Covid-19 pandemic: Test of global relations and priorities

Published : Tuesday, 9 June, 2020 at 12:00 AM

With around 7 million people infected and 0.4 million dead, Covid-19 pandemic is still spreading throughout the globe affecting the political systems of multiple countries. Most importantly, the Covid-19 has affected international relations and caused diplomatic tensions. On top of that, a shift of global power may be inevitable. Hence, the global audience should remain alert of the power game which can endanger millions of lives around the world.

The Chinese government has been criticized by the United States for its management of the pandemic, which began in the Chinese province of Hubei. But state propaganda in China has been promoting a narrative that China’s authoritarian system is uniquely capable of curbing the coronavirus and contrasts that with the chaotic response of the Western democracies. To counter its negative image, China has sent aid to 82 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Union. Here, the Chinese government has been trying to project Chinese state power beyond its borders and establish China as a global leader, not dissimilar to what the United States government has been doing for the better part of a century, and this can be an example of politics of generosity.

More controversially, Xinhua, the spokesperson of the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial threatening to drag the US into ‘the mighty sea of coronavirus’ by ending pharmaceutical exports. The US reaction to this threat has been extremely negative and relations between the two countries have soured since significantly. Moreover, Beijing’s effort to suppress the democratic uprising in Hong Kong will result in further bitterness.

On the other hand, due to China’s perceived mishandling of the coronavirus epidemic, the largest tabloid newspaper of Germany put together a 130 billion euros damage that they would like for China to pay to Germany. China responded that this act stirs up chauvinism and racism. Additionally, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands announced that thousands of testing kits and medical masks exported from China are below standard or defective.

France accused the US of disrupting face mask deliveries by buying at the last minute. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, asked to investigate allegations that medical supplies originally intended for Canada were diverted to the United States. Germany also accused the US of committing such ‘modern piracy’.

On April 2, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to halt exports of masks produced by 3M to Canada and Latin America. The Canadian government had turned to China and other places for crucial medical supplies. Donald Trump even warned India for retaliation if the government does not release hydroxychloroquine medicine to the US. Following this, India lifted the temporary export ban on the drug paving the way for shipping it to the United States.

Along with these global issues, the US is currently facing the greatest protest over the underlying racism after the brutal killing of George Floyd, a black man, by the police. Breaking the COVID-19 protocol and administration-imposed curfew, thousands of people are demonstrating on the roads raising questions over the real face of democracy.

It is not only the matter of China and United States, a rivalry which came into limelight during the last few years, but also a rivalry between communism and democracy. Russia, the greatest rival of the US and founder of communism, is sitting idle and letting China do the works but obviously Vladimir Putin, the Russian Premiere, is definitely not out of the frame.

A socialism-based movement under the leadership of Russia with support of Turkey was ongoing in oil producing nations of Middle East. Moreover, religious power game is also evident in different parts of the world: rise of extremist Buddhism and extremist Hinduism in South and Southeast Asia. Among these ongoing issues, the Covid-19 pandemic has and this might just shift the global power at the end of this crisis.

The European Union is also experiencing turmoil, mostly economic but to be reflected in politics.  Nine EU countries-Italy, France, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Slovenia and Luxembourg called for ‘corona bonds’ to help their countries to recover from the epidemic. But, Northern European countries such as Germany, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands opposed the issuing of joint debt and proposed loans from the European Stability Mechanism. This will hurt the bond within the EU along with behavior of the US, the greatest ally of most of EU nations.

In March, China, Cuba and Russia sent medical supplies and experts to help Italy deal with its coronavirus outbreak. To some, health diplomacy provided the opportunity to create narratives of friends and enemies in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of foreign audiences.

In Asia also, turmoil is noted. Japan-South Korea relation has worsened as a result of the pandemic. After Japan declared it would start quarantining all arrivals from South Korea, the South Korean government described the move as unreasonable, excessive and extremely regrettable and also questioned whether Japan has other motives than containing the outbreak. Relation between India and China is also facing turbulence.

Moving on to the other issues, in response to dramatic drop in oil consumption due to coronavirus pandemic, Saudi Arabia, an ally of the US, attempted to orchestrate a worldwide decrease in oil production to keep prices at a moderate level. However, when Russia refused to reduce oil production, Saudi Arabia triggered an oil price war in March 2020. This economic conflict resulted in a sheer drop of oil price with the price becoming negative on April 20.

Many suspects, the Covid-19 pandemic will push us towards the Third World War following the global economic depression as different powerful nations will try to save their own economies at any cost. Cooperation will decline while rivalry and chaos will intensify. Many organizations of nations like; UN, EU, ASEAN, G8, G24, OIC, BIMSTEC, APEC, ASEF, SAARC etc has failed mostly due to lack of agreement on common issues. Polarization has severely affected the decisions of UN, the largest global forum. But if we can learn one thing from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the need of global unity on common issues.

During this course of corona politics, we are losing our focus on critical issues like global warming, green house effect and climate change. We have talked a lot about conservation of nature towards which this COVID-19 pandemic has literally pushed us. But from the global leaders, we are yet to find any commitment. UN Climate Change Summit had failed on several occasions as the forum failed to receive global leaders’ commitment, especially from the US and today the US is facing the greatest threats from COVID-19. The natural decay is pushing mutation of several viruses and also putting us under frequent natural disasters like: earthquake, cyclone, flood, tsunami, volcanic eruption etc. So, global leaders’ commitment is a must.

From Bangladeshi perspective, we have avoided any religious or ideological conflicts, under the far-sighted leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. We have controlled the religious fundamentalism valiantly and proved our humanitarian grounds. We hope her leadership will keep us on the right track even after the Covid-19 pandemic during the upcoming global turbulence.

The global corona politics is unfortunate, because it is in everyone’s interest to work together to overcome the current challenge as well as to prepare ourselves to avert future disasters.Covid-19 should be a wake-up call that trivial allegations, ideological conflicts and short-sighted political ambitions must be set aside.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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