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COVID-19 pandemic: Politicking and denial of world leaders

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Countries across the globe are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a struggle for all the countries so far. Not a single  country has been safe from it. United Nations has labelled this pandemic the “most challenging crisis” after World War II. Within three months of outbreak, 180 countries have been affected, more than one million people have been affected and around 50,000 lives lost worldwide.

Highlighting the risk this poses to peace and stability in the world, the United Nations’ Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, issued an urgent appeal for action, calling on politicians to “forget political games” and come together for a “strong and effective response”.

“The world is facing an unprecedented test. And this is the moment of truth,” he said.

Lockdowns were brought in as a strategy to contain its spread, but it has brought its own set of hardships. Countries with the dwindling economies have been forced into a standstill. The worst-hit regions are suffering the most, hospitals are overflowing with sick patients, medical supplies are dwindling and the strength to uphold the patient pool has become a challenge of its own. In addition to those who are suffering, shortage of food and money has become an overwhelming issue for the governments. Lack of awareness coupled with a lack of resources, has been a major source of contention in developing nations.

“It’s been disappointing in many countries – too many,” said John M Barry, a historian who studied the Spanish flu pandemic that killed as many as 100 million people in 1918. “In some countries, it’s been outright reprehensible – some leaders’ actions will unnecessarily kill many of their citizens.”

It looks as if history is repeating itself, the decision about millions of lives is in the hands of a small group of world leaders. A decision that they will have to take in the coming days or weeks. Some countries are in denial as their leaders be little the chaos we can face. Their reasons vary widely, so does their interests. It ranges from distrust in science or worse, preference of economic reasons over health.

Denial tactics have been commonly put forth. In China, Xi Jinping shared virus effects were first observed in late December,but his team were more focused on covering up the threat by punishing the doctors who sounded suspicious or alarmed at the early outbreak of the illness. This paved way for the virus to spread in every nook and corner of Wuhan and then globally.

Across the Atlantic, in United States, President Donald Trump initially trivialized the severity of the virus threat, thinking it would just disappear over a while like a miracle. And then he dismissed the growing clinical emergency that would go on to halt the world economics, contemplating whether the disease was a “hoax” by his political rivals. He had to remodel his tactics after it was estimated that 200,000 people could die in the US if proper and substantial containment efforts are not put in place.

On a contrasting note, Indonesian Prime Minister, Joko Widodo, admitted he withheld the information of the outbreak, to prevent panic among the population. He took the advise of his ministers, who claimed that they could pray this disease away. Moreover, he was reassured that Indonesia’s warmer climate would slow the virus spread.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the illness as a “fantasy” and a “little flu”. Just last week, he defied the advice of his health officials on avoiding social contact by touring the streets of the capital, Brasilia, in a campaign to get his countrymen back to work.

The callus approach by world leaders extends to Mexico, where President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, held political rallies late into March. He was pictured kissing his supporters and urging Mexicans to “live life as normal”. Remarkably, these turn of events took place when his health minister called on citizens to stay home to contain the virus.

Such behaviors from world leaders have been criticized across the globe. As Charles Call wrote in his blog post that this crisis will pose a “test for populism” in countries. He said at Washington DC-based Brookings Institute that this conduct should be marked as “an aversion to scientific inquiry and state institution”.

So instead of denying it would have been wise to tell the truth and face the situation in full swing. It is a repeat of the last huge pandemic, where similar tactics were employed. It did not end well in 1918 and it is not turning out pleasantly now. The masses should be informed about the severity of the situation, but the truth has been trivalized so far.

From March11, the situation spiked in Italy, as the region had the most population of elderly, low immunity population. Concerned, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was alarmed at the fact that approximately 70 percent of her country’s population could contract the virus. “The situation is serious; take it seriously,” she said. In a democracy, such curbs “should not be enacted lightly – and only ever temporarily. But at the moment they are essential to save lives.”

Praising Merkel, Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe said the chancellor’s approach “points the way forward to the unified, decisive response that is necessary and how democracies can best deliver it”. Like Germany, Singapore similarly went for aggressive testing and tracing campaigns which in return kept the number of the infections low in the country. Around 1000 cases since the beginning of the outbreak. In an interview to CNN, he said,

“We are transparent – if there is bad news, we tell you. If there are things which need to be done, we also tell you,” he said. “If people do not trust you, even if you have the right measures, it is going to be very hard to get them implemented.”

