Zheng Yongnian

Political Scientist

Professor Zheng Yongnian is the former Director of East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore and an expert in China's transformation and its external relations. He is co-editor of Series on Contemporary China (World Scientific Publishing) and editor of China Policy Series (Routledge). He is also editor of China: An International Journal. His papers have appeared in journals such as Comparative Political Studies, Political Science Quarterly, Third World Quarterly and China Quarterly. In addition, he is also a long-time columnist for Xinbao (Hong Kong) and Zaobao (Singapore), writing numerous commentaries on China's domestic and international affairs.

 

 

 

A man crosses the street at Times Square amid the Covid-19 pandemic on 30 April 2020 in New York City. (Johannes Eisele/AFP)

Why did the US fail to contain Covid-19?

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, commentators posited that democracies saw lower mortality rates during epidemics than non-democracies. Months later, escalating death rates in countries such as the US have called such a thesis into question. Political scientist Zheng Yongnian says it is not so much whether you are a democratic country or not, but what kind of system and values you espouse. The US and Germany, for instance, both democracies, have fared very differently. He takes a closer look at the issues.
A man smokes at a stall selling frozen wonton near a hutong neighborhood in Beijing, 5 June 2020. (Tingshu Wang/REUTERS)

Persistent poverty and a weak middle class: China's fundamental challenge

Zheng Yongnian says China must not get ahead of itself. Recent statistics prove that 600 million people indeed earn a monthly income of just 1,000 RMB. China’s earlier reforms had led to equitable growth, but income disparity has increased with rapid economic development since it joined the WTO. As it stands, the bottom strata of Chinese society remain huge while China’s relatively small middle class continues to suffer in an inadequate social system. Rather than sweep these issues aside in a bid to glorify the country’s achievements but downplay its shortcomings, China must take a hard look at itself and focus on pursuing equitable growth.
Protesters hold up an upside-down US flag at a demonstration in Edinburgh on June 7, 2020, organised to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. (Andy Buchanan/AFP)

In a world split apart, where do you belong?

With a US that is withdrawing from the world stage, yet not ready to relinquish its dominance so easily, and a China that does not look like it wants to take on the mantle of being a hegemonic power, the international world order seems to be facing a crisis that will not be resolved any time soon. Instead, expect a state of flux where international organisations hobble on and the prospect of “one world, two systems, and two markets” becomes very real. Political analyst Zheng Yongnian explains why.
A man holds up a sign reading "democracy instead of virology" as he attends a protest against the government's restrictions following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Cannstatter Wasen area in Stuttgart, Germany, May 16, 2020. (Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS)

Western democracy's worst enemy is itself, not China

Zheng Yongnian reminds political watchers of today that fascist regimes of the past grew out of once-democratic systems. What is to say that cannot happen in today’s world, even in mature democracies such as the US? Is the coronavirus crisis putting democratic systems to their greatest test yet? And despite what some think, China, where the pandemic first spread to the world, may not be Western democracy's biggest enemy after all. 
This picture taken on 21 February 2020 shows a woman wearing a face mask, amid concerns of the Covid-19 coronavirus, exercising at a park in Beijing. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

Will China turn its back on the world again?

After more than 40 years of reform and opening up to the point that China has become an integral node in global supply chains, will the pandemic be the circuit breaker that cuts off the flow of connections between China and the West? Will the currents of international trade and cooperation flow again or will China ironically be more like the US in thinking “I am the world”? And once allegedly compared by Napoleon to a “sleeping lion”, will China resume its sleep shortly after awakening?
A woman crosses a street in Beijing, April 22, 2020. China's economy shrank for the first time in decades last quarter. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

Salvaging China’s economy: Economic growth is meaningless if the society is ruined

Professor Zheng Yongnian recognises that the economic impact of the coronavirus will be deep. Beyond thinking about whether short-term cash payouts should be given, he mulls over measures that can see China through protracted headwinds. Key is the political will needed to move the country’s strategies away from GDPism, or an obsession with GDP, to those of building social safeguards as the country strives to build a sustainable economy.
A man in front of a screen displaying a propaganda image (top), on a street in Beijing, April 20, 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

Covid-19: China's missing narrative in the global battle of narratives

While it appears that China is going all out to shape the global narrative in a vacuum left by the West, Zheng Yongnian says this is a non-starter as China is often reactive to Western narratives, resorting to tit-for-tat tactics, rather than projecting its own clear narratives. The arduous task of establishing a voice and a narrative remains the biggest international challenge that confronts China.
The Statue of Liberty in Paris, during a winter flood. Humans have always struggled to master nature. (iStock)

From humility to arrogance: A fight with nature is a fight with ourselves

Zoonotic viruses will continue to plague humankind if man continues recklessly destroying the environment and natural habitats in the name of development. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the Covid-19 outbreak, Zheng Yongnian says, it is that humans, both in the East and West, need to learn how to be at one with nature, rather than seek to subdue or triumph over nature for their own ends.
A man wearing a protective facemask stands in front of a movie poster in Shanghai. - China on February 19, 2020 ordered three reporters from American newspaper the Wall Street Journal to leave the country over what Beijing deemed a racist headline, in one of the harshest moves against foreign media in years. (Noel Celis/AFP)

Where multiple 'gods' co-exist: Countering the racism complex in Western diplomacy

Political analyst Zheng Yongnian says that in the current panic of the Covid-19 outbreak and against the backdrop of already fractured US-China relations, the US and the West’s racism complex is bubbling to the surface and could taint their foreign policy approaches to China even more. He looks forward to a future where multiple “gods” co-exist.