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Ernest A. Reid

UCL SSEES alumni with Double MA (IMESS) Politics & Security, alumni of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, University of Belgrade and London Metropolitan University

“The world will never be the same after the Coronavirus” — these words uttered by International Relations veteran Henry Kissinger most certainly have substance behind them. Beyond the major impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the global economy and everyday life of people all over the world, it has also come to reveal new political realities. Efficiency in dealing with the new transnational threat became the new measure of worth. Who came out on top? Why? And what does it mean to the post-Corona world?

First of all, let us consider the figures showing total confirmed COVID-19 deaths around the world, which may serve as the ultimate indicator of how well various countries have dealt with the pandemic. On the day of analysis (12th May 2020), the United States stands out as the country which has lost more people to Coronavirus than any other state in the world, with the figure currently at 80,684, which is more than double than the next country down the list, the UK, where the COVID-19 death toll has reached 32,065. The next three are Italy (30,739), Spain (26,744) and France (26,643), followed by Brazil (11,519), Belgium (8,707), Germany (7,533) and Iran (6,685). It can thus be observed so far that all of the states in the higher range of COVID-19 mortality statistics (above 5,000) are (with the exception of Brazil and Iran) from the Euro-Atlantic region.

Having realised the failure of their initial lassez-faire strategy liberal states went into the every-man-for-himself frenzy — US banning travel from the EU, which in its turn banned the export of PPE, and the internal strife within the EU — Switzerland — and Italy-bound PPE disappearing in Germany, and Hungary and Poland taking the lion's share of the Coronavirus aid leaving Spain and Italy with the short end of the stick. This caused even more damage to the image of the Western democracy model. While Brussels had eventually managed to regain conscience and began to function as a union, Beijing had already been sending aid, equipment, PPE and medical staff to countries all over the world, including the struggling and embattled Western democracies, which has certainly reaffirmed China's leadership potential in the midst of the crisis. Of course, while Beijing has been working hard to ensure that China is remembered as the country that beat the virus and saved the day, Washington has been pushing the “it’s China’s fault” narrative.

Nevertheless, regardless of who wins the propaganda war, what COVID-19 pandemic has done is expose the fallacy of the Western superiority paradigm. The discursive “backward Orient” seems to have prevailed over the “enlightened West”, and Western democracy, previously marketed as the panacea for states all over the world, has certainly lost some of its attractiveness. Much like when the USSR emerged victorious from the Second World War, China today presents a legitimate new alternative, and thus a threat, to the Western system. As the new Cold War unravels, we can expect to see a number of previously West-oriented states turn East, the most vulnerable of them becoming subject to proxy wars. Washington is most certainly going to try and contain the growth of China’s bloc and stop the demise of own power by any instruments available to them, as indicated by the Federal Reserve’s recent $2.3 trillion injection into America’s faltering economy. As for Beijing, provided that they keep up with their discipline, neutralising non-conformist elements on time (as they have done with the likes of Zhao Ziyang), the power is most likely to migrate from the West to the East.

“The world will never be the same after the Coronavirus” — these words uttered by International Relations veteran Henry Kissinger most certainly have substance behind them. Beyond the major impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the global economy and everyday life of people all over the world, it has also come to reveal new political realities. Efficiency in dealing with the new transnational threat became the new measure of worth. Who came out on top? Why? And what does it mean to the post-Corona world?

First of all, let us consider the figures showing total confirmed COVID-19 deaths around the world, which may serve as the ultimate indicator of how well various countries have dealt with the pandemic. On the day of analysis (12th May 2020), the United States stands out as the country which has lost more people to Coronavirus than any other state in the world, with the figure currently at 80,684, which is more than double than the next country down the list, the UK, where COVID-19 death toll has reached 32,065. The next three are Italy (30,739), Spain (26,744) and France (26,643), followed by Brazil (11,519), Belgium (8,707), Germany (7,533) and Iran (6,685). It can thus be observed so far that all of the states in the higher range of COVID-19 mortality statistics (above 5,000) are (with the exception of Brazil and Iran) from the Euro-Atlantic region.

