Crises come in two variants: those for which we could not have prepared, because no one had anticipated them, and those for which we should have been prepared, because they were in fact expected. COVID-19 is in the latter category, no matter what US President Donald Trump says to avoid responsibility for the unfolding catastrophe. Even though the coronavirus itself is new and the timing of the current outbreak could not have been predicted, it was well recognized by experts that a pandemic of this type was likely.
SARS, MERS, H1N1, Ebola, and other outbreaks had provided ample warning. Fifteen years ago, the World Health Organization revised and upgraded the global framework for responding to outbreaks, trying to fix perceived shortcomings in the global response experienced during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
In 2016, the World Bank launched a Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility to provide assistance to low-income countries in the face of cross-border health crises. Most glaringly, just a few months before COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, a US government report cautioned the Trump administration about the likelihood of a flu pandemic on the scale of the influenza epidemic a hundred years ago, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
No one should expect the pandemic to alter – much less reverse – tendencies that were evident before the crisis. Neoliberalism will continue its slow death, populist autocrats will become even more authoritarian, and the left will continue to struggle to devise a program that appeals to a majority of voters.
Just like climate change, COVID-19 was a crisis waiting to happen. The response in the United States has been particularly disastrous. Trump downplayed the severity of the crisis for weeks. By the time infections and hospitalizations began to soar, the country found itself severely short of test kits, masks, ventilators, and other medical supplies.
The US did not request test kits made available by the WHO, and failed to produce reliable tests early on. Trump declined to use his authority to requisition medical supplies from private producers, forcing hospitals and state authorities to scramble and compete against one another to secure supplies.
Delays in testing and lockdowns have been costly in Europe as well, with Italy, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom paying a high price. Some countries in East Asia have responded a lot better. South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong appear to have controlled the spread of the disease through a combination of testing, tracing, and strict quarantine policies.
Interesting contrasts have emerged within countries as well. In northern Italy, Veneto has done much better than nearby Lombardy, largely owing to more comprehensive testing and earlier imposition of travel restrictions. In the US, the neighboring states of Kentucky and Tennessee reported their first cases of COVID-19 within a day of each other. By the end of March, Kentucky had only a quarter of the number of cases as Tennessee, because the state acted much more quickly to declare a state of emergency and close down public accommodations.
For the most part, though, the crisis has played out in ways that could have been anticipated from the prevailing nature of governance in different countries. Trump’s incompetent, bumbling, self-aggrandizing approach to managing the crisis could not have been a surprise, as lethal as it has been. Likewise, Brazil’s equally vain and mercurial president, Jair Bolsonaro, has, true to form, continued to downplay the risks.
On the other hand, it should come as no surprise that governments have responded faster and more effectively where they still command significant public trust, such as in South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan.
China’s response was typically Chinese: suppression of information about the prevalence of the virus, a high degree of social control, and a massive mobilization of resources once the threat became clear. Turkmenistan has banned the word “coronavirus,” as well as the use of masks in public. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has capitalized on the crisis by tightening his grip on power, by disbanding parliament after giving himself emergency powers without time limit.
The crisis seems to have thrown the dominant characteristics of each country’s politics into sharper relief. Countries have in effect become exaggerated versions of themselves. This suggests that the crisis may turn out to be less of a watershed in global politics and economics than many have argued. Rather than putting the world on a significantly different trajectory, it is likely to intensify and entrench already-existing trends.
Momentous events such as the current crisis engender their own “confirmation bias”: we are likely to see in the COVID-19 debacle an affirmation of our own worldview. And we may perceive incipient signs of a future economic and political order we have long wished for.
So, those who want more government and public goods will have plenty of reason to think the crisis justifies their belief. And those who are skeptical of government and decry its incompetence will also find their prior views confirmed. Those who want more global governance will make the case that a stronger international public-regime health could have reduced the costs of the pandemic.
And those who seek stronger nation-states will point to the many ways in which the WHO seem to have mismanaged its response (for example, by taking China’s official claims at face value, opposing travel bans, and arguing against masks).
A Wary Chinese Dragon and a Reluctant Lebanese Government
Since China’s historic “Belt and Road” initiative was announced in 2013, several countries in the region, including Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, have raised the question of moving east in order to benefit from this massive initiative, which is expected to break the vicious cycle of crises that these countries have been mired in for decades.
The Chinese initiative aims to connect China to Europe by constructing billions of dollars of infrastructure along the Silk Road. Ports, highways, railroads, and industrial zones are all included in this initiative. More than 120 countries are involved in this massive Chinese project, which aims to increase China’s exports to the world’s major markets.
