Life and politics will not be the same in the wake of Covid-19 due to heavy and radical disruptions of social engagement and economic activities. Countries across the world, fatally hit by the virus, will make political adjustments within and realignment beyond their borders. Consequently, existing international institutions and power configurations will undergo significant change and a new world order will emerge. How do we envision a geopolitical paradigm shift in international politics, what are New Delhi’s options?
In order to support our hypothesis of emergence of a New World Order, let us reckon the changes that have been happening. The globalisation of trade continues with a slower pace, but “political fragmentation and tensions grow faster”. Great power competition dominated by the rivalry between US and China as well as Russia has become the dominant factor. International institutions are weakening due to US withdrawal and partly due to discord between major powers. WHO is being accused of echoing Chinese line?
These above conditions are being exacerbated as America and other major powers accuse China of the pandemic, at least its opacity in the initial days of the virus outbreak in Wuhan. Disruption of world trade would deepen as supply chains are diverted from China with some countries placing heavy restrictions on bilateral trade. The US-China trade war will re-escalate. A growing number of international exporters would experience financial distress as a persistent shortfall in Chinese demand will depress commodity prices and export revenues.
In order to tackle the economic fallouts, China and other countries will inject heavy fiscal stimulus to engineer a recovery in economic expansion resulting in a rebound growth in the second half of the year worldwide. Thus, taking into account the direct impact of weaker demand in China as well as potential economic disruption in the world, the global GDP growth could dip below 2.5% this year. This is a depressing scenario of world recession.
So how will the World react? There are quite a few probable scenarios, depending on how governments respond to the pandemic and its economic aftermath. Political prudence lies in predicting the most likely scenario and positioning oneself in it.
The new scenario will be influenced by at least three variables at play. The crowding out of issues, quite a few international developments may be overlooked in the pandemic and its consequences dominating the strategists and observers. For instance, the strikes against US bases in Iraq and Washington’s intention to withdraw some of its forces have gone virtually unnoticed.
Second, the escalation effect, a local incident can always escalate into a more general conflict. The expulsion of US journalists from China is increasing confrontation between the two. Border skirmishes between India and Pakistan leading to a major military confrontation cannot be ruled out. Remember, politics of both countries is a function of their dealing with each other on Kashmir.
Third, an opportunity effect, constructive proposals could come on countries like Iran and Afghanistan as world leaders are not in a mood to open up new conflicts. This is unlikely as getting all stakeholders around a novel idea is not easy, as vested interests, “wheels within wheels” drive people apart.
One possible scenario predicted by well-meaning people could be seen in the light of what an American expert Alanna Shaikh has stated the “corona virus is our future”. By this, it is meant that it’s our current lifestyles as a whole, over consumption, relationship with nature, which unrestrained is causing severe health crises and frequent climate disasters. The two are indeed difficult to separate. Covid-19 emerged in the wake of major fires striking in Australia. Only a change of course, that is not only geopolitical but also civilisational, can save humanity. Civilisational changes take ages to occur. It seems to be an innocent and imbecile expectation.
Conservative experts might say we will simply return to the past: we have overcome the crisis, albeit at a much higher cost than during SARS (2003) or the other health hazards before or stock market crash in 2008, let us get on with business as usual. However, given the intensity of the crisis, and developments preceding the pandemic, it’s unlikely.
There are two more possible scenarios partly projected by propaganda machines in US and China. Beijing will say that the Allies realise the cost of aligning with US as the latter follows a nationalistic foreign policy of sharing costs in international crises. The incompetent and indifferent approach to solving the corona crisis at home, have greatly undermined the ability and legitimacy as a super power. How dependable and sustainable is the alliance with US, which with its advanced technology and kits to test and treat Covid-19 failed to supply them to its allies.
On the contrary, China has stood by countries like Italy and Serbia, made its experts and equipments available to the world. It can extend help, both financial and technical, in times of global crises. The world could rely on China. Therefore, the claim from the Chinese camp is, post-Corona setting will push a new power dynamics to emerge. The torch of initiative and leadership would be passed for good to China, firstly in the field of global issues of health, climate change, development, 5G and even military.
The other is there may be a change of leadership in US after November presidential elections. The Democratic Party contender Joe Biden will come to the White House. America then will go international again. It might reinvest in international institutions to reconnect with its natural position as leader in global governance.
This is quite unlikely. From Donald Trump camp, the precise prognosis is America never changes horses in the middle of a race. China will be in American cross hairs by September. During May-June, Trump will address Covid-19 and testing. In June-July he will go big bang on restarting the economy. In subsequent two months, he will collect evidence on Wuhan Lab. In September, he will give CCP a big Bill about $5 to $10 trillion. The CCP will balk, and the squeeze will start with freezing CCP assets, sanctions, travel bans on Chinese and so on. In November, Trump is re-elected. The American voters will have to decide whether they want a president who is tough on China or Biden whose son got $1.5 billion from China for some business venture.
To be sure, there will be a new cold war between US and China and countries will be in two trading blocks. The US will continue to lead in Innovation, Space and Finance. Supply chains will relocate; China will lose manufacturing and will be squeezed out of global financial markets, as adoption of Yuan will be limited to a few African and South American client States. NATO will be recalibrated to address China, UN loses its shine and WHO may be abandoned. These big changes are radical but quite likely.
Where does India see herself in this scenario? India stands for democracy and against terrorism. Therefore, it has to align with democratic countries against terrorism. India has nothing in common with China and its vassal state as both stand for evil as demonstrated by Covid-19 and Pulwama etc. India has a legacy relationship with Russia that can be managed with an emerging relationship with America and continued goodwill with Moscow.
Prime Minister Modi has given a call for being ‘vocal on local’ for being self-reliant. He has qualified it by adding that self-reliance would to lead to competitiveness and autarky or isolationism. We hope it is so. However, the real test for India is to support Taiwan in WHO. Let us keep our fingers crossed.