Aseries of failures made 2020 a rough year for China’s relations with the world. First, Chinese officials—following the logic of their unaccountable, secretive one-party system—failed to report an unknown virus in the central city of Wuhan for several critical weeks, giving covid-19 time to take hold. More failures followed. As one foreign government after another botched its own response, China’s rulers refused to take any blame for the pandemic, instead slapping economic sanctions on such countries as Australia that called for inquiries into the outbreak’s origins. The costs are plain to see: a recent survey of rich countries by the Pew Research Centre found soaring distrust of China (with negative views in Australia jumping 24 percentage points since last year).
That political gulf between China and the world is set to widen. This time, the cause will be asymmetric success. China has effectively controlled covid-19 and its economy is returning to life. Meanwhile, governments in America, Europe and beyond face second waves of infections and business bankruptcies and exploding public deficits. Several elected incumbents will lose office.