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, despite limited resources, dived in bravely with the population to keep the number of viruses affected to be under the bay. Progressive standards were made available and were followed to protect the citizens.

UN acknowledged the disadvantaged democracy’s work and appreciated their efforts to do so.South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele are also receiving praise for enacting similar decisive and transparent actions. 

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, used the fistful right to amend in to law that imposes jail terms of five years on those who spread “false information” to prevent spreading of rumors about the pandemic and saving the population from panic. Similar steps were taken by Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, as he can secure any emergency power to crack down on false claims about the pandemic.`

And during these testing times, some leaders have used their political power to over embezzle their authority over their population. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, used state emergency and closedown country’s courts ahead of his trials on corruption charges. The pandemic was used as an excuse.

“We recognize that this pandemic is posing an unprecedented test for world leaders,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Our problem is that some leaders have adopted authoritarian approaches. This is not the time for politics… any emergency powers must be proportionate, and states must always protect people’s rights.”

With a handful of the pandemic crisis over the globe, the verbal war between US-China is another cause of concern. As to fight this crisis the world needs to be united under the strong umbrella of key countries.

“There isn’t a global response. And it’s a huge problem in the sense that this a crisis that is much better handled if key countries came together,” said Charles Kupchan of the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.

We need to think of the masses without proper or developing health care system. In these critical times, we can get to the finishing line only by working together. The wholehearted help of countries with advanced and proper healthcare systems need to stand up and share their experiences. Stability is not far away but a lot of work will have to be done before it could be realized.

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Diplomacy

Mega Regions

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The planet is shrinking

Geopolitics on this diminishing ball in space is not going away. On the contrary, geopolitics is growing to hitherto un-imaginable heights much faster than most people think.

Imagine a possible future world something like this:

· The African Union – the world’s biggest continental free-trade-area AfCFTA – of soon-to-be (2035) 1.8 billion people with Parliament in South Africa.

· The European Union (de-facto incl. EFTA) – small on global scale, but more independent, rich and educated than today

· North America (centered on an at least relatively weakened USA)

· South America (centered on a once-again growing Mercosur)

· China – a strong center in all-growing North and South East Asia

· India – growing

Add to this:

· A hypothetic Mega-Eurasian Region including the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Russia. Enlarged with Turkey, Iran and even Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, this would fit nicely into the above possible future picture of the world.

Such Mega Regions as above will come to integrate economy (incl. currency), culture, infrastructure, traffic, energy, environment and above all political administration with security within themselves as well as between themselves. Shrinking the planet ever more. Who will need the intruding USA of today in a future world of self-administering and self-securing Mega-Regions? These Mega Regions will not need the “balancing” or “stabilization” which the USA peddles. In this world, the USA will need to define a new role and self-perception for herself over the next 25 years.

In this future there may also be less room for the English – they may end up as losers even within their own broken and disunited “United” Kingdom. The problem for the English is their mid-size: The UK is not big enough to be a relatively self-sustaining market unto herself like the USA and increasingly China. Even these Mega Regions will depend on trade with each other – else they will suffer the fate of the USSR and Mao’s China. The UK depends crucially on open trade access to very big markets. A small (soon to be independent) country like Greenland with 56,000 inhabitants might probably much more easily find satisfying economic niches than Brexit-UK will with 67 million people which have self-detached from the EU-market.

In such a possible world of Mega Regions – do Russians want to be losers like the English today increasingly look like? Or does Russia want to continue to be a great world leader – one of the leading leaders – in a mega-club, for instance with Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan? As Russia holds on to influence in as much geographic room as possible of what the Soviet Union influenced, the answer to that question is already given. Russia wants to be a winner in today’s real-politics of nascent Mega Regions – not a loser like the English in their dreamed-up replay of the pre-previous century. Russia’s conundrum now like since 300 years is to match her external club-making with her own internal growth. The French and the Germans have learned the joy of sharing power. With possible resourceful partners like Turkey (educated, one of G20), Iran (well-educated), Pakistan (well-educated), subject to re-established partnership with the EU, Russia may not again need to exhaust herself as she did once or twice before in history – Russia herself can grow in this process.

And what about South America? The majority of Latin American countries are all culturally wary enough of US meddling (Monroe doctrine) and have for a century resisted “dependencia”. Seeing how successfully Africa now unites, South America may be ripe for a similar development – and the Mercosur with its own Parliament (in Montevideo) is already there for South American governance expansion in their own Mega Region.

A New World Map

The result of Mega Regions might be something like this (see illustration 1).

