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The Coronavirus epoch

As the current pandemic continues grimly into an uncertain future, the only certain thing is the fact that our global financial and political systems will change for good; writes Asish Gupta

The death toll from the Coronavirus pandemic is greater than anyone could have imagined. In the backdrop of this pandemic, a new debate has started. The raging question today is whether this great catastrophe will bring about a global change like the two World Wars or the financial meltdown in the 1930s, or even the decline of the Socialist Block of the countries in 1980s? Already we are seeing significant shifts in international relations. For example, forgetting their long-standing rivalry, United Arab Emirates and Iran are on the path of cooperation. Britain, France and Germany for the first time are bypassing US sanctions to send medical aid to Iran. The Philippine government has declared a ceasefire with the communist rebels as soon as the crisis had begun.

All of these changes may be temporary but many people think that a major change in social relations is inevitable in international relations after the end of the Corona epidemic. Harvard University Professor Stephen M. Walt wrote in a recent news magazine 'Foreign Policy', "... We will see a further retreat from hyper-globalisation, as citizens look to national governments to protect them and as states and firms seek to reduce future vulnerabilities." However, Professor Walt also said, "What does not change is the fundamental contradictory nature of international politics. Despite the traumatic experiences of the past, conflicts between the superpower states have not ended or have not begun a journey on the path to a new era of mutual cooperation". To cite an example, he says, "What won't change is the fundamentally conflictive nature of world politics. Previous plagues — including the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 — did not end great-power rivalry nor usher in a new era of global cooperation. Neither will COVID-19." The 'jihad' recently launched by the USA on China in the background of this pandemic underscores the accuracy of this statement of Professor Walt. Although not seeing an end to the fundamental contradictions between the states as pointed out by Professor Walt, Robin Niblett, Director and Chief Executive of Chatham House or Royal Institute of International Affairs in London believes that there will be a great change in the current outlook on globalisation."The pandemic could be the straw that breaks the camel's back of economic globalisation...The architecture of global economic governance established in the 20th century is at risk", he warned.

Using this crisis of the corona epidemic, the traditional supporters of capitalism have begun to think of a holistic change in globalisation. Post-War neoliberalism and the open market economy model has reached its end. Some say that the current crisis has proved that when the 'challenge' is real, only the state can provide a comprehensive and justifiable solution. Robert de Kaplan, managing director of the Eurasia Group, New York's International Research Center, thinks that 'Coronavirus is the historical marker between the first phase of globalisation and the second …. Globalisation 2.0 is about separating the globe into great-power blocs with their own burgeoning militaries and separate supply chains, about the rise of autocracies, and about social and class divides that have engendered nativism and populism … In summary, it is a story about new and re-emerging global divisions.' (The Guardian).

Though divergent views are appearing on the nature of changes in globalisation post-corona-epidemic, every researcher and analyst of international relations has come to agree that a change is inevitable. As a result of the global epidemic and its consequences, developing countries with insufficient or limited resources to recover from crises or conflict-affected countries involved in battles or clashes between communities will trigger changes for refugees or people. However, these changes will possibly be not the best or most beneficial way to go. John Ikenberry, Professor of International Affairs at Princeton University opines, "Intensifying great power rivalry in a fractured, damaged, poorer world might indeed be the future that awaits." But it was equally possible that "over the longer term, the democracies will come out of their shells to find a new type of pragmatic and protective internationalism". Professor Stephen S Walt said, "COVID-19 will also accelerate the shift in power and influence from west to east. The response in Europe and America has been slow and haphazard by comparison, further tarnishing the aura of the western 'brand'. In short, COVID-19 will create a world that is less open, less prosperous and less free. It did not have to be this way but the combination of a deadly virus, inadequate planning and incompetent leadership has placed humanity on a new and worrisome path."

According to Kishore Mahbubani, a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore and a former diplomat, COVID-19 will not bring any fundamental change in the global economy. "It will only accelerate a change that has already begun, moving from the US-centric globalisation to the China-centric globalisation... Two roads are open to the United States. If their primary goal is to pose as the world's strongest power, then they have to engage with China in futile political, financial and regional power tussles. On the other hand, if the goal of America is to improve the living conditions of its citizens, which has already deteriorated, they will have to take the path of cooperation with China. Wise advisors will definitely suggest that cooperation is a better alternative. Although in today's bizarre political situation in America, there is doubt about how much the opinion of expert advisers on good relations with China will matter". China is ahead of all countries in the world in tackling the Corona situation and in subsequent economic reconstruction. Chinese exchequer has the maximum surplus deposit thanks to the advantage of autocratic state and monopoly system. As a result, China has enormous capital in the hands of the state, which will allow it to invest in the economic restructuring in the post-Corona world, which is not possible for most states in the developed countries of the United States of America or Europe. Finally, I summarise this article by quoting Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Laurie Garrett who wrote, 'Coronavirus pandemic will not only have a lasting impact on the economy but it will move towards more fundamental change'.

Views expressed are personal

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