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Friday, 29 May 2020

COVID-19 in the driver's seat

Magda Shaheen , Saturday 23 May 2020
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Views: 1071

The coronavirus lockdown is not over and it's highly probable a second wave of the pandemic will follow.

How will the world react to the extention of a lockdown which has proven more devastating on the people and the economies than the pandemic itself? The world has dealt with the crisis in an unavailing manner. The lockdown has proven that the countries have reached a level of negativity that made COVID-19 the dominant actor.

I admit I don't understand the reason behind the world's surrender to the pandemic. Other diseases that have swept the world before, from the plague to the Spanish flu, which killed millions, and bird flu and swine flu only a decade ago, were treated and prevented from spreading.

So why this exaggerated fear from the coronavirus when the world has reached unprecedented levels of progress?

Is it a state of uncertainty and fear of the expected period for controlling the virus? Is it the social media, which amplifies everything around us and is at the very basis of spreading lies and fabrications?

Why is everyone, from rich to poor, professionals to laymen, doomed in the presence of COVID-19, believing that it will turn the world upside down? Will a fundamental change truly take place in the wake of the crisis we are living in, which we have been unable to date to distinguish between the extent of its reality and the extent of its fabrication?

Speculations and questions surround us, leaving us confused, baffled and unable to find valid and satisfactory answers. There is a lot of misperception about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on globalisation. Is the pandemic boosting globalisation, or is there no relationship between the two?

Many writers established a link between the virus and globalisation, which developing countries not long ago described as a calamity for their economies and peoples. This was in the 1980s, when the World Trade Organisation was born after more than eight years of negotiations. Today, we find developing countries more adhering to and believing in globalisation, recognising its advantages for their economies more than developed countries.

Others, including George Soros, the outspoken American-Hungarian billionaire, said one thing is certain about the post-pandemic world: there is no return to globalisation.

Otherwise, everything is possible: from the United States conceding its leadership, to fighting back the Chinese giant, questioning the future of the EU, the revival of the Cold War and the emergence of a new movement along the lines of the Non-Aligned Movement, a global recession and a threat to our civilisation.

The narrative of deglobalisation suits also major transnationals, which were the first to call on countries in the past to embrace globalisation. They abandoned globalisation out of the fear of risking the gains of their boards and directors, if they remain attached to countries, whose economies may collapse in the wake of the pandemic. Many would want to believe that we are facing a new approach characterised by greater patriotism and self-reliance, and the return of states to national production chains. Such speculation is closer to fiction than reality, as it is inconceivable that the transcontinental giants will cease their octopus-like moves and continuing manipulation of states.

Companies that have unjustly exploited countries for hundreds of years will not give up seizing natural resources at low prices or through low-wage labour. The prevailing expectations are business as usual. There will be no deglobalisation. Those who promote a new balance that is fairer and more equitable, or find more introverted solutions to spare their countries and peoples the effects of the pandemic, are but deluding themselves.

The pandemic will not lead us to the perfect world. There may be new consensus and alterations behind the power game. Industrial focal points may move from China to Mexico or to other emerging countries because of the desire to suppress China. However, the pandemic will not change anything in our world, there will be no retreat from excessive globalisation, and there will be no endeavours to establish a more just and equitable response to the South. On the contrary, Northern economies will seek excuses for not being able to help.

What may change, however, is the form of cooperation at the national level between governments and the private sectors, as each on its own cannot bear the repercussions of the pandemic.

The pandemic may also have effects on emerging economies, such as Egypt’s, and stimulate them to rely more on a competitive productive economy rather than on rents that rely predominantly on inflows of financial resources, such as remittances from workers abroad andtourism, which lose their advantage in the post-pandemic period.

Nonetheless, states must be certain that the next crisis will result from the waves of human migration from countries whose economies collapsed to those that overcame the virus in Europe, or elsewhere, though their economies remain fragile. It will be the next bomb to which there is no vaccine. States will not be able to tame it and will find it difficult to accept, and inhumane to reject.

Now that we are coexisting with the virus, one may ponder whether the reason behind this crisis is real or intentional, which in effect does not matter much today. Whatever the conviction, we should avoid underestimating the consequences, as hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives.

Our questions, however, remain open and unanswered. Has the crisis been a weapon China raised against the US to force it to alleviate the fierce trade war against it? Alternatively, should one accuse the US of making the crisis a pretext to prove the righteousness of the "America First" strategy and putting the blame on China? Or, is the reason behind the increasing power struggle in the European Union the imbalance caused by BREXIT and the subsequent disintegration of the German-French league? Or should we believe what the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently stated that the coronavirus is not man-made? Is such a statement made in anger against President Donald Trump, who defamed the WHO president or because of the organisation's loyalty to China?

Whatever the reasons behind the crisis and its increased politicisation, only history will reveal the truth. 

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