result, the supply of agricultural goods decreased. On the other hand, at the beginning of the year, the demand for them also fell as restaurants and bars were closed. Thereby, many crops went to waste, while farmers did not make enough profit to purchase the seeds and fertilizers for the next season. It is a problem because businesses continue to open up, raising the demand and prices on crops. Immobility also impacted the distribution of seeds and fertilizers to the farms that disrupted the plantation season. Furthermore, the distribution of agricultural goods to grocery stores became difficult. Particular inconveniences associated with the restrictions on mobility all added up to the spike of prices on crops.
African Swine fever outbreak
Another factor impacting the emerging food crisis in China is the failure to rebuild last year’s loss of pigs due to the infection. Chinese porcine farms were hit by the African swine fever outbreak that infected and killed a large number of pigs (40% of total Chinese pigs’ population), decreasing the supply but increasing the prices on pork in 2019. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, pork prices were 52.6% higher in August this year than the year before, while corn prices – the main porcine fodder – increased by 20% compared to last year. Chinese farmers failed to improve the situation in 2020 due to severe flooding. The increased amount of precipitation caused considerable losses of corn and thus the inability to feed pigs. China began to import crops from abroad – particularly, corn from the US. As the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated, China had been importing 195,000 more tonnes of American corn than the year before.
Shuttered diplomatic relations between China and Western states
Some experts claim that Chinese diplomatic relations with such Western countries as Australia, the US and Canada shattered due to the fire of four ballistic missiles on the Indian border on August, 26. These states are China’s major food exporters. If their diplomatic relations with Beijing worsen, then the trade has a high chance of being negatively affected as well. In other words, Chinese imports of crops have the risk of becoming more expensive, meaning that the prices of pork and other goods might rise even more.
Severe flooding and drought
Finally, worsened weather conditions – some parts of China experienced drought, others were hit by flooding – led to a decrease in crops and a significant increase in food prices. Southern, Central and Eastern China underwent a period of heavy rain and the worst flooding in the last hundred years. Excessively high water levels in major Chinese rivers, including the Yangtze River, resulted in the evacuation of 15 million people in July 2020. Moreover, the flooding destroyed 13 million acres of agricultural land, which is estimated to cost at least $29 billion of economic damage. In the meantime Northern (Xinjiang province) and Southwest (Yunnan province) China have gone through a period of severe drought. In April 2020 nearly 1.5 million people in Yunnan province were caught in an emergency situation: shortages of drinking water, damage of hundreds of hectares of crops and livestock. Consequently, the supply of many agricultural goods and pork decreased, which spiked the prices on these goods.
Chinese long-term prospects toward food security
To conclude, immobility, African swine flu, worsened weather and security conditions led to the growing food shortages and increasing food prices in China. This being said, the Chinese government has been working on that problem. It has taken special measures to ensure sufficience of agricultural goods by investing in various disaster relief funds for different crops, particularly rice and wheat. For example, Chinese authorities allocated 1.4 billion yuan to save the agricultural harvest in Hubei province. Due to the substantial loss of agricultural products, China has also increased its imports. General Administration of Customs reported that China’s grain imports rose by 22.7% in July 2020 compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, the Chinese leader took a gentle approach to solve this problem. He did not announce the issues related to the insufficient number of crops; instead, he adopted a program for encouraging people to be more frugal with their eating habits. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences followed the same path as it denied anticipation of a food crisis in the short-term perspective, yet warned about possible food shortfalls by 2025 if no agricultural reforms take place. As of now, China is not on the break of a food crisis; however, its shuttered prospects for long-term food sustainability are subject to dangerous repercussions.
From our partner RIAC
China and Mongolia: A Comprehensive and Never-Ending Strategic Partnership
Mongolia is an exceptional country when it comes to Eurasian geopolitics, linking China with Russia, two great countries in terms of military and economic capabilities, geographical area and population. In June 2016, the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMREC) was announced in order to consolidate friendly relations and promote economic exchanges for the success of the Belt and Road Initiative. Many reports indicate the great position of Mongolia on the Chinese economic map as a pillar of the modern Chinese initiative. Mongolia is a major economic partner of China, and the Chinese administration aspires to forge permanent relations of cooperation and coordination with Mongolia by virtue of its common geography and strategic location, in order to open up through it to Russia and other Mongolia is a key economic partner of China, and the Chinese administration aspires to forge permanent relations of cooperation and coordination with Mongolia by virtue of its common geography and strategic location, in order to open up through it to Russia and other international partners.
