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East Asia in the Post COVID 19 World China and Beyond

June 3, 2020

Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies COVID-19 Policy Research Task Force
Vivian Chen
Neave Denny
Samuel Frost
Ayane Nakanoh
Evan Sankey
David B. Shear
Monica Weller

Moderated by Kent Calder, Director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies

The Johns Hopkins SAIS Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies hosted a conversation with its COVID-19 Policy Research Task Force to share insights from their recently released report East Asia in the Post-COVID-19 World.

Calder began the discussion by noting that East Asia’s successful response to COVID-19 has been accelerating its geopolitical rise, particularly the Four Asian Tigers - Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. However, Calder noted that impact of COVID-19 on China has been mixed. Since the start of the pandemic, China experienced severe economic effects, but it has been able to capitalize on its early exit from the crisis to extend its influence in various ways. On the political side, there has been a sense of domestic unity and common purpose flowing from the sacrifice, he said.
Sankey spoke on the nature of China’s COVID-19 stimulus package, which is around 550 billion USD. Compared to other nations, Sankey said that China’s stimulus package at 4 percent of GDP is quite small, noting that there is some speculation that China is being cautious in order to respond to future shocks.

Chen addressed the role of digitalization in containing the pandemic in China, stimulating economic recovery, and reinforcing government control capabilities. She explained how China has been employing its high-level technologies such as its strong 5G network to fight the pandemic, which has included powering drones to fulfill consumer deliveries and COVID-19 medical samples for testing. Furthermore, China has been using digitalization tools to rapidly build hospitals during the crisis. Chen described one such case, where China built two hospitals in Wuhan with 2,600 beds within 24-hours.

Weller shared insights on how Korea has addressed COVID-19 and the implications it has for its international relations. She explained how Korea learned from its past mistakes in managing its MERS outbreak, to respond more effectively in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that the government began developing test kits on January 16, 2020 — four days before the first confirmed case appeared in Korea. It also relied on artificial intelligence to effectively test its population with proven results delivered within six-hours. As a result, the Moon administration has been able to significantly decrease the rate of infections.

Frost weighed in on Taiwan’s success in combating the spread of the virus, which he noted has been nothing short of remarkable. To date, Taiwan has 443 confirmed cases and only 7 deaths, he said. The success has won Taiwan not only gold recognition, but has allowed it to evade a nation-wide economic shutdown. The general consensus is that it has to do with the speed of Taiwan’s response made possible by high-level preparedness; pre-existing institutions set up in the aftermath of SARS; strictly enforced quarantines; and the widespread production of masks. Taiwan was able to set up 92 productions lines in 40 days and went from producing 1.8 million masks a day to 19 million.

On Japan, Nakanoh said that the risks of COVID-19 overwhelming the country’s medical system seems unlikely due to its currently high recovery rate. Furthermore, Denny noted that a strong US-Japan cooperation over medical responses, dating back to 1951, has put many institutions in place for both countries to continue to be global leaders during the pandemic.

In terms of what East Asia in the post-COVID world will look like, Shear pointed to the regional security relationship, particularly that of US and China, which he said has the greatest effect on regional stability. He noted that US-China relations today is at an all time low since the Cultural Revolution. Much of this has do with blame-shifting during the pandemic, a lack of direct communication at the senior levels, and increasing tensions related to Hong Kong, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.