Permanent dependence on China is likely to be breached; and across three levels—Individuals, Corporations and Nations.

It started in Hubei province, travelling westwards with traders and travellers, entering Europe through Italy and Turkey, and later spread into France, Spain, UK and beyond. It took 25 million lives, including kings, queens, and archbishops. You’ve figured out by now I am not talking about the Covid-19 virus, but the bacterium Yersinia Pestis responsible for the Black Death over 600 years ago.

While memory is short and the world finds ways to bounce back; mega-shocks tend to create lasting, if not permanent, changes in the World Order. The Covid-19 pandemic has all the makings of that mega-shock—deaths in thousands, vaporisation of colossal financial value, imminent violence, and innumerable unknown-unknowns.

So how does the world change? What does the “new” New World Order look like? Well, here is a short list of hypotheses, on what to expect.

DEATH OF THE CHICAGO CONVENTION…AND MORE

After Word War 2, many nations got together to define rules for co-existing. One such agreement, the Chicago Convention of 1945 defined guidelines under which airline companies operate even today. Many experts question the validity of rules formulated three quarters of a century ago, and its relevance in modern, highly sophisticated industry that aviation has evolved into. Airlines needing a “nationality” can be deeply fracturing and hindering truly global aviation companies. What happens when airlines start to go bankrupt, and need to fold into and merge with companies in other jurisdictions? How long can surrogate models like codeshares and alliances (like OneWorld and Star Alliance) cover for a fundamentally inefficient market model?

I suspect the mass purge of airline companies, leading the way for a major revamp of the Chicago Convention.

Once that happens, expect to see a domino effect across industries. A post-Covid every-man-for-himself era is likely to propel nations and industry-bodies to shun agreements that do not align with their selfish self-interests. Expect a lot of bilateral renegotiation, cross-border arbitration and tactical alliances.

Disequilibrium will be the new equilibrium.

DEATH OF MULTILATERALS?

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) culpability in spreading Covid-19 is being widely suggested. From ignoring red-flags from Taiwan, to underplaying its seriousness, to providing blanket clean-chits to China; many are wondering if WHO has helped or hurt the very objective for which it was founded.

This is neither the first time, nor the first agency facing such accusations. Explaining why Israel walked out of UNESCO (alongside the United States), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “…UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

More recently, China obstructing UNSC from discussing the pandemic, is seen as a sign of toothlessness of these agencies.

It is only a matter of time before nations start questioning the value of contributing financially to these agencies (especially in a recession), and strategically asserting themselves by rejecting UN recommendations and resolutions.

Expect nations to internalise the “Sovereignty > Multilateralism” mantra.

In short, expect the UN to turn into a pleader-in-chief.

DEATH OF THE “MIDDLE KINGDOM” DOMINANCE

While the Middle Kingdom was a fountainhead of art, culture, cuisine and technology; China’s more infamous recent exports have been Swine Flu, SARS and Covid-19. There is an almost unfathomable gap between China’s self-worth and what the world perceives of it today.

Permanent dependence on China is likely to be breached; and across three levels—Individuals, Corporations and Nations.

INDIVIDUALS: Once the body-bags start piling up, once your investment portfolio tanks to half, once you see a loved one break down in isolation; you start questioning the true cost of that five-dollar T-shirt. I envisage a mass aversion to the “Made in China” label. This aversion might not even be mandated through trade-barriers or policy-decisions; but rather distributed community-leaders calling for boycotts of China-made products (much like President Reagan did with Japan). Fearonomics will give way to Hatonomics.

CORPORATIONS: Companies, on the other hand, already having borne the brunt of over-depending on China, will choose to diversify and de-risk their supply-chains. The additional cost will get treated as a “Cost of Doing Business”, a price for resilience, business continuity and social responsibility.

NATIONS: The “public-interest versus private-profits” debate is likely to come up often. The closing statement is likely to include the phrase “national security” in it. Almost 100% of ibuprofen sold in the United States originates in China, as does 45% of penicillin. Testimonies have highlighted imported pills with 200 times the carcinogen than is acceptable. Most recently, Spain and Czech Republic claimed that Chinese companies sent them defective coronavirus testing kits. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced indigenous solutions alongside a $23 billion package and the world’s largest lockdown, staying conspicuously silent on China’s offer to help.

