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Media captionRobert Zoellick: ‘The world could look more like the world of 1900… and that didn’t turn out so well’

The former head of the World Bank has warned the world could look like it did in 1900 if countries don’t work together to tackle the current crisis.

Robert Zoellick pointed to the rift between the US and China as a serious threat to the global economic recovery.

Mr Zoellick, one of America’s most senior public officials, has advised six US presidents during his career.

He told the BBC co-operation was “the only way the global economy will emerge from the recession”.

Mr Zoellick, who was also the US deputy secretary of state, said his biggest concern was the escalating tensions between the US and China.

“I think [the relationship] is in freefall today and I don’t think we know where the bottom is, and that is a very dangerous situation,” he told the BBC’s Asia Business Report.

Mr Zoellick warned that “the world could look more like the world of 1900 when the great powers were in competition” if countries start to pull back from globalisation and pursue nationalist interests.

Financial crisis

Mr Zoellick served as the president of the World Bank between 2007 to 2012, the years that encompassed the global financial crisis.

As the head of the organisation he worked closely with the International Monetary Fund and world governments to tackle the financial meltdown.

“The 2008-09 financial crisis was a very serious event but we had the G20, [and] central banks co-operating. President Bush and then President Obama were part of international efforts with [then UK prime minister] Gordon Brown,” he said.

“Frankly, even China had a very strong stimulus programme and also co-operated in various ways. We don’t have that sense of co-operation today.”

Mr Zoellick called for the US to work closely with China in finding a solution to the pandemic, rather than “indicting them for it”.

Trump ‘flawed’

The person he blames for causing much of the damage is US President Donald Trump.

Mr Zoellick served under previous Republican Presidents George W Bush and George H W Bush. But he is clear about his dislike for the current Republican in office.

“I’ve been opposed to Trump from the start… not only because of his policy positions but also because of what I think are flaws in his character.

“I was worried about what he would do with institutions and the constitution and we’re seeing that borne out, and in the pandemic, we’re seeing another dimension, which is a question of competence.”

He believes that President Trump’s scepticism about US alliances and protectionism has added to Asian anxieties at a time when China’s power is starting to overshadow the region.

It is a topic he explores in his new book America in the World: A History of US Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.


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