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The Coronavirus, the United States, and The World
Views:515 Updated:2020-05-04

By 4 May, the number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in the United States has totalled more than 1,157,687, and over 67,674 people have died so far.1 Since the outbreak began, the U.S. government has subsequently issued a series of measures and policies to combat the pandemic including establishing a COVID-19 Special Action Group, banning foreign citizens’ traveling to the U.S., tightening border control and quarantine measures, suspending legal immigration to the U.S. for 60 days, cutting interest rate, and releasing big stimulus packages to help the economy etc. Nevertheless, certain measures and policies haven’t prevented the situation from getting worse gradually. The number of confirmed cases and of fatalities has kept growing, and the turning point of it still hasn’t reached yet. So, what are the reasons behind the deteriorating situation related to the coronavirus in the U.S. today? People have been debating on this. Some argue that the ignorance of the U.S. government, in the early stage of the outbreak, to the seriousness of the disease, plus the improper handling of the health crisis in the later steps, have mainly contributed to the worsening situation today. The Washington Post released a long piece at the end of March to have listed how the U.S. administration led by the president has step by step failed to perform its duties to contain the virus. Meanwhile, there have been some officials in the U.S. making attempts to shift the blames concerning the COVID-19 on to China. They think that China should take the blame for having transmitted the virus to the U.S. One of the U.S. state governors even sued China over this, and demanded China to compensate for the U.S. losses. A memo very recently uncovered by the U.S. press showed that the U.S. government has worked out a specific strategy on how to play the blame games. Around the same time, there have been other discussions on what has led to the worse situation of the coronavirus in the United States. This piece would tend to analyse this issue from a theoretical, ideological and systemic perspective, and then to explore more generally of how the pandemic could possibly have an impact on the world structure and on the globalisation process.


I. Causes Behind the Worsening Situation of the Coronavirus in the U.S.


While agreeing with some of the practical views made by well-known experts, this analysis would from a theoretical perspective add a point that the overwhelming influence of the liberalist ideology within the U.S. society might have played a part in contributing to the worsening situation of the pandemic in the U.S. today. Being liberal is good. Actually the author of this written piece values highly of the meritorious propositions of liberalism including its advocating for free and creative thinking, its propensity to peace rather than to conflict, and its emphasizing on the significance of international law, norms, international institutions, and other variety of non-state actors in the prospect of contributing to problem-solving, and to regional and global peace and prosperity. However, being too liberal without proper limits would risk leading to sever repercussions such as deregulation, confusion and complexities etc.


By now linking the liberalist ideology with the U.S. approach in handling of the coronavirus, the influence of the liberal ideology to the U.S. society can be analysed from both government and individual levels. On the government level, in the process of the U.S. dealing with the virus, a lot of voices have been coming up in the meantime  - the voices could be from the health experts, medical staff, the officials of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the president, the secretaries, the economic advisors to the president, and the state governors and so on. Nevertheless, some of the voices, instead of concerning more on people’s lives and health, had conflicted with each other, and probably even carried other special purposes. For instance, the CDC official, at the end of February, claimed that the risk of the coronavirus transmission was obvious, while the economic advisor to the president, at the same time, pointed out that the virus had already been contained.


Though there have been a lot of talking going on publicly on the government level, it doesn’t seem to be clear who is in charge of the real matter. The general impression to the outside world is that there has been a lack of effective communication and coordination among those who take in charge of various issues concerning the virus. For example, even for a very simple matter - whether the Americans should wear face masks in public or not, or whether there is a need to import face masks from a particular country, relevant officials may need to take two or three weeks and maybe even longer time to discuss and decide on it. Therefore, even though some sectors such as the CDC, the hospitals, and a wide variety of others may have started to take actions in the very early stage of the outbreak, ultimately, their early efforts haven’t made much difference in terms of helping direct the overall situation in the U.S. After all, the lack of sound coordination and of proper control has undermined the effective implementation of the relevant measures and policies, and had contributed to the fact that the epi-centre of the COVID-19 had shifted from Europe to the U.S. in a very short period of time, and that within only around five weeks, from the last week of March to the end of April, the total number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in the U.S. had quickly surged from about 120, 000 to more than 1,000,000.


