Global corona politics: Test of our attitude & commitments

Published : Tuesday, 14 April, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir 

Coronavirus has been such an entity which may have touched all human lives around the world in some way or another. The death toll and infected numbers are going up every minute as more than 1.8 million people are infected and more than 1.13 lac people died from this fierce coronavirus worldwide. In Bangladesh also 39 people died from the 803 infected in total. With hundreds of millions of people now isolating themselves around the world, the novel coronavirus pandemic has become a truly global event. We may find ourselves even into a shift of global power. Hence, along with our daily lives and national economy, the world should be prepared to face some dramatic events in the global politics and policies which will also impact Bangladesh.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected millions globally, strikes a world already in flux with the rise of nationalists such as US president Donald Trump who have ridiculed at the rules of the ‘globalist’ order. After the coronavirus scenario calms down, the governments will shake as citizens will judge them to have fumbled in their response. We know that economies will be disrupted and some economies are likely to collapse. Donald Trump, who initially dismissed the risks of COVID-19, at the first phase of his recognition of the situation abruptly imposed a ban on most travel from mainland Europe and vowed to confront the ‘foreign virus’. Leaders from the European Union voiced outrage at the move, which triggered chaos at airports and said that, they had not been consulted and Trump also acknowledged.

From the time of taking the chair of US presidency, Trump had taken many decisions, which were not even welcome by his fellow party mates. Few days ago, a ship carrying masks and other protective equipment, purchased by Germany was ordered to move towards USA as those were manufactured by a US company at its Chinese facility. Though the Germans already made major payments, this move of US administration made the German authority, an ally of the US, very furious and termed it as the modern pirate act.

US administration already ordered its companies not to export any masks or other protective equipment to any other countries as they intent to serve its own demand in this crisis period. But this questions US’s standing on global concerns as a global leader. Now, the world will think twice to rely upon the US to lead on major global challenges, whether it’s a pandemic or whether it’s climate change or any other agenda.

COVID-19 first emerged late last year in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, likely at a market that sold exotic animals for their meat, and Beijing initially tried to suppress the news and detained the doctor who sounded the alarm. But China in the past few weeks has sought to turn its COVID-19 response into a sort of soft power, with president Xi Jinping visiting Wuhan to trumpet success at containing the spread. China has sent medical equipment to Italy, the second-worst hit country, and Spain, highlighting its authoritarian model as decisive.

It has also used the crisis as leverage against the United States, which has been seeking to combat Beijing’s influence in all areas. An article in the state-run Global Times unsubtly hinted that China could stop exports of face masks and other medical gear to the US if the Trump administration keeps pressing to restrict its tech giant Huawei. It brings in politics and business into the theory of good gesture of support.

Moreover, the pandemic itself has started to be perceived as an opportunity to strengthen one’s position in geopolitical and economic competition. United States is optimistic that the coronavirus epidemic will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America, hinting limiting outsourcing of their manufacturing at different parts of the world to boost only their own economy. A number of Western economists announced that the pandemic would spell the end of the “Chinese era” in global manufacturing.

In recent weeks, US officials have not once missed an opportunity to refer to the culprit as the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus. In turn, Chinese officials have also speculated that the virus may have been brought to Wuhan by the US military, who had participated in the Military World Games held in the city last October. US President Trump also accused World Health Organization (WHO), which is working as the lead organization in this fight against COVID-19, for raising the alarm late with an intent to favour China. In response, WHO declined the accusation and called for global cooperation to win this fight against coronavirus.

The global blame game has already begun to intensify tensions between nations as conspiracy theories proliferate and borders close.In China, speculation that the virus was manufactured in America to damage China is common. Officials in Beijing have not voiced conspiracy theories of this sort, but some of their counterparts in the US have not been so controlled as a senator had suggested that the coronavirus was spawned by a bio-weapons program in a government laboratory in Wuhan. In Iran, where senior members of the government have become infected with the virus, President Hassan Rouhani has called the fears spread by coronavirus a conspiracy by the enemies of Iran.