Instead of Huntington’s miscarried idea of civilizations “clashing” we might see the opposite – that civilizations, cultures, religions, and ethnicities grow together across borders. The illustration above is a map of such plausible governance integration.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is depicted on the map, because the EAEU (though formally an economic union) is in reality a regional political governance aiming at further integration. In contrast, the NAFTA as a shallow pure free-trade area is not included on this map of political Mega Regions, because the USA (incl. US “liberals”) consistently cut Mexico and even Canada off from continental governance. There is no “NAFTA Parliament” underway. And the US may in future even lose some of sometimes high-handed control which the USA today has over her two neighbors.

Similarly, ASEAN is only lightly drafted as part of the light area around a future Chinese influence, because the ASEAN has decided not to pursue closer political regional governance like the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the MERCOSUR do. When looking at East Asia on the map (illustration 1), please bear in mind that we here look a little into the future at a time, when the US 7th Pacific Fleet has been pushed out by the fast growing Chinese PLAN Fleet in all waters around China (incl. Taiwan). As China grows (and US 7th Fleet influence wanes), the ASEAN might in future choose a closer political integration, inspired by the EU and African model, but there is no sign of that happening yet.

The EAEU (5 members as of today) will for year 2020 achieve a GDP of USD 1,700 billion – only 11% of the EU and China respectively (both of which now have GDPs of USD 15,000 billion). More tellingly, the EAEU is today only two-thirds of India (with a GDP of USD 2,600 billion). The hypothesized enlarged EAEU (15 members, the two blue areas on map) would considerably catapult the EAEU up on the global economic ladder with a combined GDP of near USD 3,600 billion (2020 data, for Syria latest available statistics from before the war). On the top-of-world economic list, an enlarged EAEU would aspire to be 140% of India – nearly half-bigger than India. Politically, the enlarged EAEU’s human and natural resources with geo-strategic control could become much more pivotal than the economic data suggest. (GDP figures from IMF WEO 2020/10)

Mega Region to Mega Region Governance

It is just like in corporate business – apart from a few niche states, states are pressed to merge or form cooperative cartels to achieve critical mass in the world competition. These upcoming country Mega cooperations will as a general tendency increasingly be of multiple partners coming together for common governance (like for example the African Union) and less of the “hub-and-spoke” type. Please bear in mind that the world is fractal, meaning that types of social structures are repeated at different levels – commune, substate, state, Mega Region and even Mega-mega Region. Thus, even Mega Regions may come together in structures of multiple partners of common governance. For instance, you might in this future see the establishment of a joint Mega-mega governance of neighboring Mega Regions EU-AU-EAEU-China-India. Mega Region to Mega Region relations must be managed carefully by all for mutual success. No Mega Region will be enough in itself. Integrating Mega Regions with each other must thus be a careful undertaking.

For instance, Turkey is a member of the EU Customs Union With the political changes in Belarus which are underway, Belarus might soon be offered a Free-Trade or EU Customs Union with the EU, similar to the EU trade-advantages which the Ukraine and Turkey already enjoy. These countries Turkey, the Ukraine and Belarus are clever – they will not be so foolish as the UK to throw away their EU trade privileges. There is here a conundrum to solve, because as East-West bridges, we need Belarus, Turkey and the Ukraine to be able to enjoy the best of East and West: EU privileges in combination with the future Mega Region advantages of EAEU affiliation.

To prosper, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the African Union (AU) need an extended free trade area with the EU. We simply need an EU + AU + EAEU Mega Free-Trade Area. The EU has a self-interest in both cases, the African Union as well as Russia and a future Mega EAEU all the way to Pakistan, in granting such trade privileges.

The African Union covers a staggering 30 million km2 (the Soviet Union was 23 million km2) with already 1.4 billion people, and the enlarged EAEU would be 26 million km2 with 700 million people. The EU is here comparatively small – only 4 million km2 and 445 million people. The EU cannot itself handle the administration of any more geographic space. With the issues of Brexit-chaos, the West Balkans, the Ukraine and Belarus, the EU is already critically overextended.

Next Step

The EU has enormous strategic interests in a politically stronger and economically prosperous united Africa to handle Africa’s own problems before these problems (including refugees and terrorists) spill devastatingly over into the EU.

