By: Cindy Lin
Senior Editor | Politics and the World
The world is reeling from the onslaught of the coronavirus outbreak. Vis-à-vis some of the most acrimonious international sentiments since the Cold War, geopolitical tensions are on the rise and inching towards a catastrophic climax. Hollywood and academia alike would have predicted that facing a pandemic would bring humanity together. Instead, COVID-19 has only succeeded in driving us further apart. Amongst the most hard-hit victims of this antipathy is world trade, globalization, and diplomacy.
The WTO has slashed estimates for world trade this year, projecting that it will decline from anywhere between 13 to 32 percent due to the coronavirus. Globalization, once the quintessence of modern economic prosperity, has been subjected to severe criticism amidst the pandemic. Fringe claims inciting belligerence towards the Eastern hemisphere has left the entire world fragmented in its wake.
There are alarming implications of deteriorating international relations in both the short run and long run. The growing animosity between global powers will not only stymie countries’ competencies to respond resiliently to the virus, but also set the world down a dangerous path of stagnated economic growth and deleterious trade policies.
The widening wealth schism exacerbates political volatility
At the beginning of the pandemic, the exodus of residents from affluent neighbourhoods to secondary rural homes foreshadowed the disproportional impact the virus would have on different wealth classes. From New York to London, metropolitan cities with more prominent wealth gaps and an economic reliance on global connectivity are suffering the worst mortality rates.
The strained socioeconomic divide is now fuelling the rush to action against globalization—a hyper-nationalist cry to restrict domestic wealth in the post-pandemic economy. Yet, the purported outcomes of such protectionist measures are not likely to yield what the economy needs. Instead, studies have demonstrated that open-border policies are necessary in economic recovery: globalization reduces poverty and inequality.
The scramble for an adequate solution, along with a newfound awareness of this acute wealth disparity, creates frustration—a sentiment which was already aggravated by the rise of the machine age. These perilous conditions have set the stage for demagogues to take the podium—leaders who are pushing pernicious agendas in the stead of accepting international cooperation as a necessary condition for successfully managing the aftermath of the virus.
Partisanship and demagogues tear apart the chauvinistic West
The West’s crisis response has fallen short of the world’s expectations. Instead of assuming leadership, certain countries have taken to pointing fingers and scapegoating outside powers. The disconcerting truth is that it is not the rest of the world that has failed us. The culprits are from within: flawed political leadership and partisanship.
The nation that was once seen as the first mover in the modern age is now a laggard. After fumbling its crisis response, the Trump administration only continues to aggravate the world. The President recently curtailed visas that would have allowed hundreds of thousands of foreigners to work in the U.S., a move opposed by many in the business world. The very same administration also gave formal notice of the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which will be effective next July. Furthermore, a recent U.S. research study conducted on the impact of political beliefs affecting compliance with public health safety orders has concluded that bipartisan support is necessary in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Despite this, the polarization of the U.S. electorate is more prominent than ever.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the E.U. is also facing challenges in coming together to effectively address the virus. Its members cannot agree on what they want nor how reform should be brought about. Faced with the rising debt levels in Italy, subsidies affecting continental supply chains, and controversial legal decisions, the E.U. continues to struggle as a splintered decision-making corpus.
The solution to the West’s struggles is a simple one. Rather than divergence, the world needs coalescence: a reinvigorated approach to international collaboration and détente in a post-Cold War era.
International cooperation must pave the path forward
The crisis has revealed the political fractures and fissures in the system—flaws that were already present long before the pandemic, but have recently come to light in a disturbing manner due to the coronavirus. If left unchecked, the world will face painful consequences in pursuing a dangerous course of action: one of protectionism and international hostility.
The tit-for-tat battle between the U.S. and China, with all its pomp and circumstance, has undermined the world GDP. From the Huawei legal war to the closure of China’s consulate in Houston, it is evident that the world is veering off the edge of a dangerous geopolitical game. If we wish to avoid a second Cold War, governments’ skepticism of globalization and approach to cross-border compromise needs to change. After all, the world is entering an unprecedented era of interconnectivity, which has only been amplified by emerging technologies. The pandemic is merely underscoring the necessity of international cooperation.
It is time for governments to sober up. The people are bullish for change—the world must work together to bring it.