A columnist of the New York Times made a cryptic but meaningful comment on COVID-19. He wrote, “The coronavirus is more like an earthquake, with aftershocks that will permanently reshape the world.” In the context of current corona pandemic, pragmatism demands that we focus on what shape the world economy, political structures and social institutions will take even if we are able to control the scourge in next six months. We need to visualize the new shape which the human civilization is likely to take in the near future.
Globalization concept of contemporary times supplemented by mind-boggling phenomenon of information technology made us complacent about the dangerous trend of aspiring for eco-colonizing ambitions nursed by neo-colonizing actors. The case merited serious thinking of all of its dimensions. What needs to be emphasized more than anything else is the destination to which globalization has dragged our species. The dense connectivity facilitated the rapid spread of the deadly virus. The inference is that this dense connectivity reflected through panoramic human assemblages (which also means convergence of vested interests) has to get dissolved if the survival of the human race is the purpose.
Medicos believe that numerous strains of COVID-19 encircle the world which diminishes the chances of finding an effective vaccine within the 12-18 months time schedule. At present, the system adopted is to lay emphasis on stay-home and quarantine techniques but in poor and densely populated countries vulnerability is greater.
Prime Minister Modi’s broadcast to the nation clearly reflected the serious conflict with which he, and perhaps also some more world leaders are seized. Its the painful choice between reopening notional economies and exposing the populations to further infection and disaster. The decision of extending the lockdown till May 3, was preceded by an intensive interaction between the entire national leadership, economic and financial experts and inputs from recognized institutions and individuals all in the background of the predictions made by global experts that the aggregate death toll could cross from under 100,000 at present to nearly one million or more.
At present all countries are self-isolating, commonly called social distancing. However, given the phenomenon of interdependence, the thrust of globalization trend, there could be ring-fencing from the physical exchange with others. The question is whether social distancing becomes the new lasting civilizational characteristic?
This may lead some of us to think of U-turn of our existing civilization. Civilizations are not made or unmade overnight. One thing is clear, and that is the near-collapse situation of traditional institutions of economy, international relationship parameters, social behaviour and community bookmarks. The closing down of world economic hubs, ceasing of supply and marketing chains, locking down congregational destinations (note the closing down of twin holy shrines of the Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia) etc. all point to the imperative of emerging new world order. The current American debacle with surgical masks and ventilators is a case in point. Emerging markets and developing countries are critical both as suppliers and markets. Their demise weakens the world economy as a whole.
Symptoms of change in world order are already there. President Donald Trump has made no secret of his displeasure of the WHO accusing its chief of failure in cautioning the world of impending crisis. The US has ordered suspension of financial support to the WHO. In knowledgeable circles it is believed that the WHO chief has given unnecessary leverage to China. He is unsuccessfully trying to defend himself. President Trump had already withdrawn US from the membership of the UN Human Rights Council saying the organization is politicized. The covert reference was to the overarching influence of China in all organs of the UN.
In a very significant development of last week, Japan Prime Minister announced a financial package of US$990 billion by way of a support fund for the Japanese factories and industrial units established in China for withdrawing from China and re-establishing in any other five prospective countries of which India has also been mentioned. A dependable source has said that 200 Japanese and 100 American companies in China have already announced they are shifting to some other countries to continue their economic activity. Japan has also announced financial support to such units of any country if they would be willing to shut down their units in China and reopen anywhere else in the globe.
The indication is that China will gradually but obviously lose its global economic centrality and multi-polar eco-financial centrality. It is in the offing. The South-East Asian countries are poised for an economic boost once the virus’ intensity subsides.
China’s economic recession will directly impact some of her mega global projects and fundamentally her world policy of economic expansion. The first casualty could be the Belt and Road programme of which CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is a component. Secondly, China’s naval supremacy in the South Asian and China Sea region will receive a big setback. Henceforth, Chinese naval command of the Indian Ocean will increasingly feel to be anchored in hostile and not in a friendly and cooperative region.
More importantly, China’s domination of the UN is also likely to take a drubbing. The aims and objectives stipulated in the UN Charter, its structure and functionality can undergo a drastic change. In any case, the existing structure of regional and global strategies has to be pulled down. Nationalism is likely to supersede all other identities and denominations. Two largest religions of the world are on the verge of submitting to the supremacy of reason as the guiding force not die-hard conviction.
This is a view of how things are likely to shape in the aftermath of the epoch changing pandemic facing humanity. In a narrower sense, the legendary Dajjal has appeared from the East in the shape of a tiny invisible butterfly. It reminds us how the great Mongol Empire was finally brought down by invisible plague in the 14th century. Those who will survive the Doomsday will be the harbingers of a new world, new civilization, new cosmology and a new divinity.