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Prof. FU Jun: In the Same Boat under the Same Heaven


"All nations must unite and help each other in fighting the virus. This is the correct thing, both moral and rational, that one should do."

In a way that’s uncanny, the novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, has reminded us just how closely the world is interconnected. In a just few months, by mid-April 2020, the pandemic has given rise to 2 million confirmed cases of infection across more than 200 countries and regions, with varying degrees of fatality indifferent places.

The death toll reached over 140,000 globally. The number continues to rise. Due to the rapid -- and in many cases asymptomatic -- spread of the virus, global production and supply chains are being disrupted, and a big part of the global economy has to shut down, in ways that few could have imagined and anticipated a few months ago. And we continue to face an enormous amount of uncertainties and unknowns, in spite of all sorts of predictions, forecasts, and conjectures by pundits of all kinds.

But what is certain is that Covid-19 is a virus not just against one country but itis against all countries. Indeed, it is a challenge against the whole of human civilization. Bill Gates has called it “the number one pandemic” that defines our age. Victory over it, therefore, will not be defined by one country doing relatively better than others. Instead, victory will be defined by the poorest or the least-prepared country ultimately beating the virus, because we are all “in the same boat,” so to speak.

All nations therefore must unite and help each other in fighting the virus. This is the correct thing, both moral and rational, that one should do. That said, I’m afraid that one might take the wrong lesson. Indeed, while scientists have been racing against time trying to come up with better diagnostic kits, tracking tools, therapeutic drugs, antibodies, and ultimately the vaccines, of late there have been worrying signs about the global political economy that we have to watch closely. These signs have deep implications for the ways -- especially on the policy front-- that we fight the virus now, and for the future, or the post-pandemic world system we may live in.

Intellectually, the pandemic happens at a time of enormous uncertainties, when the realist paradigm of hegemonic stability has declined, the liberal model of constructivism has lost traction, and rigorous substitutions are yet to come. In the meantime, the traditional idea of balance of power – set in a dynamic rather than static mode in reality – seems too risky to those still believing in the primacy of power in the international order. That aside, the neoliberal model of a global economy is grossly “incomplete”, when viewed from a Godelian perspective. At the axiomatic level, the model has, with a sleight of hand, as it were, assumed away what the political scientists call the “security dilemma”, when in fact there is no global government of the sovereign kind.

In this context of intellectual uncertainties, geopolitics -- when fanned by populism, ultra-nationalism, and xenophobia -- has come back to trump economics. Many see Covid-19 -- with all of its fatal externalities -- as a wake-up call. Consequently, globalization thus far, which has been guided by the intellectual agenda moving from the Hobbesian model to the Kantian model since the Enlightenment era, is under growing pressure to reverse its course.

Anti-globalism has been on the rise. Signs are everywhere. Even the UnitedStates, still a leading global power, all seems to have started to back-peddle from multilateralism to unilateralism. It has, for instance, cut back or withheld funds to international organizations, including the WHO -- a global platform for fighting diseases such as Covid-19.

But this is not the right recipe, when human civilization is at stake. That is, when mankind faces common threats of looming magnitude. Covid-19 is perhaps just a reminder. Do not forget climate change, among others. Facing common threats, we must hang together or be hanged separately, because we are all in the same boat -- the small village that we call the Earth. This is, one would submit, the biggest equation of truth about human life.

Reflecting his board vision, Albert Einstein once said: “Politics is transitory, an equation is for the eternity.” Also reflecting the broad vision, “Tianxia”, or “under the same heaven”, is an ancient Chinese philosophical concept -- a world-view that goes beyond what we today see as “nation-states” -- a 17th-century Europeanconception in wake of the Westphalia Treaty. But living “in the same boat” and“under the same heaven”, so to speak, nation-states must transcend the narrow confines of national interests, now that human civilization is under the grave threat of an insidious virus that respects no national boundaries.

By Prof. Fu Jun  for Aspen web meeting

FU Jun is a Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy, the Academic Dean of the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development at Peking University, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Future Agenda Council on Economic Progress.