On the individual level, this “too-liberal” ideology has made many people seemingly have lost their crisis consciousness. They don’t seem to be worried that much about the spread of the disease. Even though the government issued the quarantine measure and warned about the severity of the pandemic, a large proportion of Americans still chose to ignore the warnings. The growing number of infections and of fatalities didn’t stop the group-gathering activities in the beach. More recently, due to the U.S. economy being hardly hit by the coronavirus, and as a result of that, many Americans have lost their jobs, a large group of people then had marched on to the street to protest against the quarantine measure, and to demand for freedom.


Overall, the delay in issuing the quarantine measure, the government’s inability to fully implement it, plus the public non-cooperation to it have seriously compromised the efforts made by a variety of sectors in the process of combating the pandemic.


In addition to the impact of the “too-liberal” ideology on the U.S. methods in managing of the pandemic, the deficiency of trust given by the people to the government and to the media has also played a role in leading to the worsening situation today. Then what caused the distrust of the people in the government? This assumingly much has a relevance to the U.S. political culture. The purpose of political structures and organizations is supposed to better serve the people, yet nowadays the U.S. political arena appears to have become a strategic platform for the U.S. elites, politicians, and interest groups to compete for supremacy in order to gain their best interests. For the media, even though they claimed themselves to be free media and press, still a great number of them may have actually been supported by large interest groups. They could be used by some special interests as tools against other groups. In that case, how could it be possible for them to be free and fair? Under such circumstance, it is not surprising that so many Americans nowadays have lost their trust in the government and in a number of media. This deficiency of trust among the public could also partly explain why a lot of Americans have chosen to dismiss the government’s warning about the danger of the COVID-19. Obviously, without enough support of the people, the efforts made by all devoted sectors in fighting the epidemic would be undermined.


Overall, the COVID- 19 could have raised a number of issues for policy-makers, business people, and the representatives from a wide variety of sectors to think about more deeply. The most pressing one should be related to the short-term and long-term impacts of the coronavirus on different countries and on the world. The U.S. strategist Henry Kissinger recently argued in an article that the coronavirus will probably result in the change of global structure. The institutions and structures with low efficiency and inadequate capability will likely cease to exist. That means we might see a different world in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era. Is that really going to happen? If so, how would the new world structure be like in the near future? What global governance architecture would be more suitable to pave the way for re-shaping of a new global structure? And what would be the trend of globalization? The next section will try to answer these questions.


II. Coronavirus, World Structure, and Globalization Trend


Many experts have already shared their views on those issues recently through the media coverage. There is a well-known scholar having maintained a view that the world will likely turn from an unipolar into an bipolar order, and the U.S. and China will be the two major poles. Yet the relationship between this two will not be like the relations between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War era, though other countries might still take sides between the great powers in different occasions from economic and security perspectives.


Meanwhile, this analytical piece would alternatively add a point that, given the potentiality of some emerging economies, the undeniable capability of some developed countries as well as the increasing role of non-state actors, the world might be far more complicated than just being bipolar or unipolar, and also it is not certain whether the world will go to a bipolar or multipolar structure in the near future. Such kind of complexity can be illustrated by the continuous growing role of non-state actors, and the non-state actors will likely join the state actors’ efforts in contributing to reshaping of a new global framework.


On the same issue, this article would also add another view that regionalism will be expected to be an important concept in both theoretical and substantial terms in the future. That means regional development across the globe might become a very crucial force in driving changes on both regional and global levels. In that case, countries in different regions may have less interest in choosing sides between global powers from either economic or security perspective, instead, they might be more concerned about linking their real interests with regional powers.


Apart from the above, other questions related to the global structure have also been going on, one of which is that whether developing countries and emerging economies after the pandemic will probably replace the role of developed countries in terms of shaping a new world order and of driving the globalization process?


This piece would generally share a number of experts’ views on this issue that it will be very less likely for the developing countries like China to replace the role of developed countries like the United States in the near term. Even China’s GDP surpasses that of the U.S., on many other aspects such as education, think tanks, science, and technology etc, China will still lag behind of the U.S.. Therefore, the role of the U.S. cannot be replaced in the near future. Most importantly, this article would maintain a view that, even if China becomes the most powerful country, it will not be interested in replacing the role of the U.S. or of any other powers, as it is more of an issue related to the Chinese culture and philosophy, which is far beyond the realist way of thinking about international relations.


