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Pacific Currents

Pacific Currents is a discussion forum on Asia-Pacific economic issues. We welcome submissions from all stakeholders including academics, researchers, thought-leaders, civil society, business leaders; and other policy experts. Submissions should cover issues related to economic policy and integration in the region. Articles should be written for a general audience and not technical but should have a foundation in objective policy analysis. Articles should also conform with PECC nomenclature - if you are not familiar, the editor will provide you with appropriate guidelines. Acceptance of articles is entirely at the discretion of the Editor. Articles should be in an op-ed format of around 1000 words but longer submissions are also occasionally accepted. Submissions are done in the name of the author and represent their individual opinions and not those of the institutions that they work for. To submit an article, please send in Word format to:

The small virus

Diego Solis Rodriguez
Mexican Council on Foreign Relations, Young Associate.
Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales
a Next Generation Delegate to the XXII PECC General Meeting.

The coronavirus has prompted an unintended global experiment. The pandemic has turned international affairs into a vast laboratory. Today, we can identify some of its experiments: the global response to the pandemic; multilateralism and international cooperation; American leadership; the influence of China; the "purpose" of the European Union; climate change and the urgency of "green transition"; digital trade; and the return of the state towards democracy and freedom, to name a few.

To say that the virus is a failure of globalization is a simplistic statement. Globalization is a rather complex phenomenon for which it cannot be entirely blamed. In short, it is a multi-sectorial process that can be shaped in different ways.

But if anything is evident in its pace and rapid spread, it is that this epidemic has a new aspect: our world is defined by small actions. Before, what could happen to a Chinese farmer during the Ming Dynasty had no impact outside that economy. Now it is the opposite: a single handshake in Wuhan can change the fate of the planet. Thus, the individual responsibility that was thought to be "crushed" by the logic of globalization has paradoxically been reversed. It has given back to the local and the individual a capacity to influence the global space.

This small virus is changing the world. Be it economic, political or health-related, economies are going through a common test that highlights their inequalities and their consequences in particular. In the absence of a vaccine and the certainty of its evolution, we cannot predict how long this health crisis will last, although (albeit badly) the cries of alarm from the scientific community have made those who wanted to see the coronavirus as a simple flu affecting only a handful of people see reason.

Now, no one can escape the virus. Presidents, politicians, princes, intellectuals, among others, have acquired it. It is a "democratic virus". This virus is exacerbating and bringing out the deepest inequalities by denouncing the excesses of neoliberalism. It has shown us that the differences between individuals cannot be measured in terms of income disparities. In contrast to COVID-19 there are at least several factors: employment, exposure to the risk of infection, age, sex, place of residence, type of housing, level of education, family situation, social environment, access to health services, and a long list of others.

It is true: Confinement has shown us that it is a personal adventure. It has also brought back jobs minimized by many: the cashiers, the health workers, the cleaners, the farmers, the police and the teachers. For example: while mothers and fathers work remotely (if they are lucky) they must continue their children's school work at the same time. We are not even equal in inequality.

Under the sun, nothing is new and this pandemic is a small "freeze" and we do not yet know how to measure the trauma caused by the virus, but it will certainly help individuals to acquire new social behaviors and inform experts and decision makers about the new complexity of the world.

Even in this storm of globalization, economies are hiding behind their borders and taking action without consulting their neighbors. The state is playing with its strengths and expending its energies. The demand on the state is not just a demand for security. In recent weeks it has become a demand for efficiency and transparency. For democracies in particular this crisis represents an important test of how to act without harming and forgetting their founding principles. In the best of cases it could mean the return of the welfare state or, on the contrary, it could mean the arrival of another type of virus, very fashionable indeed: that of authoritarian nationalism and the surveillance society.

The result of all these experiments will turn the world upside down. For now we still have more questions than answers, but the laboratory is in full swing. In normal times some of what is happening would not have been possible or would not have been designed on purpose.

This little virus has made important revelations to us: today we know ourselves to be more vulnerable, we discover ourselves to be interdependent and profoundly unequal. There will be a before and after of the virus. It remains to be seen how much this revelation will have cost us and how long we will be able to remember it.

*This opinion was published on May 18, 2020 in Spanish in El Universal


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