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Saturday, November 27, 2021

‘All that world needed to eradicate Covid was cooperation and $50 billion’

At Milken Institute panel, speakers discuss impact of geopolitics and missed opportunities .

Written by Mira Patel | Mumbai |
Updated: November 16, 2021 2:20:05 pm
People wearing face masks cross a street in Beijing, following outbreaks of the coronavirus disease in China, October 25, 2021. (Reuters)

While the world has made some progress in terms of cooperation, the current international order is unwilling or unable to adapt to changing circumstances. This was the main argument at a panel discussion organised by the Milken Institute, where Kishore Mahubani, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Research Institute, Parag Khanna, Founder of FutureMap, and Ahmed Saeed, Vice-President at the Asian Infrastructure Bank, discussed the impact of Covid-19 on geopolitics.

If institutions and countries worried less about protecting their own interests and focused more on collectively addressing the challenges posed by Covid, the disease could have been eradicated through a global vaccination programme, they argued. Despite commendable regional integration during the pandemic, institutions must evolve to meet the needs of a changed world.

According to Mahubani, Covid-19 has shown us that we all occupy one planet and that we need to take care of everyone because Covid does not discriminate by nationality. He lamented the fact that Covid should have brought all 193 countries together but instead, their knee jerk reaction was to blame China and/or seal their borders.

Citing the G20 meeting in Italy as particularly disappointing, Mahubani noted that Gordan Brown, the former Prime Minister of the UK, called for greater solidarity in the wake of the 2008 Financial crisis. In 2009, he said, Brown spoke about how everyone had to collectively spend $1 trillion in order to address the fallout from the crisis. “That strategy worked and the G20 leaders had a chance to recreate that, but they chose not to.”

Mahubani asserted that all that needed to be done to eradicate Covid was for countries to come together and vaccine all of humanity. “That would have cost $50 billion,” he said. “The biggest disappointment from Covid-19 for me is that countries could not find $50 billion to eradicate it.”

Khanna agreed with a lot of what Mahubani said but embraced a more optimistic outlook when it comes to cooperation. He said that although countries prioritised domestic health, there has been a lot of regional integration post Covid-19. “The fact that in the middle of a pandemic, the three pillars of the global economy – North America, Europe and Asia – moved towards integration, that’s not an accident,” reminded Khanna. Despite supply chain disruptions and geopolitical suspicions, he believed that regional integration will be a long-lasting trend.

Underlining the positive trends in digital integration, Khanna pointed out that there have been very interesting indicators, like certain websites and portals, where the number of queries for digital-first and cloud-first employment is increasing. That, he says, “is going to be a seismic trend in the market, especially as it concerns the relocation of people.”

Saeed took the argument one step further, asserting that there have been things that worked and things that didn’t during Covid. He mentioned that after 1947, an international arrangement was made in which we had a “single, historic, global order”. Economically, he said, the order’s undertenants began to collapse in 2008 and internationally, they began to collapse in 2012, with the rise of Xi Jinping and the challenge to US supremacy.

According to Saeed, “what Covid has taught us is that our institutional arrangements are simply not up to the task. They were up to the task when they were in the world they were created for, but now we’re in a different world.”

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