Coronavirus is telling us to be a citizen of our country – and our world
- The disease has shaken the human species to the core, but we must grasp the metaphysical messages it is sending
- To survive in the short term, we need national solidarity – but to survive in the long term, we need global solidarity
With this retreat to national solidarity even by the world’s spiritual founder of our modern era of globalisation, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the era of open borders is over. Many analysts expect most nations around the world to pull up their drawbridges and try to lock themselves up from the world, opening doors only for minimal trade and some elite links.
Harold James, professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University, predicts that Covid-19 will lead to a “waning of globalisation”. Many are ready to say goodbye to globalisation! Yet when these nations lock themselves up, they may find that they have locked themselves into a cabin on a virus-infected cruise ship. Just as the virus seeps into cabins through ventilation systems, other global challenges – be they climate change, pollution, terrorist ideologies, desperate refugees or nuclear threats – will find their way to cross borders.
Texas, Alaska and Florida may shut their doors to Chinese tourists. Carnival Cruise ships and Caribbean islands will not, and neither will most of the world. Equally importantly, China’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been the opposite of the US. After applying strict measures to shut down the country for a few months and successfully containing the disease’s spread, China quickly reopened for global engagements with testing, temperature screening and the use of digital codes that identify health status and track locations.
According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country has sent in-kind medical assistance to 127 countries. The US is also helping out. According to USAID, the US is leading the global humanitarian assistance, with monetary assistance to 64 countries, including a precious gift of US$18.3 million to Asean.
Hence, despite the rhetoric, both the US and China will remain globally engaged. China has many reasons for maintaining its global links, including altruism and pragmatic self-interest. To understand key motivations in China, one must consider the Century of Humiliation, from 1842 to 1945, which continues to haunt the Chinese. The Chinese know this humiliation happened because China cut itself off from the world. By contrast, the rejuvenation and renaissance it has experienced over the past 40 years happened only because Deng Xiaoping opened it up again. The secret of China’s success can be explained in two words: global engagement. Most of East Asia will also remain globally engaged.
In short, globalisation will continue. We will discover that our small planet will continue to shrink and become more interdependent. We will have to work together as one species and show global solidarity to deal with emerging challenges. In 2020, we may overcome Covid-19. Yet, more global challenges will come our way, from global warming to global financial crises. So, even if population centres must retreat into national solidarity to cope with short-term emergencies, nations must also advance into global solidarity to deal with long-term challenges.
Can the human mind retreat and advance simultaneously? Can it handle such contradictions? The Chinese concept of yin and yang offers some hope, suggesting that the human universe is always full of opposites. Yet, there is one small step each human being should take today – each declaring that we are both a citizen of our own country and a citizen of our world. For example, in affluent nations, we can pay taxes to support green energy in our own countries and subsidise green energy in poorer countries. We can honour both these obligations. This is what Covid-19 is telling us to do.
Kishore Mahbubani, a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, is the author of Has China Won?
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