In the recorded history, many civilizations, regimes, and empires had come to an end given the natural calamities or pandemics like COVID-19. Covering about 190 countries, killing about 15000 people, infecting about more than three lac people, COVID-19 has been declared as pandemic on 11 March by the World Health Organization (WHO). The unfolding of the Coronavirus cases and geopolitical and geo-economic implications, it seems that the globalization has met a major setback. Now, it is a major question for the post-COVID-19 scenario, what would be the world order and would globalization regain its footprints and what the lessons had left to be learned?
The first case of the novel coronavirus was identified on 1 December 2019 in Wuhan. Within a month, the number of coronavirus cases has been increased exponentially and mid-January 2020, the virus spread to many other provinces of China. Being a transport hub and major rail interchange, infected people from Wuhan rapidly spread throughout the country. As per the report of WHO, totally confirmed infected cases have amounted to 81416 and 3269 total death in China. After taking stock of the situation in and out of China, the WHO has declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Although the response of China, in the beginning, was very slow and secretive, when the COVID-19 has been started taking a toll, theN response became very swift. Doctor Zhang Jixian, who was the first doctor who found the cluster of unknown pneumonia on 26 December. She informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Jianghan (Wuhan) on 27 December. A public notice was issued by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, followed by informing the WHO on 31 December 2020. The major pitfall on part of the Chinese government had no “clear evidence” of human-to-human transmissions as reported by the Chinese National Health Commission.
History of Pandemics
It is said that the communicable diseases have existed during humankind’s hunter-gatherer days. However, the shifting from hunter-gatherer to agrarian life about 10,000 years ago had created communities that made more vulnerable to epidemics and pandemics. The same period was more characterized by diseases like influenza, leprosy, malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox etc. Since recorded history, it has been said that there are several pandemics have taken place including the latest five declarations of international public health emergencies. The list of the same included -Antonine Plague (165 A.D.); Cyprian Plague (250 A.D.); Justinian Plague (541 A.D.); Leprosy (11th Century); The Black Death (1350); The Great Plague of London (1665); First Cholera Pandemic (1817); The Third Plague Pandemic (1855); Russian Flu (1889); Spanish Flu (1918); Asian flu (1957); HIV/AIDS (1981); SARS (2003); Swine Flu (2009); Polio (2014); Western Africa Ebola (2014); Zika Virus (2015) and another Ebola (the Democratic Republic of the Congo-2019). COVID-19 is the new entry in the list of a pandemics, declared officially by the WHO.
China per se could be responsible for the pandemic not taking prompt actions as the virus was first detected in November 2019 in Wuhan. But on the other hand, the Chinese official had concealed the same for months, rather the doctor was punished who first reported the coronavirus. The Chinese government had lost the very valuable time in which corrective measures would have taken by educating the common people, controlling the traveling from the originating place and, moreover, taking preventive measures such as widespread testing etc. When the COVID-19 crisis was at the peak, even then the Chinese government have been controlling and concealing the information. Along with shunning assistance from the CDC, limited travel of the WHO officials were some of the issues on part of China which further gave a stimulus to the disease. In this background, it would be pertinent to mention here one commentator’s (Saran-20 March) argument who said, “The global outbreak of the made in China novel coronavirus irrefutably demonstrates that the CPC is more than willing to endanger the health of the international community to promote Beijing’s irresponsible hegemony.”
Will Globalization Regain Its Footprint?
The neoliberal policies have been the major elements of the globalization. In a general sense, globalization has been considered as a system wherein the integration of local and national economies used to be connected to a global unregulated market economy. Albrow (1990) has conceived globalization from an economic perspective as a system that engages in the flow of goods, services, capital, technology, data etc. Removal of cross-border trade barriers and the formation of global markets have been considered as the major characters of the globalization. Similarly, the IMF in 2000 has recognized these character of globalization which referred to the flow of trade, investment, migration of people, including the dissemination of knowledge. Moreover, the open markets and open border characterized the neoliberal policies which have been advocated by the capitalist countries; implemented and introduced in developing countries in terms of structural adjustment programmes by the World Bank, IMF, and WTO. These global governance institutions have been facilitating the promotion of globalization in terms of open markets for Multinational Corporations (MNC) on a global scale.
Notwithstanding a lot of benefits, currently, globalization has been inviting ire of many countries, intellectual and commentators given the serious implications of globalization in terms of creating inequality, poverty, deprivation of basic necessities, unemployment etc. The health issue has been emerging as a major critical problem given the introduction of WTO’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Under the agreement of TRIPS, the patent protection on the new drugs is extended for a minimum period of 20 years. Kamal & Bailey (2003) has argued that given the high prices, TRIPS undermines the access to new medicines particularly for the developing world people, resulting in a heightening of the health risks and creating uncertainties to meet the natural calamities and pandemic situations like COVID-19.