The current system, which was forged under the U.S. leadership after WWII, was designed to better serve the interest of an U.S.-led world. Nevertheless, over the past decades, with the changing regional and international environment, the efficiency and fairness of a number of institutions and mechanisms under the current framework have been questioned. To better deal with the new issues emerged in today’s world, the current system needs to be restructured. Many institutions and mechanisms are in need to put themselves into a reform process. This task of restructuring the global system cannot be done by developed countries alone. It needs the joint efforts of both developed and developing nations in order to overcome the defects having remained in the old system, and further to develop a fairer and more balanced system.


For the prospect of globalization process, the overall trend presumably in the future is for countries to seek a right balance between regulation and deregulation. There could be a possibility that protectionism in some countries will continue to raise its head and last for some time before they are ready to open themselves further to face the uncertainties of globalization. In that case, international free trade driven by the liberal ideology might once again be challenged, as what had happened in late 1960s and early 1970s, by then the free movement of capital across borders had threatened the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate regime, and later led to the collapse of the regime. In response to that crisis, the U.S. policy-makers, after having experienced the difficulties caused by a policy directed by protectionism in the initial stage, made a decision to let private sectors join in international cooperation to play more important roles in cross-border economic and financial activities. Meanwhile, a series of attempts made by the U.S. in dealing with that crisis had also paved the way for the establishment of a neo-liberal school of thought.


Now in facing the COVID-19 pandemic, given the difference of nature between an infectious disease and a number of crisis happened in the past, the previous crisis management measures led by a liberalist ideology cannot work out well obviously.


Besides that, another issue worth noticing is that the content of globalization has been changing over the past decades. Globalization process at the current stage is different from the one the world had experienced last century, because the issue areas the world has to face and the type of participating actors in the globalization process have been widened. Transnational corporations and international organizations had played a major role in driving the globalization process in its early stage, while nowadays in addition to transnational corporations, a great variety of actors even including individuals have participated in the globalization process. Under such circumstance, the globalization trend cannot be prevented, and protectionism cannot go far. If so, then how would the liberal school of thought more likely affect the globalization process as well as policy-making in the coming years?


One of the prospects could be that the world will see a bit more constrained liberalism, which basically means that some governments may tend to gain a bit more control of their business and economic activities especially their overseas business operations. In fact, this trend has already started to take place since a few years back. Currently, upon the spread of the coronavirus as well as its great impact on the U.S. economy, a number of U.S. officials have felt the urgency to direct the U.S. big companies to move their operations out of China. The U.S. government has even offered to compensate the U.S. companies for whatever costs they would have.


By taking into account  a number of factors including the market size of China, the labour force efficiency, and the consideration of profitability, though it is not certain whether the attempts made by the U.S. government in persuading some of its businesses to move out of china will be able to succeed or not, at least we have seen this trend that some governments would aim to get their businesses a bit more controlled in order to deal with the uncertainties in this more globalized world.


On this issue, a generally common view among a number of commentators is that completely leaving out China will be very unlikely. The likely case could be that certain industries may consider to diversify their business operations by relocating part of them to other markets in order to secure some certainties.


In the meantime, to cope with the possible upcoming uncertainties of globalization, this analysis would finally share the following points.


There is no fixed and single solution to the variety of diversified global problems, as the world is full of complexities, uncertainties, and confusions, and these matters keep changing and interacting with each other. The only certainty is that the world is always driven by an integration of theories and practices, and of material and non-material factors. Policy-making is based on politicians’ understanding to certain thoughts and ideologies, meanwhile, by combining the phenomena and practices happening in the real world. Very often, only one school of thought may not be enough to help understand well the complexities the world faces. Interpreting the series of phenomena may need a hybrid approach-the encompassing of a few schools of thoughts at the same time. Apart from that, one special idea or thought might be worked out well under certain conditions and in a particular period of time. Yet when the time changes, and the conditions are altered, the same theory might not be fully applicable any more. In this case, to better understand the changing situation and to further solve the number of problems to possibly happen in the future, politicians, experts, practitioners, and a wide range of other actors, who are mostly concerned about certain areas of issues, might need to adjust their positions accordingly and shift their thinking and ideas from one to another.


After all, for all type of actors, states or non-states, a suggestible solution to cope with the uncertainties of globalization in the post-pandemic era should be to seek an appropriate balance based on their understanding to the important factors around, and to try not to go extreme.



Note:

1.      Data of the Coronavirus was cited from the China Daily website,

https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/special_coverage/2020latestdata


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