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Fareed Zakaria on U.S.-China Relations and the Post-Pandemic World

FCC President Keith Richburg speaks to Fareed Zakaria via Zoom.

The relationship between the United States and China is set to define the global order for decades to come, and both countries will emerge strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways, said journalist and author Fareed Zakaria in a Zoom webinar hosted by the FCC.

“You’re going to be thinking about America’s relationship to China and China’s relationship to America, and everything will be read through that prism,” Zakaria said. “How do you maintain that open system while having this rivalry? That’s the great challenge for both the United States and China.”

Though he said that China will of course benefit from the pandemic due to its “vaccine diplomacy” efforts and by virtue of being the world’s second-richest economy, Zakaria, who hosts Fareed Zakaria GPS for CNN Worldwide and is a columnist for The Washington Post, was quick to argue that the U.S. will remain richer and more powerful for a long time to come.

“The United States has 59 treaty allies, China has one: North Korea. The United States has 800 bases around the world, China has three,” Zakaria said. “The truth is China is in a geographically very complicated place where as it rises, it annoys the hell out of its neighbours: India, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Australia.”

Zakaria, whose mother Fatima, died recently of complications caused by COVID-19, made the appearance to discuss his most recent book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World

He spoke to FCC President Keith Richburg about how countries around the world have fared during the pandemic, and he credited smart governments and early intervention for staving off serious public health crises in various nations. Zakaria also singled out Taiwan’s government for acting early, aggressively and intelligently in response to COVID-19 by quickly identifying and quarantining infected and potentially infected people. 

“What’s remarkable is that Taiwan was able to get through this crisis with 10 COVID deaths with a population of 22 million and, much more importantly, not a single day’s lockdown,” Zakaria said. “Just to give you a comparison, Taiwan has 22 million people, New York State has 20 million people. New York State is at 40,000 deaths, Taiwan is at 10.”

Though he said Hong Kong has strong, competent institutions like Taiwan, he described the city as a “very peculiar, unique case” with regard to pandemic management and the vaccine rollout. He pointed to relations between Hong Kong and China as well as “Hong Kong people’s distrust of Carrie Lam’s government” as complicating factors. 

In his book, Zakaria elaborates on different ways the world is likely to change after the pandemic is over, and during the talk he said that where people choose to live and how they choose to work will shift significantly, with more people moving from big cities to suburban areas and smaller cities. 

“You will view offices as places where you meet, gather, plan, congregate, but you don’t have to do solo work there and if you do, you’ll get a cubicle where you will plug in” Zakaria said. “Other than C-suite executives, the idea of a dedicated office that you have 24/7 with your family photographs and memorabilia, that I think is a relic of the past.”

Despite many countries turning inward during the pandemic, Zakaria predicted that globalisation will continue, albeit in a slower, more thoughtful way. He also described the world as being in a state of “new class warfare” with democracy under threat as autocrats exploit the growing divide between urban, educated populations and their rural, less educated counterparts. 

“The autocrats have gotten very clever over the last 15 years, and they have figured out how to use democracy to subvert democracy,” Zakaria said. 

In spite of the technological advances that have made remote work and social interaction possible during the pandemic, Zakaria pointed to the shortcomings of remote education as a reminder that we are human and can’t interact solely on Zoom. 

“We will want to actually gather physically and get the social connection that comes from actually being in the presence of people and in groups and having accidental conversations and serendipitous meetings.”


Watch the full discussion:

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