Globalisation And COVID-19 Crisis
COVID-19 is a crisis that sent Pakistan’s plans for economic revival into tailspin. How this crisis will affect ‘One Belt One Road’ and China’s strategy to benefit from unfettered globalisation will determine how Pakistan will either suffer or recover in the long run, writes Umer Farooq.
A few days back a very honorable neighbor of mine—a well-connected media professional—was passing by my street while I was standing at my gate in Media Town, Islamabad. We are good friends since long. He paused for a moment in front of me, we exchanged greetings without hugging each other or shaking hands in deference to social distancing norms in the time of COVID-19 crisis, “Umer Sahib, this is clearly an international conspiracy, I can confirm this to you” he shouted from a distance.
This came out of the blue and obviously stunned me, “Who is the conspirator, Chinese or Americans?” I tried to probe him further. “Surely Americans…They are the one benefiting from it” he replied. I though it fit not to continue the conversation as I realised that he didn’t have much to add to what is clearly believed as gospel truth in social and political circles in Islamabad. In the absence of credible sources of information and layer upon layer of uncertainty and confusions, anyone with one ear close to the power corridors and another to the whispering campaign in the capital, would have believed what he was hearing repeatedly from multiple sources. COVID-19 crisis was forcibly making the house of cards of those in power in Pakistan crumbling before their eyes—if the pandemic is allowed to run its full course in Pakistani society, this will certainly make the edifice of power structures in Pakistani state and society crumble before our eyes. The future plans the past projects, manipulations, conspiracies, intrigues and making or breaking of power relations, all will crumble.
But what my neighbour was alluding to came directly from a page of confrontation between two super powers’ media and gossip managers. While American propagandists accuse China to be the source of this worldwide pandemic and ensuing mayhem, Chinese media mangers are leveling allegations against American CIA for inventing the virus and spreading it in the world. Pakistanis being highly anti-American and clearly pro-Chinese, the rumors that are believed in Pakistani society see American CIA to be the inventors of COVID-19 virus. While American policy makers clearly blame China as responsible for the spread of pandemic in the world as Chinese city Wuhan proved to be the epicenter of this disease. Chinese propagandists are no less aggressive in blaming American military and CIA to be the inventors of this Virus and further blamed them for implanting it in Chinese city.
My neighboir and friend didn’t show any familiarity with this background information during his brief conversation with me in the street where I reside.
However, the thoughts of Pakistan again finding itself in the middle of super power confrontation continued to disturb me for the next few days. How we so easily thrust ourselves into the whirlwind of super power rivalries is evident from Pakistan society siding with the Chinese in this rumors competition—this could be judged from the fact that, though, our society doesn’t have any immediate political requirement to believe in the propaganda of either side, and yet we take this rivalry to be like, let’s say, power demonstration in a wrestling match.
We enjoy the wrestling match, side with one wrestler, waste our energies in backing him up and don’t give a damn to the idea that we won’t get a share in the victory of either of the wrestler. One of the wrestlers—People Republic of China, of late, has been kind towards us and has been winking in our direction. The other wrestler is our erstwhile ally and believed to have always ditched us. But it is high time that we stop seeing the world affairs or precisely the present crisis as a wrestling match and stop behaving as spectators in a wrestling stadium.
If anything, these rising tensions indicate the growth of obstacles in the way of smooth functioning of the process of globalisation at the world stage. If Chinese and Americans don’t tolerate each other and are trying to win hearts and minds in weaker countries like Pakistan, it is a bad omen for globalisation—the process of globalisation requires tolerance, acceptance and integration between societies and people. Any type of antagonism and confrontation would be a bad sign for the process of globalisation. Pakistani power wielders should note that Pakistan’s future planning for economic revival is somehow linked to the spread of this process of globalisation.
World history or global history emerged in the course of human history when different geographical parts of the planet Earth got inter-connected through, trade, travel and military expansion. There are several stages in the process of global history to emerge—that includes discovery of America in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and discovery of Australia by another gentleman, Captain Cook.
These were the two stages, which permitted the linking of different geographical parts of the world through travel. Everyone has heard a lot about the process of globalisation that is underway in the world. This is a process, which allows the free flow of ideas, capital and labor across national borders throughout the world. World consists of more than 200 countries. These countries have borders. They have national governments. They have laws and the government to enforce those laws. No outsider can enter these countries without a valid travel document. Every country issues passports to its citizens for travelling to other countries. When any one wants to travel to another country from the country of its origin they go country’s embassy and apply for visa. So there is a whole legal process to travel across national borders. Similarly if you want to do business in another country you have to meet the legal requirements of that country.
Until 1989 the process of travel to other countries and doing business with other countries was very cumbersome. This was the year when Cold War ended. Cold war years were the worst for Pakistan foreign policy management—domestically we suffered political instability and in foreign relations we attracted the wrath of one or the other super power (the wrestlers of those days). Cold War was a competition between two super powers-USA and USSR. Both the super powers had blocks of countries as their allies. So it was a very tense situation without any type of active fighting these two super powers or the two blocks of countries, which were at the opposing ends in the Cold War. When this Cold War ended—when one of the Super Power— USSR—got dissolved—the travel restriction and restrictions on doing business between countries was eased drastically. This was the time when the process of globalisation was expedited tremendously. Economists describe globalisation to be comprising processes involving free flow of a) Ideas , b) Labor , C) Capital. The world was fast becoming a place where everything was connected to every other thing. Especially industrial processes and economies got inter-connected—Japan was producing electronic goods in Malaysia. China has cheap supply of Labor, therefore every rich country in the world wanted to deindustrialize and take their machinery to China for cheap production.
This inter-connectedness of the world was generating its own issues, which were global in nature. I mean travel increased the danger of diseases traveling from one part of the world to another through air travel. Dengue and COVID-19 are prime example.
China’s rise as a global economic giant was made possible by the export economy that it built to supply consumer products to westerns nations including United States and western European nations. So any confrontation between Beijing and Washington, which could lead to slow down of process of globalisation, will damage Chinese economy first before it could hit any other thing in the world. Chinese plan of “One Belt One Road” is designated to get maximum benefit from the high-speed globalisation that was underway in the world before the advent of COVID-19. Pakistan is one of the beneficiaries of “One Belt One Road” project and its power wielders have estimated that the financial and economic benefits of CPEC would allow them to continue on the path of being a security state for another two decades, if not more.
COVID-19 is a crisis that sent Pakistan’s plans for economic revival into tailspin. How this crisis will affect ‘One Belt One Road’ and China’s strategy to benefit from unfettered globalisation will determine how Pakistan will either suffer or recover in the long run.
So globalisation and Chinese plans to benefit from it are good for Pakistan’s economy and its revival. Any obstacle in the way of globalisation will have negative impact on Pakistan’s chance for revival. So it is not time to take sides in a wrestling match. It is time to protect your own society with the hope that globalisation will not suffer because of COVID-19 crisis.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.