China, Corona (COVID-19) and the Crumbling World Order
Novel Corona Virus declared by World Health Organization (WHO) as COVID-19 as a pandemic affecting more than 215 countries worldwide is an infectious disease caused by a new virus appeared in Wuhan in China first. The disease claimed to have originated from the largest wet market of seafoods in Chinese Wuhan province locates only a few kilometres away from the world-famous Wuhan Lab. As per the advisory of WHO, the disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled on the surface when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or speaks. In the absence of any vaccine the only preventive medication announced by WHO is social distancing and self-quarantine. While all countries have adopted tough measures to handle the pandemic, the causality it has inflicted worldwide is unprecedented as millions and millions of people are infected with the virus while several lakhs have succumbed to death. In the past two weeks, more than 46 per cent of the new cases were reported in Europe and 39 per cent in the United States. While the U.S and Europe have been the epic centres of the virus, countries such as Russia and India have also experienced a resurgence of a number of cases and therefore have evolved different response strategies to handle the crisis including the extension of the lockdowns. Besides, the loss of human life, the virus has serious economic and political ramifications for the countries and the world order as we know at large.
To be honest, the world economy is on the verge of complete collapse except for China. With countries under lockdown and factories in shutdown as quarantine measures are in place across the globe, the business is coping with lost revenue and disrupted supply chains have restricted the movement of trade and commerce. The demand side has suddenly collapsed due to lockdown of the markets leading to a serious economic downturn since the Great Depression. The high rise of unemployment and skyrocketing of non-productive assets led o financial burden on the states while locked inside the house without job, food and services citizenry are well supported by democratic governments to ease their financial pressure and alleviate their economic concerns have doubled the financial troubles for the states. The recent collapse of the world’s oil market by almost sixty per cent is a testimony of the severity of the global economic crisis attributing to this pandemic.
Political implications of this pandemic are no less significant than the economic one as well. The Corona has been the game changer of world politics. Hitherto, the world politics dominated by the U.S and Europe are found to be napping with the worst hit by the virus. The dominance of the U.S and guidance of Europe is now a matter of B.C (Before Corona). The United Nations Organization (UNO) known for discussing anything and everything couldn’t even organize a debate in the UN Security Council on Corona as successfully vetoed by China and the recent (in)activities of World Health Organization (WHO) to which many now started naming and shaming as Wuhan Health Organization is an open truth. If it is not a clear indication of the resurgence of Chinese influence and riches of its power than what it is? Lets us not be in delusion and accept it forthright that we are in a changed world order After Corona (AC) largely dominated by communist China through the help of its bio-weapon corona. Although the post-pandemic world order would be mysterious after the failure of globalization and liberal internationalism in protecting the humanity from the onslaught of the unknown virus having its roots in China, the concern now is are we entering into a viral world order or stability would be preserved even if in piecemeal. Ironically this largely depends on how Europe led by the U.S defines the post-pandemic world and its relations with China.
Bioweapon or Virus
The virus which has originated in China in late December 2019 has a very controversial analysis. No doubt it has affected China first and the degree may differ in comparison to the rest of the world but the way China has suppressed the information, blocked the investigations proposed by WHO, willfully controlled the information network and paid media for constructing a positive image of China has prompted serious doubts in the minds of world leaders regarding the nature of the virus – whether natural or lab-created. Not convinced by the Chinese theory, the US States Department in late March 2020 raised the issue in G20 meeting and insisted on referring the virus as “Wuhan Virus” while the U.S President Donald Trump left no stone unturned in constructing China as the crisis maker by tweeting about COVID-19 as “Chinese Virus.” Even the White House referred to the virus as “Kung Flu” attributing to the Chinese delayed response regarding the virus and lack of transparency in the information. The U.S intends to blame on China for transforming a local problem in Wuhan to a global pandemic causing havoc all around.
China, on the other hand, has sharply reacted to the U.S provocation and blamed the U.S instead of the virus. If you can access the tweet of Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of 12th March, linking world military games held in October 2019 with the virus Mr Zhao Lijian claimed that it is the U.S army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Beijing has adopted every possible means to deflect the blame and developed a fighting spirit to counter the western narratives. If you can see the message of Xi Jinping the Chinese President to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that China will win its battle against COVID-19 is crystal clear that Beijing is not ready for an open discussion and any sort of investigation on Corona.
