Beyond Human Toll: Bracing for Geopolitical Fallout of COVID-19 Outbreak

Written by | Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 130,000 people globally, is set to reshape a world already in the state of flux, will further encourage the rise of nationalists actively seeking to undermine the process of globalization, exemplified by President Trump’s latest travel ban that has infuriated European allies, will further aggravate the already serious domestic problems facing the Iranian regime that could eventually undermine the integrity of the Islamic Republic, and will embolden China to be even more assertive as seen in its latest propaganda offensive. “When the dust settles on the COVID-19 world, we won’t be in the same place that we were just a week ago,” said Jon Alterman, a senior Vice President at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The new coronavirus could thus one day be regarded retrospectively as a cataclysmic event with far-reaching consequences in global politics.
Meanwhile, coronavirus seems to have found its way also into the increasing US-China geopolitical rivalry when the latter is pushing a new theory about the origins of the coronavirus: It is an American disease that might have been introduced by members of the US Army who visited Wuhan in October 2019. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman’s latest accusations, which have been denounced in the US as intentional spreading of an unfounded conspiracy theory, highlighted a downward spiral in relations between the two countries that has been fueled by the basest instincts of officials on both sides. Earlier, it was senior officials in the US who called the epidemic the “Wuhan virus,” and at least one senator hinted darkly that the epidemic began with the leak of a Chinese biological weapon.
On the economic front, as the coronavirus has morphed into a global epidemic, and carmakers have been forced to scramble for parts and raw materials, this may lead to the reshaping of global supply chains. European car manufacturers have so far defied expectations that supply chain chaos would bring their assembly lines to a standstill. However, how long that can continue is an open question as the coronavirus disrupts daily life and economic activity in new and unpredictable ways. Auto industry supply chains are devilishly complicated. Some components cross borders several times as they are stamped, machined and otherwise refined on the way to the final assembly line. That makes the supply networks vulnerable. Some political leaders have pointed to the coronavirus as a lesson in the perils of globalization, and urged companies to produce more close to home. But, for the time being, the automakers’ biggest problem seems to be not whether they can build cars but whether they can sell them.

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