Johns Hopkins expert says coronavirus could bring on a digital Cold War with China

The coronavirus has caused a huge shift in global relations, especially with China, as the pandemic could lead to a digital version of the Cold War, one Johns Hopkins expert said.

“COVID-19 showed us all the global dependencies are challenged when everyone is dealing with the same crisis at the same time,” said Christine Fox, assistant director for policy and analysis at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Fox said China is working to step up production of vital supplies such as face masks and antibiotics and the U.S. is unhappy with its dependence on China for such supplies.

That coupled with China’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure could lead to “a new digital version of the Cold War,” said Fox, speaking in a virtual press conference Monday ahead of a two-day conference on how the coronavirus changed the world.

“Facing this new tech Cold War, it is temping to try to hold China back by imposing more and more constraints on China,” said Fox, adding that the strategy could backfire by incentivizing China to keep building a successful market.

“The U.S. must develop and execute a more comprehensive planned and funded government strategy for technology. We’ve left it to the commercial tech giants for too long, and that’s no longer adequate,” said Fox.

The U.S. also needs to improve virus surveillance and early detection techniques for current and future pandemic threats, said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We need to prepare far more strategically and capably for future pandemics,” said Inglesby. “A new pandemic could occur at any point in our future without warning.”

That preparation needs to tie into a global system, said Inglesby. “Even if the U.S. rises to the challenge of future pandemics itself, if the rest of the world is still reeling, we will continue to be badly impacted.”

Fox said that blocking China or other countries from research collaborations and public health programs is unlikely to help the situation.

“It’s very important that we continue research collaboration and we need to make sure we don’t cut ourselves off from international research collaborations,” said Fox.

American leadership plays a big role globally, and strong collaborations can help to revitalize international systems, said Hal Brands, professor in Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“There really is no substitute for American leadership and trying to summon the world to tackle world challenges,” said Brands.

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