The countries least affected by the Coronavirus are located in Africa, Central Asia and Asia-Pacific regions. China particularly stands out seeing as it initially found itself in the epicentre of the COVID-19 but managed to deal with it efficiently and come out with relatively modest losses as the first country to beat the virus. (See Appendix 1 for full figures)

When it comes to evaluating the underlying causes of COVID-19 successes and failures the most widely discussed factors have been political regime type, trust in the government and trust in the media (Han 2020, Harari, 2020, Walt 2020, Wintour 2020). Let us, therefore, examine the following charts we have put together as to try and trace the correlation between the COVID-19 mortality in 25 countries, including 10 countries with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate and 15 other states that can be considered somewhat important global and/or regional players, and the aforementioned factors. The regime type variable figures have been sourced from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest “Democracy Index” report, and the data on public trust in government and media comes from the Edelman Trust Barometer.

While these charts do not confirm a strong correlation between COVID-19 death rates and the aforementioned factors, it can nevertheless be observed that all the countries with over 5,000 COVID-19 deaths, with the exception of Iran, are “democracies” as per “Democracy index” and score below 50% on the public trust scale. This suggests that the countries fulfilling (and those close to meeting) the full democracy criteria with lower levels of public trust in government and media are more likely to be prone to higher Coronavirus death rates whereas those classified as “authoritarian” and “hybrid” with higher levels of public trust in government and media are less likely to experience such dramatic losses.

It can thus be concluded that most of the states that have failed to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and lost the most people have been Western democracies with lower levels of public trust in the government and media. Leaders of these states had initially refused to acknowledge the full gravity of the problem and later on were unable to exercise control over their masses, many of whom knew more about rights than about responsibilities and by and large had little trust in their governments and media. This goes in stark contrast to the more disciplined masses in China that followed their government’s instructions and accepted the emergency measures.

Furthermore, having realised the failure of their initial lassez-faire strategy liberal states went into the every-man-for-himself frenzy — US banning travel from the EU, which in its turn banned the export of PPE, and the internal strife within the EU — Switzerland — and Italy-bound PPE disappearing in Germany, and Hungary and Poland taking the lion’s share of the Coronavirus aid leaving Spain and Italy with the short end of the stick. This caused even more damage to the image of the Western democracy model. While Brussels had eventually managed to regain conscience and began to function as a union, Beijing had already been sending aid, equipment, PPE and medical staff to countries all over the world, including the struggling and embattled Western democracies, which has certainly reaffirmed China’s leadership potential in the midst of the crisis. Of course, while Beijing has been working hard to ensure that China is remembered as the country that beat the virus and saved the day, Washington has been pushing the “it’s China’s fault” narrative.

Nevertheless, regardless of who wins the propaganda war, what COVID-19 pandemic has done is expose the fallacy of the Western superiority paradigm. The discursive “backward Orient” seems to have prevailed over the “enlightened West”, and Western democracy, previously marketed as the panacea for states all over the world, has certainly lost some of its attractiveness. Much like when the USSR emerged victorious from the Second World War, China today presents a legitimate new alternative, and thus a threat, to the Western system. As the new Cold War unravels, we can expect to see a number of previously West-oriented states turn East, the most vulnerable of them becoming subject to proxy wars. Washington is most certainly going to try and contain the growth of China’s bloc and stop the demise of own power by any instruments available to them, as indicated by the Federal Reserve’s recent $2.3 trillion injection into America’s faltering economy. As for Beijing, provided that they keep up with their discipline, neutralising non-conformist elements on time (as they have done with the likes of Zhao Ziyang), the power is most likely to migrate from the West to the East.

Bibliography:

Appendix 1.

Countries COVID-19 deaths Democracy Index Trust in govt Trust in media
US 80,684 7.96 40 48
UK 32,065 8.52 42 37
Italy 30,739 7.52 43 45
Spain 26,744 8.29 26 36
France 26,643 8.12 32 36
Brazil 11,519 6.86 28 41
Belgium 8,707 7.64 - -
Germany 7,533 8.68 40 44
Iran 6,685 2.38 - -
Canada 4,993 9.22 53 57
China 4,637 2.26 86 76
Turkey 3,841 4.09 52 27
Mexico 3,573 6.09 34 53
Sweden 3,256 9.39 - -
India 2,293 6.09 74 64
Russia 2,009 3.11 34 26
Indonesia 991 6.48 75 70
Japan 643 7.99 39 35
South Korea 258 8.00 48 42
Israel 258 7.86 - -
Saudi Arabia 255 1.93 - -
South Africa 206 7.24 21 41
UAE 201 2.76 82 60
Australia 97 9.09 42 40
Singapore 21 6.02 67 56

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