On December 31, 1955, China and Lebanon signed a trade agreement in order to develop the goodwill between the peoples of Lebanon and China via commercial relations and economic cooperation between their two nations, on the basis of equal and mutually beneficial advantages. China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, which aims to connect Asia, Europe, and Africa via land and sea trade routes, is based on the idea that these connections are mutually beneficial to all parties involved.
The initiative is based on open collaboration and does not engage in protectionism; is devoted to mutual benefit and win-win and does not engage in a zero-sum game; moreover it does not interfere with politics. It doesn’t create new laws; instead, abide with international conventions.
Agreements on “joint promotion” were signed by the Chinese government and the Lebanese government in September 2017 to promote cooperation in this area. According to the Memorandum of Understanding, both countries will work together in areas of mutual interest such as transportation and logistics; infrastructure development; investments in renewable energy; and cross-cultural exchange.
Prior to the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding, the two countries signed numerous agreements in various fields, including the Maritime Transport Agreement (1996), the Activation and Protection of Mutual Investments (1997), the Economic, Commercial and Technical Cooperation Agreements (1997-2016), the Civil Air Transport Agreement (1997), a cultural agreement (2002-2005), and several agreements in this field that resulted on December 2, 2019 in laying the foundation stone for this Memorandum of Understanding.
Despite the growing ties between Lebanon and China, the Lebanese have yet to make a decision on whether to move east, more specifically to China, or keep the strong ties and bonds with western governments, such as the US and France, for political reasons related to the sectarian system, as well as economic and commercial interests of some actors or parties active in these areas.
When it comes to Lebanon’s relationship with China, some have shifted the focus from economics to politics, either by advocating a complete shift of the country’s economic focus from the United States to China, or by warning about the potential consequences of expanding relations with the Chinese side. In both circumstances, the connection shifts from national interests to ideological advantages. The Arab countries and Lebanon have never had an issue with China, neither in trade, culture, or politics; China has dozens of major projects in many Arab countries without these countries turning to the east or fearing any US encroachment.
China also contributes to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, in addition to its cultural, educational, and artistic agreements with Lebanon. We can see the positive return of the partnership with China in the tremendous progress in technological projects and infrastructure in Egypt, for example; or Algeria’s ports; Morocco’s industrial sector; Kuwait’s oil and communications industries; Saudi Arabia’s oil and communications industries; and the United Arab Emirates’ energy and agriculture industries.
“Sanctions were not threatened against Lebanon because of China’s growing trade ties with Lebanon, which amount to nearly $2 billion a year in exports to Lebanon compared to barely $60 million in industrial exports from Lebanon to China,” the American side said.
China is a powerhouse with the second-largest economy in the world, whereas Lebanon is a small nation with economic difficulties and a big trade imbalance. On the other hand, it is situated in a strategic location that allows it to serve as a gateway between the Middle East and Europe. So, there is the potential for significant economic and commercial entanglements between China and Lebanon, which might be beneficial to both nations.
More than ten billion dollars’ worth of development projects, including cleaning the Litani River and resolving the country’s electricity crisis were offered to Lebanon’s government by China. Other offers included getting China to participate in the oil and gas sector, turning Lebanon into a Chinese regional financial centre, and expanding the port at Tripoli. Because the United States has rejected any involvement for China in Lebanon, the Lebanese side was not enthusiastic about these initiatives.
Chinese ties with the Middle East are based on mutual benefit, common gain, cooperative growth and a win-win situation. China does not attempt to exert influence in the region. On the other hand, China’s new Ambassador to Lebanon, Qian Minjian, notes that Lebanon’s government and political parties have expressed a positive willingness to deepen practical cooperation with China within the Belt and Road Initiative framework; he stresses that the Chinese side always seeks to cooperate with Lebanon within the Belt and Road Initiative, with a commitment to do so.
Chinese and Lebanese diplomatic relations began in 1971, but commercial ties between the two countries date back to 1955, when the first trade agreement was signed between them, noting that these relations date back more than two thousand years ago.
Those who downplay China’s global economic, technological, and financial influence in contrast to the growing American influence and refuse to support Lebanon’s expansion or deepening of its ties with China on this pretext do not provide clear or logical answers about international expectations that China will hold the top economic position in the world. China’s strategic Belt and Road Initiative will have drawn dozens of countries and thousands of globally successful institutions and companies by 2030, parallel to the success of the United States and its Western allies in preventing this project from launching and progressing despite the campaigns they launched to stop it. As a result, the media and propaganda are likely to disparage it and doubt its merits for the countries participating in it.
