Human bond crucial as world shuts down

Editorial | Mary Ma 20 Mar 2020

Donald Trump boldly proclaimed himself a "wartime president" battling against massive odds.

Echoes, perhaps, of "British Bulldog" Winston Churchill who defied then defeated Nazi Germany in the dark days of World War Two when all seemed lost. As the world digs in to defeat the coronavirus, let us all pray that the US president - who obviously considers himself "The Chosen One" - will content himself with fighting the virus, and not other countries.

The pandemic crisis will inevitably rewrite the world order. It could either break down in favor of China-led authoritarianism or polarize the international community even further along ideological lines. But it's almost certain the global position of the United States will suffer as a result.

Since his rise to power, Trump has alienated traditional allies from East to West. And the way the crisis has been handled by him and his European peers - most notably Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron - has been highly questionable. They all failed to take the virus threat seriously enough when most cases were still confined to China.

Having missed the golden opportunity to upgrade medical and civic readiness to prepare for the worst case scenario, they naively bet that the virus would spare them.

It's now too little, too late as they discover just how unprepared they are, with low stocks of masks, personal protection equipment, ventilators, isolation beds, etc.

The liberal world may be trying to catch up to at least parallel the curve, but great uncertainty remains. Taiwan and Singapore are the only democracies to have given the novel coronavirus the highest alert from the beginning.

The bungling reaction by the West could have a number of implications, with the European Union in danger of breaking up prematurely as members rush to restore border controls as major members refuse to help their weaker neighbors. American supremacy is being battered further.

The ideal of democracy that has thrived since World War Two will come under closer scrutiny as the coronavirus saga revives the debate comparing authoritarianism and liberal democracy.

Which is preferred? In terms of containment, China possesses the draconian means that the liberal world lacks. As the former seems to have been effective in battling the disease head-on, the Communist Party's propaganda machinery is already up and running to propagate the message at home and overseas.

Ironically, the spread of the virus from Wuhan to the rest of the world gives China an opportunity to displace the United States by airlifting emergency aid to nations that are struggling to cope with mounting death tolls as Trump shuts his country from the world - including its British and European allies.

Beijing can be expected to escalate diplomatic efforts with a view to increasing international acceptance of the so-called Chinese style of socialism.

But it is not a one-sided story. Numerous questions are out there for Beijing to answer and, unless the communists can answer them assuredly, efforts to replace the United States as the world's leader will be inhibited.

Did Beijing keep news of the outbreak not only from its own people but also the world in the beginning, thus leading to the catastrophe today? Had the disease happened in the liberal world, would it have been revealed to the public earlier?

In hindsight, the world is also questioning whether it is wise to rely solely on China for supplies of the most critical products like lifesaving medicine.

The pandemic is ushering in a historic change that could end decades of economic globalization and US leadership.

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