The U.S. is about to enter into an era of “much more tense relations” with China, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a TIME 100 Talks discussion.
The global response to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Blair told TIME’s international editor, Dan Stewart, has been made more difficult by growing hostility between the U.S. and China. “It’s tough in circumstances where in particular, the two big powers in the world today, America and China, are obviously moving towards a much more confrontational position with each other,” he said. “I think we’re going to enter an era of much more tense relations for sure. I don’t think there’s any way of avoiding that.”
Blair, who led Britain between 1997 and 2007, now runs the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a nonprofit group that “aims to help make globalization work for the many, not the few.” In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Blair’s institute says it is advising governments on how to fight the disease, mitigate its economic impact, and use technology to recover. (Blair also made a personal fortune after stepping down as Prime Minister by advising oil companies and foreign governments, including authoritarian Kazakhstan, before closing his advisory firm in 2016.)
Global cooperation, Blair says, has “taken a backseat” during the coronavirus crisis, “to the undermining of national self-interest.”
“The absence of this coordination, it’s just been… I literally don’t understand it,” Blair said. “In those 10 years I was in office, for all the challenges, I just can’t imagine being in a situation where if something like this had happened, there wouldn’t have been coming together of global leadership and saying, okay, whatever differences we have, let’s see how we sort this out together.”
Blair was British Prime Minister when the country went to war in Iraq alongside the U.S., a conflict that claimed at least 185,000 civilian lives, according to estimates from Iraq Body Count, a monitoring group. A public inquiry found in 2016 that Blair’s government had chosen to join the invasion before exhausting peaceful options, and was based on “flawed information” provided by intelligence agencies.
The World Health Organization, the former Prime Minister also said, should be restructured after the pandemic to better deal with similar threats in the future. “The World Health Organization was not set up, and it’s not structured and organized, to deal with something as massive as this,” he said. “In the future you’re going to have to revisit its architecture and organization, because the fact is, in the future, we have something like this, you’ve got to have the global pandemic preparedness that we haven’t had.”
Blair also said the response to George Floyd’s killing while in police custody has been made more intense by the COVID-19 crisis.
Floyd’s unjust killing has become “one of these tragic but seminal events,” Blair said. “I also think it underlines something about COVID-19 and the crisis which is, my feeling is, all the things that were issues before this crisis are now issues that are more intense, more vivid, and where people’s feelings about them are stronger and more demanding of action.”
“It’s not as if the issues to do with racism either in the United States or other countries weren’t issues prior to the COVID crisis, they were,” the former Prime Minister went on. “But like a lot of other things, they’re now before us in a way that I think is stimulating people to demand change in a deeper and faster way than before.”
This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.