-Bhumika Nebhnani and Kura Sunaina
2020, can safely be designated as the year of far-reaching changes. Commencing with the spread of Sars-Cov-2 virus, the year has witnessed a series of unpredictable events. The neo-liberal order is now under threat, the idea of globalisation and its relevance is being redefined, public health has assumed immense importance, climate change agenda has taken a backseat, countries have started looking inwards, economic is playing out into the political, China is flexing its muscle unstoppably and the list goes on. In this article, we primarily analyse the core of the major changes induced and catalysed by the pandemic in the “low politics” of economics, health and welfare and “high politics” of states, militaries and the borders, particularly Globalisation and Conflicts in South Asia, respectively.
Changing nature of Globalisation
Globalisation can be defined as the free movement of capital, goods, labour, and ideas across national borders. While the capital and goods have moved freely, the cross-border movement of labour has been subject to high opposition from the natives, who site employment concerns. Political Parties across the globe have capitalized on such tendencies by engaging in right-wing nativism and formed governments. The most prominent example is the election of Donald Trump as the POTUS in 2016. His campaign slogan of Making America Great Again with the idea of America for Americans did pay him dividends. Trump’s insistent critique of Globalisation precedes Covid-19.
Another instance of escalating inward-looking inclinations in the world are the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union on the pretext of the UK paying heavy prices as a part of EU and the flight of manufacturing.
How has Covid-19 aided in strengthening the voices against Globalisation?
In order to answer this question, it is imperative to analyse the nature of globalisation before the onset of the pandemic. “Rejecting globalisation,” the American journalist George Packer has written, “was like rejecting the sunrise.” However, as early as in 1997, David Rodrik in his book titled, “Has Globalisation Gone too far?” foresaw that the cost of greater “economic integration” would be greater “social disintegration”. The inevitable result would be a huge political backlash. Rodrik was right. This backlash in the West (in the USA and Brexit), has swelled a wave of deliberation among economists, that had already come into the picture with the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
Called as Globalisation 2.0 by several scholars, this era of globalisation cannot be studied in isolation to the rise of China. The dragon country’s surge in the direction of a capitalist economy while holding to the communist political system added to its rise. The cheap labour in China, high technology, etc. attracted massive foreign direct investments, making it the centermost of the Global Supply Chains. Soon, the erstwhile closed economy of China was very well integrated with the demand and supply networks of the world. This economic dependence on China leveraged its political position in the world order as a result of which, it started flexing its political muscle, first in Asia and now through the BRI, to the very heart of the EU. Thus, while on one hand, massive hyper-globalisation was building up China’s industrial might steadily, on the other hand, in the west it led to dissatisfaction among the populace, the expression of which was also seen in the form of the USA-China Trade War.
It can be said that Covid-19 added fuel to the fire. While the world was already experiencing the rise of anti-globalisation tendencies, the pandemic catalyzed the process. Let’s see how.
Spillovers of Globalisation, seen in the form of terrorism, 2008 Global Financial Crisis, climate change, the spread of cyber viruses, etc. and now the Pandemic furthered the de-merits of a massively interconnected world. The virus originated in Wuhan and spread to the entire world in the next few months bears testimony to the destructive effect of the augmented speed, intensity, scale, and extensity of Globalisation.
As the entire world saw a series of “Great Lockdowns”, the international trade came to a halt, and there emerged a resurgence of the nationalist rhetoric on economic protectionism and anti-immigration. Due to the grim realisation of heavy economic dependency on China due to the concentration of GVCs, countries rolled bailout packages with the aim to foster the growth of domestic businesses, evident in America’s CARES Act, India’s call for Aatma-Nirbhar Bharat. Globalisation has been pushed to a greater retreat.
The world is witnessing changes not just in terms of “low politics” but also “hard politics”. Particularly, the region of South Asia has been the most volatile.