Mongolia is rich in natural resources, for example the mining industry provided up to 30% of GDP and almost 90% of exports, but its economy is not as developed compared to China. Some economic reports indicate the great economic benefit to Mongolia from the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor. Mongolia is expected to witness unparalleled economic growth in terms of international economic cooperation, which will positively affect the national economy. The Mongolian economy depends heavily on China’s investment; data of the two largest ports in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China indicates enormous economic benefits. In the chart below, the continued economic progress achieved in Inner Mongolia is shown. In addition, rail trade increased by 16 percent year-on-year to 11.2 million tons in 2017. In the same year, 570 trips were made on the China-Europe railways passing through Ernhot (a county-level city of the XilinGol League, in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, located in the Gobi Desert along the Sino-Mongolian border, across from the Mongolian town of Zamyn-Üüd).
The Belt and Road Initiative aims for mutual profit, cooperation and peaceful communication. China shares an ancient cultural history with Mongolia, long common borders, and economic cooperation that has never stopped. The strategic geographic location of Mongolia makes it a priority for China on the new Silk Road, in addition to the richness of natural resources and livestock that China needs.
The Mongolians are a horse-loving people, a country known for its large number of horses. Mongols without horses are like birds without wings. Despite globalization and the great economic progress in the neighbor (China), as well as the cold weather and difficult geography, the Mongolians did not abandon their traditions and the Mongolian way of life still exists today. In Mongolia there are herders of horses, camels and cattle to benefit from milk, meat, wool, etc. During the pandemic in China, for example, President Battulga set up what is known as “Sheep Diplomacy” where Mongolian President donated 30,000 sheep to China. This initiative indicates the Mongolians’ positive intentions towards the Chinese and the desire to open up more. In this context, I would like to point out that China is a big importer of meat and the Chinese demand for meat is constantly increasing, as shown in the chart below. Here is a great opportunity for Mongolia to increase its exports of meat to the Chinese market.
The reading of Mongolian history indicates that this country has passed through periods of prosperity. Mongolia may be a good example of power and rule, as its borders extended to many countries during the rule of Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the man whom the Mongolians consider their historical leader and has turned into a hero and a national symbol. The Mongolians did not abandon their land despite the cold weather and difficult geography, indicating that they are a deeply rooted people with land. Mongolia, with its vast territories and few people, has turned into a meeting place for Russia and China, and a strategic center for Chinese economic expansion. Therefore, it is impossible for the Chinese administration to abandon the partnership with Mongolia.
The Mongolian economy is heavily dependent on livestock, and the number of pastures has increased significantly since the Soviet era because of the transfer of ownership to the people. However, the government is still not able to provide all services to citizens “the government has failed to promote education and health care and veterinary care in pastoral communities, so there is no longer any incentive to stay in rural areas” said Sarol Khuadu, an official at the Institute for Environmental Research in the Mongolian capital. The policy, which no longer places much emphasis on the countryside, has led to the transfer of large numbers of citizens to the capital and to engage in the world of money and business.
Unfortunately, the Mongolian government is not working seriously to support citizens in remote areas. The conditions of life are not good and the loans granted are high interest, in addition to the weather that adversely affects their businesses. In order to help the poor and rural people, in cooperation with national governments, humanitarian, development and scientific partners, FAO has developed an early warning approach by monitoring risk information systems and turning warnings into proactive actions. International organizations contribute to permanent humanitarian and social assistance in Mongolia.
Mongolia’s strategic policy through the “Mongolia Steppe Road Program 蒙古国“草原之路” is largely in line with the belt and road initiative, which is a road connecting Mongolia, China and Russia. Consequently, Mongolia, a country that mainly depends on the agricultural sector, will be a center for economic communication between China and Russia, and thus will witness a great economic development. The Steppe Road Program aims to boost Mongolia’s economic standing and create an advanced network of infrastructure for communication with China and Russia and build an oil and gas pipeline. In 2014, during his historic visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping raised the level of relations between the two countries to “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Relations”. Since then, bilateral cooperation has begun to move faster.
China has never abandoned Mongolia; it is a country of advanced strategic location as a bridge between Asia and Europe, in addition to the important agricultural sector in Mongolia which benefits China greatly, not to forget to mention the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor which has become an important part of the belt and road initiative and a key component of Sino-Russian cooperation.
The relationship between China and Mongolia today is an ideal example of the bilateral relationship between two neighboring countries. Cultural, economic, political and tourism communication is in continuous progress between the Chinese and Mongolians, and the Belt and Road Initiative will push this communication forward. The Chinese aspire to increase free trade areas and economic connectivity through a developed infrastructure network.
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