By Maggie Denena,
Thanks to the World Affairs Council, select LEAP students stayed engaged with international affairs–and the ever-present COVID-19–even as SHSU remains on remote-only learning. The WAC contiunes to host programs via webinar with already scheduled speakers and additional guests and Wednesday evening was no exception.
Ambassador Rank is the United States’ former acting Ambassador for China and served in the US Foreign Service from 1990-2017. After an introduction by WAC Executive Director Maryanne Maldonado, the event moderator, Ronan O’Malley, opened the webinar by prompting Ambassador Rank to provide some basic introductory information about China’s political and economic principles–before steering the conversation towards the elephant in the room, COVID-19.
With an economy second only to ours, China has had an increasing economic and political influence across the globe. However, there have been concerns with their current leadership, President Xi. Despite their unusual communist-capitalist hybrid system (Ronan called it an “oxymoron”), President Xi’s autocratic ruling has caused concern for the decreasing political freedoms and basic human rights of the Chinese citizens living in China.
Ambassador Rank indicated that he considers the outbreak a textbook Chinese scenario, with the initial confusion and coverup before transitioning into an astounding and complete shutdown. He also suggested that China has been willing to pump aid around the world following the outbreak as a way to step into a more powerful global leadership role. Despite a few missteps, Ambassador Rank gave credit to China for legitimately trying to get supplies where supplies are needed.
One of the key problems addressed by Ambassador Rank is the US’s (over) reliance on foreign sources (chiefly China) for emergency supplies. Might the US change its production or source of supplies? According to Rank, “I suspect that when it’s ‘all said and done,’ more will be said than done.”
To continue with the US quality of life, specialization and global supply chains will likely continue, although we can hope we will be prepared with greater supplies and sources for the next emergency.
O’Malley asked Rank about his assessment of the State Department and the difficulties they are having keeping career civil servants. Rank pointed out that, with the US withdrawing from many international organizations and treaties, civil servants have a very difficult job of maintaining relationships. “They didn’t sign up for that,” noted Rank, and the result has been a depleted staff, arguably at a time when that experience is most needed. As the US has voluntarily withdrawn from global leadership, Rank expects to see China step in to fill that vacuum.
In wrapping up the discussion, Ambassador Rank used the opportunity to remind everyone listening that the only way to fight misinformation is by caring about your sources. He then gave some advice for those considering a career in international relations or foreign service by encouraging students to not only learn a foreign language but learn its culture as well. Exposure to the people and the way they communicate is essential to being successful in a foreign nation.
As always, the LEAP Center thanks the World Affairs Council for its programs. LEAP Ambassadors Quinn Kobrin, Makayla Mason, and Maggie Denena would also like to thank future Bearkat Ethan Chang for participating in the event virtually, and they hope to be able to welcome him to SHSU in person once life returns to ‘normal.’