Coronavirus: The Death of Globalization or its Revival?
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, March 12
Is this the end of globalization? This is the question we were supposed to discuss in a symposium in Paris this week before the government ordered us to quarantine ourselves to our homes, at least for the next 15 days. The concept of globalization first entered our lives when cheap goods made by low-paid workers in China began flooding global markets stretching from Tokyo to Timbuktu. Thus, if globalization is to end, it is only symbolic that it ends with a Chinese meltdown in the form of coronavirus. Before globalization, what was happening in China reached the rest of the world only as a distant echo. Less than three decades later, China has become fully integrated into everyday life of the Western world, turning into an economic superpower that influences and shapes world markets. While at the start of globalization, the Chinese economy represented only 3% of global GDP, today China’s share has risen to about 20%. China has established itself as a major manufacturing center in the world, and for two decades it has contributed to reducing inflation and achieving economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty on all continents. To date, the model chosen by China is closest to the model of the Netherlands during its empire-building period – that is, focusing on business, trade and orientation away from politics, whether domestically or internationally, in contrast to the British and French colonial strategies, which placed political dominance at the top of the national agenda. However, there are indications that China might devise a new strategy in which it combines more militant political domination at home with a larger projection of power abroad. Is China going the way that European colonial powers followed after the Berlin conference? The best answer is that even if China adopts such a strategy, it will not be able to implement it. At the Berlin conference, European colonial powers coupled their pursuit of security abroad with democratization at home. In China today, we are witnessing a different formation: Amongst all of its neighbors, China is increasing insecurity through its aggressive power projection. However, it is increasingly clear that a global pandemic cannot be dealt with by local efforts alone, and that greater resource mobilization is needed to save the most isolated communities from complete disaster. Global cooperation is also needed to accelerate vaccine development and make them available to rich and poor alike. This goes without mentioning the need for global cooperation to deal with the economic consequences of the pandemic, which could prove to be the most serious crisis since the 1920s. I believe it is too soon to announce the death of globalization. The current crisis might actually push us to revive it, not only in the context of trade and economics but also in the context of ethical, cultural and political issues, which have been left off the table to date. The unprecedented situation brought upon us by this virus is a reminder that we are all part of one interrelated global community. Indeed, a regional crisis in rural China can inadvertently bring down the entire Western world. – Amir Taheri (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)