The EU also has got enormous strategic interests in letting Russia and Turkey carry the helm of a hypothetical new Mega EAEU political Project for peace, prosperity and political improvement of common governance in the conflict-troubled Eurasian space. Furthermore, an enlarged EAEU Mega Region, as I hypothesize here, will connect the EU not only with the strategic pivots of China and India, but also with the global pivot of the Middle East and in this way with Africa. To achieve this, Kashmir must and will find a peaceful solution.

The EU can do a lot – but the EU’s meagre 5,000 tricolore soldiers in Africa for an area 10 times Afghanistan, plus a handful of aid-projects, will not save Africa. Exports, trade, industrialization, advanced services and high-speed economic growth is what Africa needs. A strong African Union is needed to raise Africa above her own problems, and to do this, the African Union needs support by free-trade with the EU (and the EAEU of course).

In the exceedingly troubled Central Asian and Middle Eastern geographic space, Russia has proven to move so well forward. The EU itself would just be hapless or even break porcelain if going alone in Central Asia and the Middle East. France has shown able to achieve just about nothing in Lebanon. And EU countries’ military part-taking in porcelain-breaking US ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (longest US war in history, and little US “peace with honor”) illustrates my point. The recent Armenian-Azerbaijani situation further underscores the point that an overarching political Mega Region EAEU is a needed solution – a solution which only Russia and Turkey are capable to initiate.

This planet is shrinking fast. The EU cannot afford to not-care about its own Mega neighborhoods, including all of Africa, Russia, Central Asia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the Middle East.

As the EU does not have the needed strategic capabilities to “fix” its own Mega neighborhoods, the EU must support those who can and should be empowered – meaning the EU neighbor partners themselves: The African Union, Russia, Central Asian countries, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and all others involved.

From our partner RIAC

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Diplomacy

Bye Diego … (Geopolitics of Sports)

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The news of Diego Maradona’s death plunged the football world into grief and deprived football fans of the existence of a unique star. If we want to express this issue with the language of a geopolitician, it will be a different perception and analysis by others.

The geopolitical orientation of sport is one of the geopolitical tendencies with an artificial nature. Because sport acts as a source of power in the relationship between actors and shapes their strategies, and because this source of power has no geographical basis, when we want to discuss it in the form of geopolitics, it means a tendency with an artificial nature. The geopolitics of sport is thus conceptualized as the knowledge, acquisition, productivity, and preservation of sport as a (geographical) source of power in local, national, regional, and global relations. In other words, the use of sport and related issues as a new (geographical) source of power to achieve goals in local, national, regional and global relations is called the geopolitics of sport.

By that definition, Maradona was a (geographical) source of power for Argentina. The geographical source of power that since the game between Argentina and England with the goal later known as “Hand of God, the goal of the century” was able to provide a new and different representation of relations between the two countries after the defeat in the Falkland War for Argentina and turn a nation sadness into happiness.

Since then, Maradona has acted as a (geographical) source of power for his country and has been able to influence power relations in designing and representing his country’s strategies. On the relations between Argentina and England; Traditional rival of Argentina-Brazil (Pele); In the internal relations of the country; Introducing his country by showing the Argentine flag and so on.

In general, it can be said that sometimes people with importance and position that they can gain in various fields of science, sports, art, etc. can become (geographical) sources of power and be effective in the relationship between actors and the design of strategies. Losing people like Maradona can deprive an actor from a valuable source of power.

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Policies of East Asian Titans

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Soft Power is a widely discussed and equally disputed concept as various scholars have their personal interpretation upon the power of attraction.

Joseph Nye has associated soft power with i) culture, ii) political values, and iii) foreign policies of a country.

China, Japan, and (Republic of) Korea rank the highest in the list of Intangible Heritages indicating their rich cultural identity.

The cultural identity like Confucian values gets interwoven with political ideas of respect and help build working morality that influences their foreign policies.

Japanese Anime such as Doraemon and Pokémon are extremely famous and Korean K-Pop such as Gangnam Style became the most liked video on YouTube. TikTok has brought China into the race of audio-visual diplomacy.

National identity and political views are promoted through audio-visual instruments such as movies, paintings, songs while some of them are despised as political propaganda.

The countries which have higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Per Capita are accepted to have a good political structure and other countries are likely to endorse a similar system. The three countries have become the symbol of success while many developing countries get inspired to adopt their style to improve their present condition.

Foreign policies depend upon the economic capability of countries and their ability to engage through trade and aid.

Trade is conducted to benefit one’s own country which may include importing unprocessed goods and exporting processed products like Japan import iron worth $7.18 billion and export cars and spare parts worth $139.3 billion.

