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Tackling Corona (Wuhan) Virus. Must We Surrender to George Orwell’s Animal Farm?

 Paper No. 6579                                 Dated 17-May-2020

By Kazi Anwarul Masud ( Former Secretary and Ambassador- Bangladesh)

   Time and again credible intellectuals have told the global audience that the world we had been used to since the great world war that ended in 1945 would no longer be there after the unpredictable and viscous coronavirus has left us. It is as yet unknown with the best scientific brains trying to find out when this “unpredictable” will become “predictable” and the people of the world will have a weapon to fight this demon.

Another battle also would have to be fought on the question of who gets the first shot of the nectar, will it again be  distributed along the lines of the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the privileged and the underprivileged, the developed and the underdeveloped world. Any kind of justice requires that the claims of all be considered equally.

As Amartya Sen elucidates in his Theory of Justice by giving an example of three competing claims on a flute one claim based on his being the best flutist; another claim based on his being the poorest; and the third because of his expertise in making the flute. Sen argues that the three arguments are based, in turn, on principles of utility, economic equity, and the entitlement to the fruits of one’s unaided efforts. Each can be defended with strong, impartial arguments. But is the outcome necessarily arrived at the most optimum result? At least one can be satisfied that all claims were discussed and the decision was arrived based on the claims put forward at the time of discussion.

 If an eventual or at least temporary palliative for coronavirus is discovered then its availability should be based on   the necessity of all the people of the world because as yet no scientific basis has been found to base necessity except Angela Merkel’s advice to the Germans of “ testing, testing and testing”  which alone can detect the contagious from the non-contagious. This testing. is possible more easily for the rich countries than the poor who are equally affected but have little to cope with the fallout both justice and necessity demands that the nectar be equally made available to all.  While equitable distribution is being debated Sino-US conflict has taken a turn for the worse.

 In an article James Palmer (China’s Coronavirus Success Is Made Possible by Xi’s Brutality-May 14th) writes: “After an initial and disastrous cover-up, the systems that allowed the government to successfully act are the same ones that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses to maintain its control over citizens—and that are currently being used as part of a campaign of mass imprisonment and cultural genocide against Uighurs and other minorities in the western region of Xinjiang. This omnipresent domestic control apparatus is funded out of a so-called stability maintenance budget larger than that for national defense. These systems are not necessary for success, as Taiwan and South Korea have shown, but in China they proved critical”.)

A contrary view has been expressed by The Economist casting doubt on Trump administration’s “coherent” accusation that China is responsible for the pandemic, its birthplace is in Wuhan laboratory, the contagion did spread from an animal market in Wuhan which helped transmission from animal to human being though no direct allegation has yet been made of Chinese malfeasance.    The Economist chided US Secretary of State for his unwavering loyalty to Trump administration’s which has resulted in Mike Pompeo’s demotion from the position of the Western world to one singing a lonely tune. “It is hard to think the words of any previous American chief diplomat, a role traditionally considered supra-partisan to a degree, have carried less weight.         Yet, in an administration of mediocrities, Mr Pompeo remains a substantial figure. He is one of its last significant talents. Even his critics note his smarts—famously displayed in a stellar record at West Point and Harvard Law School—and policy seriousness. His articulation of an America First foreign policy that engages with the world consistently but sceptically is a fair stab at making Trumpism coherent. Since the sacking of John Bolton eight months ago, he has been the administration’s foreign-policy tsar. Mark Esper and Robert O’Brien, the Defence secretary and national security adviser, are nonentities by comparison”.

  (Is the Pandemic China’s Sputnik Moment? What a Virus Reveals About Two Systems By Branko Milanovic May 12, 2020).  Branco milanovich also compared the momentary Soviet surge in global influence following its successful sending of Sputnik into space. It was an inspiring feat for the Soviet Union in greater global influence but it was transitory in the evolution of human history. The Soviet camp was no less delighted but the Americans were not to be left behind. The US stole the march by putting a man on the moon despite Yuri Gagarin’s orbiting the earth before the US could even match the Soviet feat.

Similarly, China’s control of coronavirus through Xi Jinping’s draconian measures, Chinese data, disbelieved as these are globally, is likened to Soviet transient Sputnik feat of the yester years. In the ultimate analysis the longevity of a discovery, assuming a vaccine against coronavirus will be found in time to remove the global distress, may also seem Sputnik like Soviet victory as the Chinese claim of controlling the coronavirus’ forward march in heightening humanity’s distress.  In the quest for global influence some countries may emotionally embrace the saying of “a friend in need is a friend indeed” as the Italian Foreign Minister did in receiving prompt Chinese help. Such transient emotional expression do not have a long life as realpolitik slips in the fight for global influence.

The truest armor the West has is the   consent of the people in framing the architecture of their fate which the alternative form of government cannot offer. (COVID-19 Tempts Would-Be AuthoritariansBut Exploiting a Pandemic Comes at a Cost By Ruth Ben-Ghiat May 5, 2020—DEMOCRACY). Ruth Ben Ghiat points out the cooicidence of the appearance of coronavirus with a phase in our history with the rise of authoritarianism. Some how people in parts of the world were getting comfortable with strong leaders some of whom they felt were better suited to lead them out of the dystopian world where no end was in sight. Fortunately for us their number was small as the great majority still had not lost their faith in Jurgen Habermas’ communicative action where people could debate and reach results, if not consensus, on what needs to be done.

 The strength of communicative action lay in discussions, and not in being forced to accept what a small   minority of “leaders” felt was good for all. Granted the system was not Periclean in essence yet it gave the people to discuss and reach conclusion on what was best for all. Ruth Ben Ghats felt camaraderie with Taiwan based analyst Victor Lin Pu who described the Chinese government’s chief goal during the early days of the epidemic was not to contain the virus but “to maintain regime stability and social control.”          

 For authoritarian leaders, staying in power nearly always trumps the public’s welfare. The Chinese authoririties’ attempts to conceal the Wuhan debacle is common knowledge now. Yet many in the world would like to take account from the Chinese at a later date than now. The most important thing now is to survive and find a way out of this maze. This attitude is not one of surrender nor reflecting one of “by gone be bygone” but a practical one of survival.  The people of the world is not looking at the menace with Voltaire’s Panglossian eyes ( Candide) but with a certainty that one day the fog will disappear and a new normal, in whatever shape it comes, will be embraced.

 For South Asians India should prepare itself to be the beacon of light for the region. Despite differences, as differences must remain among neighbors, but similarities of history and tradition outrank the differences, and most importantly India is steeped in embracing a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious carpet for centuries and have provided shelter and voice to all. This what makes India great and acceptable to the region.