The new coronavirus represents a new battlefield in international politics that will determine the rise and fall of nations through the shift in power dynamics around the globe. It is also a contest to determine what type of state and what type of society will prove to be the most resilient.
An invisible enemy and shifting of power
When it comes to the fight against the new coronavirus, existing categorizations of states — as developed or developing, democratic or autocratic, Western or non-Western — are of little use. The ultimate victors of the fight will be the states where casualties can be kept to a minimum while economic and social activity (particularly employment) is preserved to the maximum extent, and where citizens managed to sacrifice certain civil liberties in order to band together against the virus.
Given the potential for a second and third wave of the pandemic, it is still too early to ascertain the outcome of this contest. Yet the virus is particularly vicious to the most vulnerable members of society. American and European societies have been weakened by disparities in wealth, education and health, growing social divisions, political polarization, and the forces of populism and xenophobia.
Power shifting to China
The coronavirus pandemic has led a growing number of Westerners to see China as a top power, with the lead of the United States slipping, a study said Tuesday. A survey of French, German and US opinion released by the German Marshall Fund of the United States found significant increases in perceptions of Chinese influence since the outbreak of COVID-19 — in which Beijing has alternately been portrayed as a culprit and an aid provider.
The proportion of people who said China was the most influential global player shot up from 13 to 28 percent in France between surveys from January to May, from 12 to 20 percent in Germany and from 6 to 14 percent in the United States.
“Chinese influence in the world was kind of an abstract idea before the crisis,” said Martin Quencez, deputy director of the German Marshall Fund’s Paris office. “When you think about the dependency on China for mask and medical equipment, for instance, this has become very concrete,” he said.
Quencez expected a lasting impact, saying that the changes in perceptions were seen across generational and political lines. “It seems more structural than just a quick response to the crisis,” he said.
US helpless against the new-found shifting power dynamics
The public in all three countries still said that the United States was the most influential nation but less overwhelmingly. In France, 55 percent of people said the United States was the top global player in May, down from 67 percent in January. Similar figures were reported in Germany. One comparative loser was the European Union, which the French and Germans had put solidly in second place, over China, before the pandemic.
Despite China’s perceived influence, the survey found that majorities in both Germany and France said their countries should get tougher on Beijing over climate change, human rights and cybersecurity. The figures were lower in the United States, possibly because President Donald Trump’s administration has already been championing a hard line and pushing Europe to do likewise.
The ban is a stunning rebuke of the Trump administration's failure to control the COVID-19 pandemic. https://t.co/skJM6q13t2
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) June 30, 2020
The Trump administration has blamed COVID-19 on poor management in China, where the virus was first detected late last year. Critics say Trump is trying to deflect from his own handling of COVID-19 in the United States, which has suffered by far the highest death toll of any country. The survey also showed a sharp transatlantic divide on the influence of Britain, which left the European Union this year. Fifty-three percent of Americans said Britain was the most influential country in Europe, an opinion shared by just eight percent of Germans and six percent of French. The study, conducted with the Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany and Institut Montaigne in Paris, surveyed more than 1,000 different people in each country both from January 9-22 and May 11-19.
The new normal in a post-covid world
This is not only a battle about now but also over what comes next.
The conversion to a contact-less economic and social system during the current pandemic has involved various initiatives in online medical care and education, teleworking, automated customer service, unmanned delivery systems and automated production lines. The key to such innovations has been society’s practical application of personal data. Societies that succeed in establishing a form of data governance supported by citizens will emerge as “developed states” in the age of dataism.
The principle of free trade, meanwhile, will be amended to address core concerns of national security and economic security. States must fuse trade strategy and industrial policy with investment and currency strategies, build effective public-private partnerships rooted in mutual trust, strengthen national power, wealth and resilience, and develop the political strategy and governance to sustain these achievements. The states that play a leading role in creating an international order for this new era in geoeconomics will emerge as victors.
At some point, the COVID-19 crisis will end. But as was the case with the first and second world wars, the end of the crisis will not mark a return to “normal.” Rather, it will signal the advent of a “new normal.”
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk
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