Lebanon failed to accept or consider the Chinese offers or projects presented to it. Based on its long and distinguished history of relations with China in the economic, commercial, cultural and technical fields, and in order to avoid repeating Iraq’s failed experience in repudiating a strategic partnership agreement with China under the influence of the US; therefore, the Lebanese government should be more aware in dealing with the Chinese in the future and not miss more opportunities.
When there are objections or reservations about the interests of monopolistic powers and activities or external political demands, especially American ones, this means more political and economic confusion in Lebanon and a waste of a historical opportunity that may not be repeated while Arab or foreign alternatives remain conditioned by suspicious political demands, in addition to its lack of transparency and waving a new colonial era as a matter of economics.
China-Russia Statement: A quest for diversity
On February 4, on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a Joint Statement on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development. It is a rather lengthy document, outlining common approaches of China and Russia to some of the most fundamental issues of the modern world including regional and worldwide security, democracy and political inclusion, social justice and climate change, arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, national sovereignty and multilateralism.
It is not surprising that this statement has received a lot of criticism coming from Western media. Beijing and Moscow have repeatedly been accused of forging an “alliance of autocracies” threatening the West. US and European journalists, experts and politicians argue the Chinese and Russian leaders demonstrated that they do not really care about human rights or democratic institutions, do not tolerate any dissenting views or political opposition and aim to maintain their legitimacy primarily on the basis of economic security and nationalistic pride.
There is hardly anything new in these critical comments. However, the logic of Western opinion-makers deserves a closer look.
First, by labeling the two countries “global autocracies” such opinions already reveal a superficial approach of their authors. China and Russia are two very different nations; each of the two has its unique political traditions and culture, each has its own approach to managing dissent and opposition, dealing with internet and social media, integrating ethnic and religious minorities. China and Russia are like a whale and an elephant, to put them into one basket of “global autocracies” is a very questionable and misleading generalization, to say the least.
Second, there is nothing in the joint statement that would give reasons to believe that China and Russia are eager to launch an ideological war against liberal Western democracies or to question the right of the West to stick to political systems that have evolved in Western countries over the last two or three centuries. The statement underscores only the obvious: No country, and no political party or movement has the ultimate answers to all the difficult questions of social development.
Therefore, there should be no hierarchy or subordination among states on the basis of how they organize their political and social lives. This, however, does not imply that there are no universal human rights, which all the states have to honor and protect. Such universal rights do exist, but they should be defined by the international community at large, not by a small group of countries proclaiming themselves as “model” democracies.
Third, China and Russia maintain that the main dividing line in modern politics is not the one between “democracies” and “autocracies,” as are often presented in the West, but rather between “order” and “disorder.” The key challenge of global politics today, as seen from Beijing and from Moscow, is about enhancing global governance within the increasingly heterogenic world. To meet this formidable challenge, the international community should regard and accept its growing diversity as an asset, not a liability. Politicians and state leaders should focus on inclusive, not exclusive, mechanisms regulating specific dimensions of global and regional economics and politics.
This is why both China and Russia expressed their firm opposition to blocks and situational coalitions based on ideological principles and aimed at marginalizing, if not containing, other international players. This opposition relates not only to such defense alliances like NATO or AUKUS, but also to more amorphous structures like Quad.
Turning ideology into the main principle defining the emerging new world order would be a strategic mistake with long-term implications for all of us. If ideological divisions prevail, conquer the public and get reflected in national strategies and doctrines, these divisions will become a formidable obstacle on the way to uniting the humankind around common problems and common public goods. The weeds should be rooted out before they grow too high.
Global Socio-Economic Impact of Covid-19
The Pandemic originating from Wuhan China has enveloped the whole world and the catastrophe caused by covid-19 is beyond speculation. Schools, Colleges, Universities and business are closed for an indefinite period and the World has gone into self-isolation while the countries imposed lockdown in the world in the severely hit areas to contain the outbreak at massive scale.
The pandemic has affected all the countries especially China, France, Italy, Germany, US, UK, Iran, Egypt and third world countries i.e Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and some African countries.
There are some countries which are severely impacted socially and economically while some countries have sustained moderate impact owing to taking timely preventive measures as per circulated guidelines of WHO and Local Health ministries of respective Countries.
With President Donald Trump clipping the wings of UN’s apex health body by cutting the financial support amid the Global Pandemic, the catastrophe is expected to go from bad to worse as WHO will experience the funds’ shortage that will ultimately contribute to a deep humanitarian crisis.
The world posts a bleak picture already as all business activities have been suspended, the markets have been closed for an indefinite period, the stock markets crashed and the unemployment ratio suddenly jumped to historical high due to covid-19 Pandemic. Even OPEC members have decided to cut the oil production given the pandemic situation.