In India, coronavirus attacked a group of Muslims, who participated in Tabligh Jamaat. The Indian government, which already created religious chaos during the last few months prior to the coronavirus outbreak, has blamed the Muslims for spreading coronavirus in India as it was termed first as ‘Tabligh Corona’ and later as ‘Taliban Corona’. But it is not a good sign as it will require religious and communal harmony to stabilize the Indian economy after this pandemic disappears and rather than capitalizing the issue, the Indian government should focus on installing unity among its people.

Moreover, Myanmar is showing intent to pushback more of its citizens into Bangladesh amid the COVID-19 outbreak. This sort of move will disturb the stability of the region and organizations like UNHCR should keep a close eye over such move.

Overall, the pandemic is perceived not so much as a global bug that needs to be fixed at all costs, but as a new feature of world politics that can be used to advance own interests and counter those of the opponents and competitors. This coronavirus will test the relationships among countries and regions as we are still to reach the peak of the crisis and waiting to find out the upcoming depth of this deadly virus attack in Asia and Africa.

Many developed and leading countries of the world is expected to stop their exports of commodity products as we have already observed on few instances. This policy will definitely hurt their own economies but will increase their bargaining power to sell their products in a high price. Moreover, the foreign workers in those developed countries hold the highest risk of job loss after the coronavirus scenario as the governments will try to create jobs for their own citizens. This type of policies will have special impact on countries like Bangladesh. Hence, from now on we need to be alert to avoid being victims of global corona politics.

Bangladesh economy might get seriously effected in the upcoming months despite several stimulus package declared by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Today, we are observing ‘PohelaBoisakh’, the Bengali new year. It is a great part of our culture. Around 15-20 thousand crores taka worth transactions take place surrounding this celebration. Most of small or medium businesses made the related investment prior to the current lockdown. They will be ruined as there will be no public celebration this year. The upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr may face the similar scenario, which also generates business transaction worth another 20 thousand crores approximately. Hence, it will be a great blow to the businesses as well as to the economy of Bangladesh as an example.

Moreover, there will be serious fall in remittance, as millions of illegal immigrants as well as legal immigrants will lose jobs and even may return to the country. Immediately after the coronavirus crisis, no country will import workers from other countries also. Additionally, revenue from RMG export income will drop with thousands of cancelled orders. Recently, World Bank estimated only a 2-3 per cent GDP growth for Bangladesh this year and also forecasted it to be as low as 1 per cent in the next year. Hence, it will take a while to stabilize the economy. Most importantly, we cannot depend on global cooperation very much and need to focus on strategies to become self-sufficient.

Along with everything else, this coronavirus has appeared as a test of our health system. We do not have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the doctors, we do not have enough ICU let alone ventilators. Blaming the doctors will not help to cover the failures. With such a large population, our population to ICU or ventilator ratio is unimaginably poor. These things were required to be much more irrespective of the coronavirus scenario but it was not.

We, as a country, bank on our human resource as most of our businesses are focused on our people. If we cannot ensure a healthy human resource, then we will not sustain economic growth. So, from now on, we need to prioritize the health sector in allocating budget as well as need to ensure corruption-free efficient and effective utilization of that budget. We also must not forget that stronger virus than COVID-19 might appear few days later.

During this pandemic, we need to secure the future workforce as that is our competitive edge. Hence, we need to safeguard the unemployed group who will enter the workforce soon. For that, we need to introduce options like, ration card to ensure their food security as the impact of coronavirus may sustain even for two to three years. We need to protect the middle and lower income group to maintain the law and order in the country as well as to ensure country’s continuous growth.

Several stimulus packages, declared by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, express the good intent of the government to keep the economy stable during and after the coronavirus crisis along with special focus on humanitarian factors. But despite all positive factors, these are short term initiatives. If coronavirus crisis stays for a long time, which can definitely happen, we need stronger strategies for which the experts and even the citizens should start thinking from all levels.

Coronavirus may bring a fundamental change for us, our economy and our nation. We need to stay strong and stay together to save our society as well as country. Hence, we all need to be ready for the difficult test of the nature along with test of our relationship with all entities of this world. We hope the global leaders will rely on globalist approach rather than being nationalistic as well as will leave their thoughts of gaining benefits from this crisis as only then we can win this war with a beautiful outcome.

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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