Illustrations: Xia Qing/GT
The opening of the third China International Import Expo on Thursday heralded what may well be the "light at the end of the tunnel" for a world which is still largely shut down by the coronavirus. As one of the first countries to get control over the spread of the virus, China was the first to seriously restart its economy. Having served over the last few decades as the real engine of world economic growth, it is now declaring to the world that it is definitely open for business.
And the reaction to this has been overwhelming. Over 400,000 interested parties have signed up for the expo, the third in a row, which, because of COVID-19, will be both an on-sight exhibit as well as an on-line one. Roughly 2,600 global companies, including many Fortune 500 companies, are exhibiting their wares.
The idea of an international import expo was first initiated by China in 2018 as a sign that it was not just interested in selling its products abroad, but also interested in buying products produced abroad. It was a sign that trade with China was indeed a win-win proposition.
And with the world still locked in a life-and-death struggle with the novel coronavirus, a good portion of the expo is devoted to medical equipment and medical products. Nearly 60,000 square meters have been allocated for the medical and health care exhibits, which have drawn 340 exhibitors. Within that space there is a section specifically devoted to public health and pandemic prevention which present products such as testing devices, ventilators and personal preventative equipment able to be used in the fight against COVID-19. And most of the major companies involved in working toward a vaccine are represented in the expo.
Even US companies like Abbott and Pfizer, which have become mainstays in President Donald Trump's much-touted "Warp Speed" program to be the first country to develop a vaccine, are keenly aware of the need for international cooperation in this most important of human endeavors. And they are very much present in Shanghai. During the course of the CIIE, thousands of deals will no doubt be signed, and already several deals have been inked on cooperation in health care and medicine.
While the environment in Shanghai may seem to be far distant from the dilemmas in most other major cities still battling COVID-19, the Shanghai event has provided a sense of optimism on the way forward. And the role of China will be critical.
"COVID-19 is a stark reminder that all countries are in a community with a shared future," Chinese President Xi Jinping said. "No one can stay immune in a major crisis. Solidarity and cooperation is the right choice to make in meeting challenges. We must uphold the principle of mutually beneficial cooperation. We need to build trust rather than second-guess each other; we need to join hands rather than throw punches at each other; and we need to consult rather than slander each other."
The view stands in stark contrast to the attitude of Trump, who continually tried to find in China a scapegoat for the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in the US.
Even though most of the world has a rough road to travel in overcoming the virus and limiting the loss of life, the events in Shanghai represent a watershed moment on humanity's road out of the epidemic. While other countries still have difficulty in opening up their economies, China is in the process of taking a step forward in its own development, with a stress on innovation. And given the role it plays in the global economy, this represents the starting point for a global economic recovery.
Coming out of Shanghai, we may even see the signing of agreements that can spur the development of a vaccine sooner rather than later, helping other countries open up even sooner.
And hopefully, the spirit of cooperation exhibited in the gathering of the world's most important economic companies in Shanghai will rub off on the wider diplomatic sphere, in which nations can come together to address the common aims of humanity. The statements of many world leaders who have praised China's holding of the CIIE in this time of COVID-19 indicates that there is a great deal of interest in getting away from the zero-sum game that has characterized the political world for decades and moving toward a world in which there is a real "community of a shared future for mankind."
The author is a Washington policy analyst and non-resident fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies. firstname.lastname@example.org
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