It is very likely that Individuals, Corporations and Nations will proactively move away from China (despite the economic temptation). Interestingly, this will be as much a left-brain decision, as a right-brain one; thereby making it more permanent in nature.

DEATH OF FICKLE MEMORY

Roy F. Baumeister in The Review of General Psychology states that humans have a general tendency to retain negative memories over positive ones. “Research over and over again shows this is a basic and wide-ranging principle of psychology. It’s in human nature, and there are even signs of it in animals.” he says.

On the other hand, studies around the Fading Affect Bias show that positive memories have longer shelf life than negative ones. This “bias” is seen across different cultures, ages, genders and socio-economic strata.

Unsurprisingly, neither of these theories have been stress-tested in a mass-pandemic situation like the Covid-19.

Now here comes the paradox. If we collectively remember this situation as an “unpleasant event”, we are very likely to remember. However, if it takes the nature of a “shock” in our minds, we could just react with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and block it out of our collective memories.

At this stage, one would argue this memory is more likely to be remembered than forgotten. That this happened in the age of connectivity and information will ensure that we do. Hopefully, human tendency to forget things and operate from last memory will be overcome. The implication of this active, collective, long-term memory could be immense. It could change the way we consume, we work, we vote, we deal with relationships, and perhaps even deal with ourselves. At the very least, suffering a pandemic someone else created, fuels the already rising notions of nationalism and protectionism. Pace yourself for more insular, right-of-centre politics.

DEATH (AND REBIRTH) OF NARRATIVE WARS

The world has been through many eras of wars. The first two eras saw organised violence using rudimentary armaments. The next two eras saw sophisticated weaponry that possessed capability to hurt non-combatants, escalating to the nuclear era. The Cold War era saw the coming-of-age of information as a strategic asset. Till this point, it was about the gathering of information, not the spreading of it.

The current era of warfare is primarily focused around spreading information and ideas. This era of narrative wars sees media and technology as the most forceful weapons, delivering barrages of perception, optics and propaganda.

Of the three civilisational-nations, China, India, and Israel, China seems to have mastered the art of narrative setting. With reports of infiltrating Ivy League Universities, to setting up over 500 Confucius Institutes globally, and most glaringly, claiming knight-in-shining-armour status for “combating” the coronavirus, China is at the top of its game. Compare this with the transparent approach adopted by Singapore, with PM Lee Hsien Loong’s timely, well-distributed communication.

The ricochet however, has been swift and widespread. Donald Trump called it the “Chinese Virus”. Hundreds of memes are being shared on phones that, ironically, China produced. All resulting in a 900% increase in anti-China banter on Twitter. The world is calling out the nakedness of the emperor.

I contend we have reached the tipping point. People have finally started seeing through overly curated narratives and over-the-top propaganda.

So, is it shutters-down on the war of narratives? Absolutely no! On the contrary we will see a newer, more sophisticated, more ethical form of pushing narratives. One that is premised on civilizational ideas and values, rather than tactical agendas. The more demanding citizenry, with the power of information in their fists, will actively shun manipulative propaganda, in favour of deeper meaning. The search for news will evolve into the search for truth.

Covid-19 will bring permanent changes to the world order, exactly as the Black Death did. China might have just triggered a global Mexican standoff, with a Gordian knot around its feet. The effects of this mega-shock will last much longer than the coronavirus does.

Ancient Indian texts refer to Samudra Manthan (churning of the seas), a period of flux that produced Amrita (the nectar of immortality).

With millions staring death in its face, let’s hope the world finds its Amrita soon.

Anuraag Saxena is based in Singapore and has been featured/published in BBC, Washington Post, The Diplomat, Economic Times, Times of India, Sunday Guardian, Doordarshan, Man’s World, Swarajya, DailyO, and SPAN. He tweets at @anuraag_saxena