Commentators like Campbell and Doshi (March 18, 2020) have argued in their article published in the Foreign Affairs that the Trump regime’s response has been remained lukewarm, to the situation created out of the pandemic. The inadequate steps were taken by the key institutions, such as the White House; Department of Homeland Security and CDC, have highlighted the incapacity of the capacity and competence of U.S. governance to deal with such situations. Even the public statements, oval office addresses, tweets etc. have largely been failed to create confidence not only among the US citizens rather the comity of the nations as well. It has also been argued that the public and private sectors have proved ill-prepared to meet the demands of the situation out of pandemic. It has given a setback to the US global image and leadership. On the other hand, when the situation had become very worsened in many countries like Italy and many more, China has shown its global leadership and committed to providing the required medical materials to deal with the situation.
Klare (22 March 2020) has imagined the world order in the post-pandemic scenario anticipated as accelerated turning globalization into de-globalization, the emergence of semi-autonomous regional blocs such as China and its client states; Europe; North and South America. He also predicted by taking stock of the performance of the transnational institutions like WTO that will come to an end given its failure to handle the pandemic. Moreover, a number of incumbent governments/regimes like China, Japan, US, Iran, etc have been severely criticized by their citizens given the clumsy handling of the COVID-19 and may be replaced in the near future in this backdrop.
De-globalization has already started showing its signals in the globalized world. It has been exemplified by the rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, the American First Policy etc. The trade war between the US and China is one of the examples of de-globalization. Trump regime had imposed high and strict tariffs on Chinese goods turning the war into protectionism by a so-called strong advocate of capitalism. COCID-19 has stimulated the speed of the de-globalization as the coronavirus compelled the US MNCs to dismantle the supply lines established in China. For example, US-based multinational corporation like Apple has already been started establishing alternative supply lines outside of China or to move them back to home. The Trump regime has been facing a lot of internal pressure from the people and politicians to reduce the US dependency on China for its security-related technologies, such as advanced computers and electrical equipment.
Till the beginning of the 21st century, the European Union is considered as the most successful example of the globalized world order given the free flow of goods, services, common currency, constitution, government and moreover the highest intra-trade among the regional blocks. But in contemporary times, both internally and externally, the EU has been facing a lot of challenges. Internally, the recent incident of Brexit has raised a serious question for the identity and status of the globalized world order. Moreover, Europe and America have been drifting part given the geostrategic, geopolitical and geo-economic differences over many issues.
As more and more cases of the COVID-19 have been unfolding, the globalized world order is getting myriads of setbacks. With the outbreak of a pandemic, many countries have sealed their international borders with the strict vigil. Quarantine has been openly put in place. Travels have been limited/banned. Supply chains have been broken and even medical materials and medicines have not been moving. The role of WHO has not been remained up to expected standards. The major MNCs which have made the maximum benefits out of the globalized world, have not come forward to take international social responsibilities.
What lessons could be learned out of the unfolding scenario of Coronavirus pandemic that the globalized world has been ill-prepared to meet the situations out of the natural calamities or pandemic? The globalized world has enough economic, political, security and health governance institutions. However, do the de-globalized world have the same governance institutions during the time of natural calamities and pandemic situations? To meet such situations, only sealing/closing international borders, lockdowns etc are not sufficient. Rather, the global governance needs to visualize/imagine such situations well in advance putting some arrangement/infrastructure in place for the early detection and provision of Adhoc medical preparedness. Moreover, all diseases are the byproducts of the prevailing environments, the scientists/doctors have to take their research on health issues taking into account such scenarios. The world has to frame some conventions/protocols/treaties/agreements for the MNCs who been enjoying and earning unimaginable profits while signing the agreement with the host countries, particularly meeting situations during the time of pandemic and natural calamities. If one MNC has been enjoying the size of ownership of the combined GDP of many countries, then why not a paltry amount can be spared for such situations? A number of examples are there, when manmade calamities had happened on part of MNCs, but even then not accepted the responsibilities.
At last, it is concluded that the contemporary world has seen positive impacts of globalization, but a minuscule part of the world population has been benefitted from the same. When the situation is becoming bad to the worst one in the backdrop of coronavirus, then globalization has been failed to reciprocate positively. When every country has to face or fight the worst situation its own, then why MNCs or rich countries allowed to earn unimaginable profits during the normal situation in the host countries? In this backdrop, if globalization has to regain its lost footprints, then advocates of globalization and the MNCs have to rethink, how to gain the trust of the people by putting some infrastructures/arrangements in place to deal with such situation out of pandemic/s. In the changing environment, many pandemics like COVID-19 would be followed, if the corrective measures would not have taken, then where would be the globe and globalization?
- Dr. Bawa Singh (Associate Professor), has been teaching in the Deparmet of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab (India). [email protected]
- Dr. Sandeep Singh is teaching at the Department of Political Science, School of Humanities, CT University, Punjab, Ludhiana, India. Email: [email protected]
- Dr. Jaspal Kaur, has been teaching Sociology in Regional Campus Jalandhar (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar). Email- [email protected]