BUENOS AIRES — The coronavirus pandemic is proving a tough political test of leadership for the world's great powers. Nobody is ahead for now, and all have failed, starting with China.

The leadership in Beijing initially behaved like the Soviet Union did with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Carelessly, secretively and with excessive pride. It tried to deny the undeniable and hide what would, sooner or later, come out in full view to all.

What did the Chinese do to the doctor at the Wuhan central hospital who, facing seven patients with atypical pneumonia symptoms and who'd all been to the city's wet market, rang the first alarm bells? They detained and chided him. How did the communist authorities react to the first signs of an epidemic? By minimizing the problem and hiding information for weeks.

China, to put it simply, failed the credibility test.

Then there's the United States. Initially President Trump took unfettered capitalism to a new extreme by keeping the economy open and domestic flights going even though he knew a pandemic was afoot. A few weeks later, with New York's avenues deserted by now, he played one of the oldest cards in politics: blame it all on foreigners, in this case China and the World Health Organization.

Berlin mural depicting Trump and Xi kissing — Photo: Jan Scheunert/ZUMA

At no point did the U.S. leader try to coordinate or even inspire an international response to an intrinsically global problem. Instead of uniting, he divided.

The United States has thus, manifestly, failed the leadership test.

Finally, there's the European Union, which was careless with the 2008 financial crisis, negligent with the 2015 refugee crisis and has now shown itself equally incapable in the face of the pandemic.

Brussels has behaved like a savings bank or trade chamber. It keeps announcing packages worth billions of euros when what its citizens really need is a vaccine, an encouraging word, or something to give them hope. The lack of agreement between its political leaders, the uncoordinated closure of borders and the inexplicable delay in helping Italians are further eroding a weakened confidence in the European project. Europe, once again, has failed the solidarity test.

We are thus advancing toward an even more fragmented world order, without leaders or dominant values. And this multipolar structure may entail enormous costs, because if the pandemic merely motivates the big economies to care for themselves, the global recovery will be slow, painful and exceedingly unequal.

*Moscariello is a political scientist and was Argentina's ambassador to Portugal.

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