Much has been said about pretty much every facet of the Covid-2019 calamity but in our view, too little attention has been paid to the long-term international relations implications of the aggressive border closure action (to give perhaps the most obvious example) that has been taken worldwide. From Donald Trump who has been continuously bragging about his quick decision of closing down the border for Chinese citizens to nation after nation that has implemented border closure plans, it becomes apparent that this represents a status quo course of action so as to combat the pandemic.
From a medical perspective, it makes perfect sense.
From an international relations perspective, however, it is our firm opinion that nations need to be especially careful with respect to HOW they implement these measures because if the political narrative is not kept under control, the long-term consequences from an international relations lens might be even more devastating than the situation we are currently dealing with medically speaking.
Right off the bat, we need to understand that the pre-pandemic international status quo was anything but stellar, with the US – China trade situation in the spotlight as well as, generally speaking, quite a few nations embracing various forms of protectionism. And, make no mistake, predictable international relations are paramount due to the amazingly interconnected nature of the global economy. Cracks in the very foundation of said relationships risk bringing about a violent downturn of the worldwide economic system, as it now stands.
As such, “diplomacy” is the operative term.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with closing borders from a diplomatic perspective as long as communication on the matter is clear and predictable, there is most definitely a problem when leaders such as Donald Trump proverbially rub it in, adding gasoline to what arguably already represented an international relations fire.
The same way, there is a world of difference between pragmatic/calculated border closures with clearly communicated political messages and nationalism, nationalism which among other things led to anti-Asian racism for virus-related reasons, aggressive domestic political rhetoric and the list could go on and on.
When the average citizen is panicking, his or her critical thinking abilities are greatly inhibited. As such, the people in question become far more susceptible to strongly nationalistic messages or to the “selling points” put forth by various pseudo-charismatic political leaders who brand themselves as the iron hand the country needs to ensure the safety of its citizens.
In our view, on the contrary, this crisis can represent an “outside the box” thinking opportunity in terms of re-calibrating international relations through solidarity. For example, China itself has implemented measures to that effect, from teams of experts sent to various affected nations such as Italy to actions taken by influential Chinese business people such as Jack Ma, who generously donated anything from simple masks to ventilators and protective equipment to countries where there was a clear shortage of such products.
On the other hand, the opposite is sometimes true, for example the various conspiracy theories put forth by more or less controlled media outlets, conspiracy theories revolving around ideas such as Covid-19 being created by American or let’s say Western interest groups, with the intention of crippling the Chinese economy. Again, excesses on all sides need to be curbed because in today’s remarkably complicated economic as well as geopolitical landscape, the last thing an already vulnerable system of international relations needs is additional suspicion or even downright hatred.
At the end of the day, calamities such as the one humanity is currently facing bring about both the best and the worst in us. From examples of positive behavior such as generous donations of both money/products (the Jack Ma example and many others) and time (for example, those who offer to take care of shopping for elderly citizens so that they do not place themselves at risk) to examples of selfishness which range from hoarding (covered through a dedicated article) and price gauging.
Realistically speaking, embracing solidarity is the only way to go.
Unfortunately, it is easier said than done, even within the European Union to give an example of a group of deeply interconnected nations, with it taking a considerable amount of time until a coherent common strategy was set in motion. If consensus on the matter is even difficult to reach within the European Union, it should come as no surprise that “exporting” solidarity represents a Herculean task, especially when it comes to the relations between let’s call them economic adversaries such as the United States and China or even military adversaries such as the United States and Iran.
Time will ultimately tell whether leaders have embraced wisdom or increased isolationism. As painful as it is to state this, we need to understand that the Covid-19 situation represents a textbook perfect storm situation for a system of international relations which was already dealing with clear isolationist tendencies, whether we are referring to China (to provide an Asian example), the United States (an American continent example), Hungary (a European Union example) and a wide range of more or less influential geopolitical actors.
The risk of said isolationist tendencies being exacerbated by a generalized state of fear and mistrust should not be underestimated because therein lies the key to understanding what the future of globalization is likely to represent… or, to be more blunt, whether or not globalization even has a future anymore. We obviously hope as well as believe that the latter scenario will not manifest itself but at the same time, owe it to ourselves as well as our (potential and existing) clients to take this threat very seriously. Should you be interested in doing the same and require our assistance, the ChinaFund.com team can be reached by sending a message through the Contact section of our website.