What we are witnessing is worse than a war situation.
What began as isolated cases of a hitherto unknown respiratory problem in a remote town of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province is now a global epidemic. It is not only killing people but also devouring economies, rattling governments, unsettling societies and threatening to become a gigantic disaster of unmanageable proportions. Even the two World Wars did not probably pile up a calamity of this magnitude. Truly speaking, Covid-19, both overtly and covertly, has been achieving all the objectives of a warfare. It has posed serious challenges to global peace and stability. The impact on global economy is also being witnessed.
Almost all the commercial capitals of the world are shut. Stock markets are in a pathetic condition. India’s commercial capital is in no better condition.
What we are witnessing is worse than a war situation. In a conventional war we know our enemies, the tools of war and the strengths and weaknesses of the adversary. In this new war, Novel Coronavirus, Covid-19, we don’t know the strength of the enemy, we are unfamiliar with the tools of combat and worst is that we have no insulation against the onslaught. This enemy will remain invisible but at the same time the place at which it originated, Wuhan, will remain a part of the discourse, especially on how it originated.
As suggested by a section of the strategic community, what we are witnessing today is nothing short of a biological warfare, a covert aggression and non-conventional war. Day after day the seriousness of the situation is getting clearer but hardly any solution is available. The Prime Minister’s address to the nation indicated some solutions, but they were all preventive in nature and more or less sounded like preparing for a greater and more virulent attack.
But if this is serious, more seems to be coming yet. The antidote to the pandemic may be found sooner or later but not before it takes its toll. But the real intensity of the pandemic will be felt when the global economy implodes.
As reports suggest, it is evident that the virus first hit a few people in a small town in China’s Hubei province. Instead of controlling its spread, the local authorities silenced the whistle blower doctor and allowed infected people to travel all over the world. It is too early to concur with the strategic community that the origin and the spread of Covid-19 should be seen as part of an unconventional warfare. While the ultimate aim of a conventional war is to destroy the enemy’s ability to exist as a strong power and stand in competition with the contender, in the case of non-conventional warfares, the strategy is to overpower the competitor or enemy and achieve the military objectives of paralysing the enemy’s capability to fight. In modern times, when economic strength and clout are as powerful as military capabilities, China’s business strategy does not seem to be very different from its military strategy. The US-China trade engagement had all the trappings of a major military conflict, and hence, is referred to as a trade war.
China had practically become the production centre of the world. Now after the “Chinese Virus” no country will be able to resume normal businesses with China. While the Chinese PR agencies are on an overdrive to shun the tag of “Made in China Virus”, a full scale war of words has erupted, strongly propelled by none other than the President of the US, Donald Trump.
“I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the ‘borders’ from China against the wishes of almost all…”, Trump has said. When a reporter described this as racist, Trump declared in unequivocal terms that “Because it comes from China. It’s not racist at all. No, not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”
But the US is also gearing up to the impending recession by announcing a string of economic measures to boost the economy like massive tax concessions for the salaried class, a $50 billion bailout package for the airline industry, another $250 billion fund for the small scale industry. There are plans to infuse funds into the healthcare system and provide extra back-up for meeting the requirements of unemployment doles that are sure to go up in the next few months as industry will need to tighten cut corners by reducing employment.
If the world’s largest economy is preparing for a future shock, the Indian economy will need much more than knee-jerk reactions. The Prime Minister has constituted a Covid-19 Economic Revival Task Force. It is too early to comment on it, but such a task force will have to employ extraordinary tools considering the extraordinarily serious situation.
It is difficult to appreciate the statement of the Union Minister of State for Finance that “Covid-19 will have no adverse impact on Indian economy”. This statement has no validation and substantiation through rational means. The year 2020 has been a non starter for the Indian economy. Even Budget 2020 is not helping the revival of the manufacturing sector. The Indian economy’s trajectory is already showing signs of slowing down.
All over the world the consumer market will soon run out of goods and commodities and start looking for production centres. Countries will find it difficult to go back to trade with China with the same ease and confidence with which they did so far. In their search for alternative source India will surely be a best bet. It is, therefore, imperative on the part of the government to think out of the box, use unconventional economic methods to boost industrial production, especially those of the small and medium scale units. India would require to act proactively and come up with a plan to void the gap created by China.
The debate on China being the main fulcrum of this outbreak will not stop. The dominant view that Wuhan Institute of Virology remains the main source of Covid-19 outbreak will perhaps need more evidence and rationale for claiming the current pandemic to be some sort of a biological warfare. Nevertheless, the objectives of a warfare are being realised, impacting all and creating a lose-lose situation. The emerging situations though seem to be a manifestation of a well articulated strategy by China to gain maximum advantages, but has gone out of their control, which has led to a great disaster across the globe.
Dr Arvind Kumar is a Professor of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal. Seshadri Chari is a well known political commentator and strategic analyst.