By Nageshwar Patnaik and Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, April 17, 2020: “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” Rudyard Kipling famously wrote. But Kipling had said this when he made his first trip to the United States, from India, at the age of 23 in 1889. However, Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) seems to have proved him wrong at present with the World is really becoming Flat – to quote Thomas L. Friedman.

Covid-19 pandemic appears to have paved the way for the much sought after level-playing field for the East. The current upheaval in the west has given ample scope and opportunity to eastern countries to dominate the world scene economically. Japan has weathered the deadly virus storm while China has been able to contain the virulence and is already back to business now. South Korea fought doggedly to save the rot. India countries to battle the menace and has thus far escaped from getting caught in the exponential growth trend of cases that have impaired most of Europe and the USA.

Now the moot question is whether this really will be the turning point in contemporary history with the West yielding to the East. Will it herald the age of Asians at last?

Experts are still debating whether the coronavirus pandemic will reshape geopolitics. Many predict the end of an era of globalization that has prospered under U.S. leadership since 1945. Some see a turning point at which China surpasses the United States as a global power.

At the moment, the blame game is on as almost all the countries are under lockdown and the world is under shock. Many views and opinions float including loose remark by some top leaders. To begin with, when thousands were being infected and hundreds were dying in China, it was ascribed to the wet market in Wuhan and the unconventional Chinese eating habits like consuming bat meat and snakes, raw or semi-cooked.

Even some attributed the Covid-19 pandemic to bioterrorism. When the Covid-19 crossed the borders of China, and appeared in South Korea, then in Italy and Iran, the needle of suspicion was pointed at the Chinese present in those countries because of increased trade, tourism and business, and the expansionist Belt and Road Initiative. When it moved to France, Spain, UK and Germany and then to USA and started infecting people in big number and claimed lives, the blame was put on the Chinese secrecy with a hint of China sponsored bioterrorism against the West.

Later tens of thousands fell prey to deadly Covid-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was blamed for surge in the pandemic. US-led west alleged that the Chinese have firm grip on the Ethiopian Director General of WHO. US president Donald Trump said although US paid huge contributions to WHO, but it remains China centric. Now there is threat from him that US would stop contributing to the WHO. Even some called for dissolution of WHO and UN and its system should be abolished.

When hopes are lost, and thousands die across the world the first casualty is reason. During the peak of crisis the leaders are expected to have equanimity, balance, logical thinking, close co-operation and concerted action, not the blame game.

As it is, the economies across the world have been badly battered. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world into a recession. For 2020 it will be worse than the global financial crisis, according to International Monetary Fund. The economic damage is mounting across all countries, tracking the sharp rise in new infections and containment measures put in place by governments.

The virulent virus not only has shattered lives, disrupted markets and exposed the weakness of governments, but also is expected to lead to permanent shifts in political and economic power in ways that will become apparent only later.

Harvard University Professor in international relations, Stephen M. Walt asserts, “COVID-19 will also accelerate the shift in power and influence from West to East. South Korea and Singapore have responded best, and China has reacted well after its early mistakes. The response in Europe and America has been slow and haphazard by comparison, further tarnishing the aura of the Western brand.”

More than 1.5 lakh people have already succumbed to the deadly virus. The pandemic has impacted the United States and Europe with unprecedented speed and severity. More than 37000 people have died in USA while more than seven lakh cases are confirmed positive. In Europe, around one lakh people already have died due to the virus. In contrast, Asian continent had less than 20,000 deaths so far.

West also faces the heat on economic front like never before. In the last two weeks in March almost one crore people applied for unemployment benefits in USA. Such a sharp and staggering increase has never been seen before, not even at the peak of the global financial crisis in 2009. Tourism for pleasure will take longer time to revive. Hotel and aviation industry will continue to suffer. Business as usual of the past will not be seen for quite some time.

To sum up, the Covid-19 crisis has clearly exposed the fault lines in our global order and the weaknesses of global governance with regard to health. Will COVID-19 prove to be a geopolitical game-changer and make way for China’s escalation into a world leader? Can India sustain its role as a mobiliser in the international community post the pandemic?

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