Volatility in South Asia
Though the 21st century is said to be the Asian century, it does hold its own set of complications. South Asia is home to a quarter of the world’s population and this populace is diverse in all possible means. From holding the world’s largest English speaking population to most illiterate populations; few of the richest to one of the largest slum dwellings in the world, South Asia is home to all kinds of people. Owing to this kind of diversity and disparity, South Asia is one of the most hot-blooded regions in the world. Most regions do not have good health care facilities too; this has made conditions worse especially during the times of the pandemic. Rohingyas, one of the most prosecuted minorities in the world according to the United Nations, have the hardest times. Living in poor conditions and in large camps, almost 40 people share one toilet and 600 people share the same drinking water unit. Conditions like this are prone to the spread of the virus, yet no rescue is brought to them.
Lately, the region has had many international and border issues leading to rough relations amongst the nations. China’s military flexing in the Asian region has caused discrepancies in India as well. Though both the countries, India and China are known to engage in skirmishes, the recent activities of China in the disputed region have been more than the usual. The Chinese have built infrastructures in the regions that run astride the Line of Action– Pangong Tso, Hot Spring, Galwan Valley, and Depsang. China used the internal matters of India namely the status quo of Jammu and Kashmir as a source of provocation. Not only China, but relations have worsened with Pakistan with the August 2019 reformation. The already worsened relations due to the Pulwama suicide bomb attack on the police envoy in Kashmir and the quid pro quo that followed have now deepened. Nepal and India, the countries who have been friends for a long time now, see their relations taking back turn. In the new map that India has released in November 2019, it had included the disputed region of Kalpani, which wasn’t taken well by the Nepali counterpart who requested to have a discussion. With no positive reply from India, in June 2020, Nepal has released a map including not just Kalpani but also other disputed regions. With no discussions happening any time soon, the relations have hit the ever low.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had their elections which brought Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power with a sweeping majority. Having been called an ally of China due to the naval activities of the Chinese in the Hambamtota Port, the new government put forth a clear image to remain neutral in the present geopolitical disputes and power game. With America signing a deal with the Taliban and reshoring their forces to America, the dynamics in Afghanistan has changed dramatically. Adding to it, the power-sharing deal between the two leaders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah has brought peace after months of political uncertainty. Bangladesh always had good relations with India. Off late, Bangladesh has been enjoying good support from the Chinese which has made India sceptical. Nevertheless, Bangladesh intends to seek support from the generous countries but doesn’t mean to make relations worse with any.
The year 2020 has been a roller coaster ride with respect to every aspect possible and South Asian relations are no exception. The dynamics of the region have changed tremendously in the past six months. Not only Pandemic has affected the countries but also the geopolitical disputes and the power game. Though nothing can be concluded as of now, a better tomorrow is soon to be a reality.
The political developments in the world cannot be studied in isolation with the changing economic scenario. South Asia comprises some of the most important economies in the world like India and China. Grappling with the pandemic, turning more inward-looking, it remains to be seen how the economics of the region spans out.
While the voices of de-globalisation have indeed gained a lot of momentum around this time, it does not seem to be the solution. Globalisation is about the good, bad, and the ugly. In order to harvest the benefits, countries have to do risk-management. Global crisis like Climate Change, Terrorism, Pandemics, etc. do not respect national boundaries. The barriers will only bar crucial cooperation and exchange of ideas, technology, finance, and vaccines between the countries.
New normal will, however, be the new norm. Unrestricted globalisation is now a thing of the past. The new era of globalisation, shall be dominated by China and may not be as open and free as before. To avoid China, countries will opt to trade with partners with the political trust leading to fragmentation of Global Supply Chains. Scholars talk about the new phase of ‘Gated Globalisation’ where in states have already started acting as gate-keepers for the flow of goods, services, finance, and labour when national interests are at stake. Given the situation, the idea of Glocalisation seems to be the way forward.
South Asia might not have to face the greatest impacts of an economic slowdown compared to the rest of the world. The growing need for infrastructure in these countries with demographic booms will attract foreign investors. Alas, the region’s disputes are so deep that though it recovers from the economic crisis, it might still have to face political displeasure. There may be a solution if it tries to seek one, but will it? Will the region come together to form the most anticipated Asian Century or will the region give in to the hegemonic power?
Let certain times of the future write the history mending the uncertainties of the gloomy present.