US-China competition, COVID-19, and democratic backsliding in Asia: implications for Europe

September 28, 2021 @ 9:00 am – 6:00 pm Europe/Rome Timezone
Sala del Consiglio, Villa Salviati
Mia Saugman

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic emergency has had a major impact in Asia – from South Asia, through Southeast Asia all the way to North Korea. It has allowed states to further centralise control over economic and social affairs – arguably also for good reasons – and has lent legitimacy to a recrudescence of nationalist and protectionist instincts, effectively empowering many of the region’s strongmen. The ripple effects of a post-pandemic depression are hard to discern.

As popular discontent mounts, populist strongmen and democratic leaders alike may exhaust the charisma acquired through COVID-19 crisis-responses, ushering the way to two broad scenarios. A pessimistic outlook suggests further political decay and deepening geopolitical tensions as national interests more easily clash, and leadership seeks to divert attention from socio-economic grievances. Alternatively, contemporary history has demonstrated that genuine political evolution, new social compacts, redistributive political economies and multilateral systems of governance may acquire a new shine following a major crisis. Still, COVID-19 is among the factors that have widened the rift between the United States and China, bringing bilateral relations to their lowest level since Nixon and Kissinger’s overtures in 1971. In fact, US-China zero-sum interactions across the geopolitical, economic, technological and political domains spiralled towards a race to the bottom in 2020.

The fight against COVID19 and its aftermath, democratic backsliding, China’s assertiveness and the US pushback are making the Asian seas stormier. How are regional powers navigating them? This conference brings together Italy’s best contemporary Asia experts to take stock of latest developments and address these questions.

This event is by invitation only.