If there is one thing the Covid-19 situation has made clear, it’s that more attention needs to be paid to the large-scale disaster preparedness and management dimension. In other words, to the manner in which countries are prepared to tackle proverbial white as well as black swans, whether we are referring to a virus and the 2020 case study or to anything else, from earthquakes to volcano eruptions or solar flares.
Are countries ready to act?
In theory, yes.
Practically speaking, for reasons which revolve around anything from bureaucratic constraints to civil obedience or lack thereof, we are looking at a relatively wide spectrum in terms of how things are likely to unfold on a country to country basis, as the Covid-19 case study made clear. To put it differently, there is a world of difference between the aggressive manner in which things were ultimately handled in China and, for example, the Belgian approach.
For quite a few reasons, such as:
- The fact that the willingness of governments to act in a decisive to the point of brutal manner differs from country to country. As such, things get complicated when one nation or another is confronted with the relatively tricky decision of having to figure out whether it is politically feasible to enact (otherwise effective… and therein lies the tricky part) measures which risk being perceived as going against human rights. It should be clear to anyone who has been following our work where China stands but when it comes to let’s say European Union nations such as Belgium, let’s just say the authorities think not twice but ten times before embarking on such a journey
- The fact that the tolerance of the average individual when it comes to measures which threaten their human rights also differs. Once again, it should be obvious that the average Chinese citizen tends to be more tolerant of brutally harsh approaches than a more trigger-happy population that quickly protests and engages in civil disobedience
- The fact that healthcare systems differ sometimes dramatically, on a case to case basis. For example, when it comes to ultra-straightforward due to being ultra-centralized healthcare systems such as China’s, it is relatively straightforward to simply implement a political decision, for example one which has to do with mass Covid-19 testing. In other jurisdictions such as the United States, on the other hand, it can take a while to do the same due to the complicated public-private dance as far as its healthcare system is concerned. Eventually, the US itself went from charging $1,400 for a test to making widespread testing available but it was anything but quick and simple, with the situation as far as other nations are concerned being somewhere in-between
- The fact that, frankly, it takes quite a bit of money to act in a decisive manner… money that not all countries have. As such, we can spend the entire day tweeting about how important it is to take action quickly, but it won’t change the fact that some of the world’s poorer nations simply do not have the resources it takes to pull it off. As such, including them in the equation when it comes to calamities that affect the entire world and which should be kept in check everywhere might not be the worst idea in the world
… the list could go on and on.
All in all, it should be quite obvious that China can “afford” to act in a decisive manner more so than most nations and when using the term in question, we are referring to anything from being able to pull it off financially to being able to pull it off politically. Other nations aren’t in the same position and therefore, it is quite unlikely that we will ever be in a position to handle calamities such as the Covid-19 one in a let’s call it harmonious manner.
One can simply not export the Chinese approach to Belgium, for example. The same way, no matter how much political initiative there is, the economic dimension stands in the way when it comes to other nations and the list could go on and on.
What are the implications of this reality?
As always… complex, from obvious economic ones to the geopolitical dimension. For example, China has undoubtedly managed to score enough let’s call them geopolitical points by proving that it was capable to keep the crisis contained, with many observers even willing to look the other way when it comes to the clear mistakes with respect to the manner in which the crisis was handled initially, with “whistleblowers” even being punished for spreading the word.
Furthermore, we have seen that China has also been willing to prove that it can be an active geopolitical player by sending teams of experts to affected areas so as to exchange notes and help countries such as Italy, which have dealt with harsh situations themselves and were able to learn from what China has done right as well as wrong.
The same way, the United States is also judged not exclusively based on the manner in which it manages to keep things contained at home but also based on the manner in which it is willing (or not) to reach out and help allies whenever necessary. As can be seen, even medical calamities ultimately end up having blatantly obvious geopolitical implications, with the “race” between the rising China and the United States (which is interested in conserving the geopolitical status quo) being more than apparent.
Strangely but fortunately enough, the crisis has also led to at least some kind of cooperation between the United States and China and the bottom line is this: the Covid-19 episode represented and continues to represent a crisis management case study involving China as well as pretty much every other nation, with the implications of various approaches having consequences which range from the usual suspects (economic consequences) to complex geopolitical ones.