Countries intend to import security instruments, basic goods like oil and gasoline while limiting luxury items by adding a large amount of taxes that shape foreign relations between countries.

The Asian Titans belong to the top ten product exporter as a result they get involved in nation branding and use corporate brands like Honda, Samsung, and Xiaomi to be perceived as a reliable household name. 

The aid includes humanitarian aid, military aid, economic assistance, technical and vocational training which help in establishing bilateral relations and all three countries have become active in this genre.

There is an additional component for socialization such as gastrodiplomacy which remains very strong in East Asian Titans which is proven with their many Michelin 3-star Restaurants. The culinary diplomacy is also conducted between government to government level as hosting country invites foreign heads of states in banquets or provide scholarship for elite foreign students.

The events conducted around elites such as tours, banquets, scholarships would transform their social paradigm which may cause policy change leading to norms that would transform the foreign policy of a recipient country in favor of a host country.

The public simply looks at the ranks, scores, and formulate opinions about a country without looking at the bigger picture. This could be efficiently be studied by looking at a single chart.

 ChinaJapanSouth Korea
A. Senses as Soft Resources   
i) Physical Diplomacy   
a) Sports/ActivityCuppings, Tai chiKarate, JudoTaekwondo
b) Olympics Medals608 Rank:8498 Rank:15337 Rank:19
ii) Audio-visual diplomacy   
a) Film Production     (2018)1082
Rank:2
613
Rank:3
454
Rank:5
b) Box Office Revenue
(2019)
$ 9.3 billion Rank:2$2.4 billion Rank:3$1.6 billion Rank:5
c) Additional ToolsTiktokAnime, MangaK-pop
iii) Gastrodiplomacy   
a) Popular FoodNoodles, DumplingsSushi, WasabiGimbap, Kimchi
b) Michelin 3-star Restaurants     (2017)5
Rank:5
28
Rank:1
2
Rank:10
B. Resources and Tourism   
a) World Heritage Sites
   (2020)
55
Rank:1
23 Rank:1214 Rank:21
b) Intangible Cultural Heritage
   (2020)
40 Rank:121 Rank:220 Rank:3
c) WEF, Travel & Tourism Competitive (2019)Score:4.9 Rank:13Score:5.4 Rank:4Score:4.8 Rank:16
d) Revenue by Tourism
   (2018)
$32.617 billion
Rank:10
$34.054 billion Rank:9$13.427 billion Rank:24
C. Nation Branding   
a) Corporate BrandsXiaomi, AlibabaToyota, HondaSamsung, Hyundai
b) Products Exports     (2018)$2.59 trillion Rank:1$713 billion Rank:4$617 billion Rank:5
c) GDP Per Capita
   (2018)
$9,771
Rank:78
$39,290
Rank:27
$31,363
Rank:34
D. Noble Prizes Laureates
     (2019)
6
Rank:24
28
Rank:7
1
Rank:51
E.The Soft Power 30     (2019)Score:51.25 Rank:27Score:75.71 Rank:8Score:63.00 Rank:19

The factors such as Noble Prize Laureates play a role in projecting Japan as a superior power but countries such as South Korea and China have risen to global prominence recently, this may have resulted in less money for research and development and caused fewer Noble Prize Laureates.

The rapid development of Asian countries has made it attractive and serves as the master of affective resources (culture richness, technology, competitive economy) while they suffer a bitter relationship with one another creating a space for western countries to enforce their normative resources (a third-party capability to arbitrate international dispute) to mitigate the crisis.

The Asian Titans have been growing their institutions to enhance their human resources to produce better publications that would further strengthen their strategic communication and media.

The soft power has helped generate a sense of national cohesion by protecting their ancient culture while promoting their vibrant economic growth. The countries intend to build a reliable economy and to be perceived as a trustworthy power.

Each Asian country has different objectives while promoting their culture. Japanese list of intangible heritage portrays its polytheistic tradition while China showcases itself as a culturally diverse country while it suffers accusation for human rights violations against minorities. Both China and Japan avoid its militaristic knowledge (the image coincide with hard power)even when they have a very interesting history with Martial Arts but South Korea seems to be enthusiastic to showcase its Ssireum(wrestling) and Taekkyeon (a traditional Korean Martial Arts) as intangible heritage.

Soft Power Policies of East Asian Titans maintain a variety within the unity. The region shares historic relations but still maintains its distinct identities creating an aesthetic composition for an external observer. The East Asian Titans are a unique case with tremendous soft power.

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