Coronavirus and the way forward for globalization – The Diplomat
The coronavirus has been relentless and raged beyond China and East Asia, including Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia to devour Italy and Europe, North America and Central and South America. The latest numbers show more than 200,000 confirmed cases with more than 8,000 deaths. China had the most fatalities, with more than 3,100 dead, but the number is rising rapidly in Italy. The world went into crisis mode when WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the novel coronavirus epidemic a “pandemic” on March 11th.
The rise of the liberal international order has been an important factor in the growing cross-border movement of people, be it for supply chains and distribution networks, international finance and cash flows, employment, study or tourism. But this globalization has also allowed the whole world to become much more aware of the spread of the coronavirus, and it could ultimately be a powerful force in its own downfall.
The globalization coin has two sides. On the positive side, the cross-border flow of people, goods, money and information creates new wealth and new opportunities. On the negative side, however, it can exacerbate global disparities, enable international terrorism and cross-border crime, and enable the rapid spread of disease.
We saw this latter effect with the SARS outbreak in 2003, but compared to the beginning of this century, cross-border passenger traffic has increased dramatically, and the rate at which this novel coronavirus was spreading was of an entirely different magnitude.
Countries around the world are now reacting by restricting passenger traffic, blocking the entry of people from countries particularly badly affected by the coronavirus or obliging incoming travelers to self-quarantine for a certain period of time. Of course, once the pandemic has subsided, these restrictions will be lifted. But with this new awareness of the risks associated with the free movement of people, there are some who avoid future life, business, or leisure plans that require crossing boundaries.
The coronavirus pandemic in particular is having a devastating impact on businesses and businesses that have benefited from the economic interdependence supported by cross-border supply chains. China is the world’s largest manufacturing base and the heart of many supply chains. Since the coronavirus outbreak, many companies that had become dependent on China have been hit hard. Meanwhile, the tourism sectors of Japan and many other countries, which have benefited from the large influx of Chinese tourists in recent years, have been hit hard by the falling incoming numbers. The challenge for the manufacturing and tourism industries in many countries is how to reduce their dependence on China and the Chinese people.
Indeed, the need can go beyond China. From a risk analysis point of view, we were able to identify at least a rapid trend towards a relocation of globally distributed production sites back to domestic plants. Of course, the tourism industry is unlikely to stop paying attention to international arrivals. However, many in the industry may need to start working on initiatives to increase domestic demand.
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In short, compared to the 30 years of globalization since the end of the Cold War, national borders could become less permeable to industry and passenger traffic, with sharper dividing lines between home and abroad and a move away from dependence on international relations.
It is worrying that this trend towards strengthening national borders has already manifested itself in a number of countries. Brexit, increasing populism, accompanied by xenophobic sentiment in several European countries, and the America-first policy of the Trump administration were fueled by a sense of increasing disparity and the increasing burden on certain sections of the population as a result of advancing globalization.
The liberal international order has already suffered a few blows, physical and psychological national borders have become more rigid than before. Even in Asia, domestic political pressures are mounting with increasing nationalism, which emphasizes the superiority of a country’s ethnic and religious majority, such as the increasing oppression of the Uyghurs and other minorities and attempts to block the free flow of information in China or the rising Hindu Nationalism in India.
Joining these trends – less porous borders and increasing nationalism – is now joining the border closings due to the spread of the coronavirus. The result can be a development towards a more isolated world, in which national borders restrict the scope for social action.
The challenge is to steer the liberal international order in a healthy direction by regulating and mitigating the burdens of globalization. Indeed, this will require greater international cooperation. The coronavirus threat has created an exceptional situation, but once we have recovered, it is critical that we put in place mechanisms to respond to disease through effective international collaboration without falling victim to myopic ethnocentrism in the process of returning to normal to fall.
At the same time, we must work to address problems such as the social and economic inequalities caused by globalization. Failure to do so could result in countries with narrow-minded nationalism thinking increasingly turning inward.
Mie Oba is a professor at Tokyo University of Science.