Trust is the hallmark of International Relations among the nations irrespective of its nature. Whatever may the construction of the U.S against China and the Chinese assertion on the U.S but both the powers have largely lost trust among the global community while the trust deficit against China is far wider than ever. This trust deficit is Chinese made as Beijing deliberately hide the information regarding the human to human transmission of the disease despite knowing it well in advance. This can be verified from the statement of whistle-blower Dr Li Wen Liang whose is even a matter inquiry. The deceit of China can be further corroborated from its official statement issued on December 31, 2019, emphatically stating that the virus doesn’t transmit person to person. The suspicion has further exacerbated with China linking any research, statement, activities related to Corona Virus to its National Security Protocol, meaning a complete blackout of any information on Corona from China. It is also a matter of speculation that the virus spread to faraway places in Europe, Asia, Africa and America while Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai remained largely unaffected. Further, the world while struggling with the crisis is coupling with the economic downturn under lockdown, the Chinese market is actively functioning and engaged in the dirty game of taking over the companies all over the world has raised doubt even more. Importantly, when the only preventive medication of the disease is social distancing and quarantine then how China could able to cure seventy-plus thousand infected people while the death toll is only about three thousand when clinical and medically far better countries like the U.S, Italy, France, Germany and Spain couldn’t able to do so. Is this mean that China already has a vaccine and it is not sharing with others in fear of exposure and if not, why doesn’t it inform about the clinical process it has adopted has yielded unprecedented results. It is only a matter of time to label China as a bio-terrorist country for using virus against its opponents if Beijing fails to conquer the trust deficit.
But this war of the worlds: Capitalist versus Communist won’t deflect the responsibility of WHO which has suffered a momentous loss of credibility given its mishandlings of the pandemic and ill information sharing largely filtered through Beijing. WHO has to do a mountainous task to rebuild its credentials? And the accountability must be fixed by having an inquiry of conflict of interests between the boss of WHO and China per se.
The Global Order
Every change small or huge will have unpredictable consequences on the world order. To quote Parag Khanna and Karan Khemka (2020), “in Choas theory, the butterfly effect describes a small change that can have massive, unpredictable consequences. An insect flaps its wings and weeks later cause a tornado.” To them the corona pandemic is more like an earthquake; with aftershocks, it will permanently reshape the world. And their professes come true as the world has no clue to deal with this mayhem called corona while WHO warns that the worst is yet to come. If the virus will pass its peak hen the world can get rid of the human losses but the economy, trade and commerce will take years to recover. In this scenario countries who less affected like China (although the creator of the virus) is better positioned to run the world from the apex while the other players would be pushed to the margin. A new status quo would be created revolving around China but given its trust deficit after the pandemic, it seems unlikely the world would be led by China and others would willingly accept Beijing given its dubious track record.
Will Social Distancing lead to Economic Distancing?
Going by the butterfly effect of Chaos theory an interesting scenario may emerge where the countries facing backlash from globalization and failure of liberal internationalism may resort to protectionism and nationalization of their economies, on one hand, to protect it from Chinese takeover and on other may take such measure to distance themselves economically from China which has given the idea of social distancing to the world. The economic distancing if I am not wrong has already started with Australia showing a no-entry to China in its economy while India has very recently altered its FDI policy to prevent any such hostile takeover by China after HDFC issue.
Can India be the Viswa Guru- Way Ahead
The Elephant was never more relevant, and the Dragon was never more dangerous in the eyes of the world. While China is responsible for the unmindful spreading of the deadly virus whether natural or manmade moreover the follow-up actions of China put it in a black spot whereby everyone doubts the intentions of Beijing. Lack of transparency in information sharing and blocking all kinds of Corona related research, vetoing the UN discussion on the pandemic, supply of faulty PPE kits, blaming the Africans on Corona virus and indulging in the low-level nuclear test as reported in Wall Street Journal has exposed the dangerous design of the dragon. At the same time India, a country known to be the capital of world’s soft power diplomacy has once again reasserted its philosophy of ‘Vasudheiba Kutumbak’ by supplying much needed Hydroxychloroquine vaccine to all countries on a priority basis. This has helped India earn applause and praise for her humane cause. Countries like the U.S, U.K, France, Germany, Brazil and Israel commended this act of India. India’s handing of Corona through complete national lockdown without imposing any draconian method and employing an executive emergency is widely endorsed by the global communities. The world is looking at India for guidance and New Delhi must not go this chance in waste.
Although India will have to suffer heavily in economic terms, this pandemic also offers India with immense opportunities o grow economically and politically. Given the role of China in the pandemic, several foreign companies are shifting their plants from China and are interested to invest in India. New Delhi has to seize this opportunity to invite the US, Japanese, South Korean and other companies moving out of China to establish their manufacturing bases in India. Politically, the post-pandemic word order would demand reformation in the world bodies like UNO which has certainly failed to address the issue attributing to the veto powers accorded to five permanent members (P-5). India a country with every potential is unequally placed in organizations and world bodies must utilize this crisis as an opportunity to revamp them for the betterment of the world by putting India in the level playing field side by side other players.
To conclude, India must not heavily rely on the global institutions like UNO and WHO for guidance and help or even intervention in case of urgency given their recent track record and therefore must cultivate very good relations with Europe and America while its demand for reformation and expansion of UNSC should go on. New Delhi needs massive national power development given the new anarchy developed in international level to deal with any such eventuality it will have to face from the dragon. The elephant must now get up start running instead of walking to keep pace with the changing geopolitical scenario emerging in world politics and must position in its rightful place.
By Dr. Ramakrushna Pradhan
(Assistant Professor, Dep. of Social Sciences, Fakir Mohan University, Balasore, Odisha)