Coronavirus: Is The World Order Changing?

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by Syed Suhail Yaqoob

The world has seen many bad times. There have been wars, and plagues on an unprecedented scale. The Spanish flu in 1918 and the two world wars in twentieth century are but few examples. The humanity has, however, triumphed. We developed vaccines which almost wiped out diseases. We developed global political consensus that made world more or less protected.

Thomas Robert Malthus would probably have been right but he was pessimistic about human capabilities. As of today the extreme famines, predicted by him, rarely happens. The earth supports more than seven billion human population.

Chinese premier handing over a handmade portrait to host Prime Minister Narenndra Modi in 2019 during his India visit.

The spread of novel Covid-19 is one of bad times. It first struck the highly populated and developed state of Wuhan in China. The spread of virus was unusually rapid. The Chinese authorities decided to lockdown the area to contain its spread. There seemed to be no way out of it. The vaccine was not available, so lockdown was the only solution. Social distance was often advised by the expert doctors. People were asked to mingle less or completely halt all social gatherings like marriage, birthday parties etc. It meant complete social boycotts and confusion. It further implied less economic activities and curtailed movements. Almost everyone was inside their homes. The Covid-19 generated economic and political chaos.

Global Village

It is not necessary to wait for GDP numbers to see what the virus is doing to economic activity. After the fall of erstwhile Soviet Union in around 1990s, the world had become a globalised village. Integration of economies and societies is the bedrock of this village. If a country sneezed, the whole world would sneeze. The world saw that Asian Financial crisis in 1997, financial crisis of 2008 and Greek Debt crisis reached every corner of the earth. Covid-19 is also doing the same thing. According to International Labour Organisation, the crisis has already transformed into an economic and labour market shock, impacting not only supply (production of goods and services) but also demand (consumption and investment). Disruptions to production, initially in Asia, have spread to supply chains across the world. All businesses are facing challenging times especially aviation, tourism, and hospitality industries. Further sustaining business operations in small and medium industries will be costly due to travel bans, quarantine measures and border closers. ILO has estimated that around 25 million people will lose their jobs world-wide.

Impact on Kashmir

The spread of virus is bad news for our economy in Jammu and Kashmir. Our economy is highly dependent on tourism and agriculture. The tourism potential is, however, not exploited fully due to political crisis in the state. In 2019, Jammu and Kashmir remained under strict curfew after abolition of the article 370. Some estimates placed the losses at more than Rs 50 thousand crore. As if this was not enough recently there was a tourist travel ban to Kashmir that implies a ruin to our tourism industry. Hotel industry and transport sector will be the first causality.

The apple harvest and grading in progress. KL Image

Further the agriculture sector, especially horticulture is also expected to provide less revenue this year to farmers. Covid-19 is bringing disruptions in the markets and it has direct impact on growers in Kashmir region. The major fruit mandis across the country will be shut. Covid-19 will have long term consequences for the horticulture sector. The farmers in every village of Kashmir seem to think of the pending doom. The government must quickly devise a policy to help mitigate the negative effects of the virus. The horticulture sector suffered losses due to snowfall and it is not in a position to absorb another shock.

Will World Order Change?

Can Covid-19 change the world order in China’s favour? The answer cannot be but yes. Three things are needed by a country to become a magnet in global power equation – economy, military and leadership. China has presently all the three. It is already the second largest economy and the largest trading nation. The economy is growing at more than 6 percent right from 1980’s and sometimes touching even a double digit. Also, it has dramatically reduced its poverty levels at human cost.

Furthermore it is investing a lot of money in undeveloped and developing countries. The most important investment perhaps is China Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC), and One Belt and One Road (OBOR). The aims of these investments were to checkmate influence of USA in Central Asia and weaken the position of India visa-viz China. China has almost encircled India.

At military front the country has the world’s biggest army with an estimated 1.6 million troops. China was the second largest military spender in the world after USA. The official defence spending of the country reached US $250 billion in 2018. It is a layman’s guess why USA is worried about rise of China and in some instances tried to portray India as a leader in Asia. USA is trying to check-mate China by using the Cold war experience against Soviet Union. It will not be easy.

China versus USSR

The comparisons between Soviet Union and China are stark. China has well developed economic system, efficient bureaucracy and has reduced poverty at unprecedented levels. China has a different type of communism which at base is fuelled by controlled capitalism. Moreover, USA’s policies towards Iran have come under huge criticism that too from its allies.

Now the spread of the covid-19 virus has provided the country one more excuse to act as a world leader. Although every country is grappling with the virus, the world is at praise about the quick and efficient response of China to contain it. The country showed remarkable brilliance and governance in controlling the situation. Within less than 10 days a huge hospital was built for the patients and now the country has reported zero positive local Covid-19 cases for last many days.

China Emerges

Syed Suhail

Now, all countries are looking towards China. The response has provided a clout to Chinese authorities to deepen their ties with different countries. In the last few weeks the country has donated Coronavirus testing kits to Cambodia, sent planeloads of ventilators, masks and medics to Italy and France. It has pledged to help the Philippines, Spain and other countries, and deployed medics to Iran and Iraq. China has positioned itself as a leader and benefactor in public health, building a kind of soft power Beijing needs at a time of intensifying US-China rivalry and scrutiny of Chinese influence around the world.  While USA is still not sure about how to contain Covid-19, China has relaxed the curfew like situation in Wuhan-the city taken over by the virus.

Despite all this, China will not prick USA. It will not afford to look like arrogant in succeeding to contain it. The country has a huge history of experience in its past and culture.

Post Script

The intense fight for global space between USA and China has further tilted in favour of latter thanks to outbreak of Corona virus. The world is now in praise of China’s leadership, its handling of crisis and also for its aid to affected countries. While USA is still in no position to provide a definitive leadership, China on the other hand is deepening its soft power. More countries especially European countries have come into its orbit. Beijing has used Covid-19 to establish itself as a global leader.

(Syed Suhail is a Ph D student at Aligarh Muslim University. He is working on gender inequality. Currently, he is teaching at the Cluster University, Srinagar. Ideas expressed in the write-up are personal.)

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