As we approach flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections, many have begun to speculate about the post-coronavirus world. It is very much certain that “the reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus,” as stated by Henry Kissinger. But the contours of the new world are barely visible and may well be an idle fantasy to make any prediction.
The transition will be managed by the winners of the virus war, just as the winners of World War II cast the horoscope of the post-World War era. Like the architects of the fading era, the builders of the new era too will not be able to control or even predict the course of history. Additionally, no one knows yet where the pandemic will leave the world and what the demographic composition of the world will be at that time. Futurologists and even the garrulous godmen are on a lockdown today.
The most crucial question is whether China will emerge as a hero or a villain at the end of the contagion. The evidence so far is that China is guilty of having suppressed the facts for several months, if it has not generated the virus as a biological weapon. Many lives would have been saved if only the world was alerted to the grave danger facing humanity. China is definitely trying to step into the vacuum created by the withdrawal of the US from the leadership of the world. The European Union (EU) is hardly in a position to resist the Chinese. By reopening the supply chain, China is strengthening its economic power and by helping various countries, it is also establishing its political influence. But much depends on the verdict of the investigation about Chinese culpability which is proceeding in the laboratories of the world.
The mishandling of the health crisis and the decline in the economy have undermined the standing of the US internationally, but it is premature to dismiss the US as a declining power. It is true that the US share of global economic output has been decreasing and the US is expected to lose its status as the world’s largest economy to China. But the US has some inherent strengths, which enabled it to stage a recovery in 2010 after the financial crisis. Even after the gross mismanagement of the coronavirus, the US economy might hold its place in the world hierarchy. Much depends on the outcome of the US Presidential elections in November. If Joe Biden wins, the US may be able to recover even faster.
Gain for Russia
The loss of solidarity of the EU began with Brexit and the member countries were left to fend for themselves to face the grave corona crisis. This has been a great gain to Russia and that explained the Russian support to China in the UN Security Council. Russia took the position that the Security Council had no mandate to even discuss the issue as it was not a threat to peace or a breach of the peace and danger to international peace and security.
The question being asked is whether, in a situation of the weakening of the three pillars of the present global order, India has a window of opportunity somewhere to enhance its standing and be of help to the new global order. We have been very careful in keeping a steady relationship with the US, China and the EU, in spite of various provocations. We continue to be champions of multilateralism and regionalism. The first initiative for international cooperation was taken by India when a virtual conference of SAARC, which India had abandoned on account of Pakistan’s intransigence, was held. The meeting of the G-20 was also inspired by India. More than anything else, India’s record of fighting the virus has been creditable with the low rate of infections and mortality. The supply of medicines and medical supplies on request have also been appreciated. All these positive factors cannot but have a salutary effect on India’s standing. The western press continues to see religious discrimination in the battle against the virus, but nothing succeeds like success.
The Indian diaspora is the only empire on which the sun never sets. It has been the backbone of Indian development for several decades. The Indian diaspora has been helpful not only in economic advancement, but also in gaining political influence to protect Indian interests abroad. The corona pandemic, however, has the potential not only to create disharmony between India and the diaspora, but also to disrupt the relations with the Gulf countries, the US and the UK. India has to exercise extreme caution in handling this issue for the sake of maintaining its present standing.
There is a general sense that since the US, China and the EU may not be able to provide the leadership to a new world over, other countries have to step in and make an effort. The former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has proposed a “Multilateral 7” consisting of Germany, France, the EU, Japan, Canada, the UK and Singapore to make an effort. They should pool the diplomatic and financial resources necessary to advance an agenda of keeping as much of the current multilateral system as functional as possible until global geopolitics achieves a new equilibrium. “Indeed, they could become the thin blue line that, for the interim at least, protects us against an increasingly anarchic world,” he said. Of course he has included only whites and “honorary whites” like Japan and Singapore. In fact, India is more qualified than others to be a leader of this group.
India has been advocating a multipolar world for balancing international relations in an equitable manner. In the present churning of the world on account of an unprecedented crisis, we may expect a strengthening of India’s claim to be a strong pole in an emerging global order.