The Global economy has been severely impacted by the shocks of the deadly virus that prompted companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Face book, Twitter to ask their employees to work from home to avoid contracting Covid-19.
All the industries have been impacted badly that include entertainment, Sports, food franchise has completely shutdown creating panicking situation all around as once busiest streets and markets have started presenting deserted look.
This global economic warrants that if the early remedy to cure covid-19 is not discovered, the future will be dreadful to predict. The mighty economies such as China, the US, France, Italy, UK, Germany has been seriously impacted by this deadly virus. The situation is haunting the people around the world, bringing misery of greater proportion as compared to Word War II, Ebola, SARS, MERS, Plage and Yaws.
The Daily Wage workers, Private workers, drivers, hawkers, shop keepers and thousands of similar workers have lost their jobs and the opportunity to earn their livelihood. The companies have preferred work from home option for their employees to limit the outbreak and avoid contracting covid-19.
It is alarming that hundreds of workers have filed as unemployed. The lengthy lockdowns have created serious humanitarian and economic crises and the experts are of the view that the circumstances are fast moving towards the global recessions and may take a long time to recover from this catastrophe.
Though China has been able to contain Covid-19 and even lifted restrictions on outgoing flights with some strict SOPs, yet the Covid 19 seems to be an invisible predator waiting for its prey regardless of any region. The virus has impacted all the zones i.e with the cooler, hotter or moderate atmosphere.
The only solution to fight this pandemic is social distancing, maintaining the hygienic environment and avoiding crowdy spaces. The Governments around the world have imposed strict lockdowns and the frontline fighters (Health workers) around the world doing a marvellous job to protect their fellowmen even at the cost of falling prey to this deadly virus.
While fighting this pandemic. Many health workers have been tested positive. Even, some frontline soldiers lost their fight to this pandemic and laid down their lives to secure the future of their respective country.
Education is being imparted through digital platforms as online education is increasing for students. Though students are facing some issues such as the connectivity, Sound quality, Video Quality, yet in this emergency, the Schools, Colleges, Universities and other online course websites are striving to provide some light of Knowledge in these difficult times.
The booming industries such as restaurants, hotels, motels and Aviation have been closed for an indefinite period.
Unfortunately, despite 151598 deaths worldwide and over 2.21 Million confirmed cases covid-19, all eyes are hooked towards the discovery of vaccine to treat the patients and save their lives. At the moment, only plasma therapy is being conducted and some common medicines are being used such as cough, flu fever-related medicine.
Though human trials have been started by some Pharmaceutical companies, the experts are of the view that it may take one and half year for the vaccine to be available in the market. It is also estimated to be the costliest vaccine ever keeping in view its global implications and rapid speed of pandemic spread in the world.
It is estimated that Europe, Asia, Middle East to suffer a lot especially, Italy, France, UK, Iran and US as the ratio of deaths is higher than other countries especially US where average deaths per days have surpassed all other nations that prompted Trump to cut funding to world health Organization accusing it of mishandling the pandemic and delayed response to mitigate its implication while WHO head has refuted the allegations.
The covid-19 has also impacted Sports, News & Media, Entertainment and Services Industries to the extent that. All the sporting events have been suspended, series and Leagues have been rescheduled and big events such as PSL, IPL, FIFA World Cup, Olympics Games and others have been completely cancelled raising concerns among the players. Even the players are facing the trauma having travel history to the epicentre of Covid-19 Pandemic and tested positive.
The Entertainment industry has been heavily impacted as all the dramas, Films and comedy shooting and recording has been postponed till indefinite period and all the events including concerts have cancelled due to covid-19 and actors have lost the source of living.
Finally, the Print and Electronic Media are partially impacted though they are a very vulnerable community as they have been busy in coverage of the pandemic around the world and are prone to contracting the deadly virus due to close contact with Patients at Quarantine Centres and the Health specialists working at the hospital and temporary health centres specially set up for an emergency.
The Print Media has been hit hard as people consider it risky to read a Print copy of newspapers over covid-19 fears and prefer paper or online edition of the newspapers. Hence, such a trend has impacted the Newspaper Sales badly.
On the other hand, electronic media such as News Channels, Radio and Digital Media such as Websites, YouTube are grabbing people’ attention.
The Social Media is also buzzing with Covid-19 updates though Social Media and Silicon Valley companies have asked their employees to work from home and follow the preventive measures these include Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and Search Giant Google.
The world should be united to fight this global pandemic that is haunting the world. The US should release funds to help WHO work effectively for global health and expedite the process of vaccine discovery as each day will deprive the near and dear ones of the families around the world. With collaborative efforts, the world can win this war against the pandemic.
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