June 5, 2020

Dr Rozhan Othman

Senior Fellow

The Covid19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. Rich and developed countries like the US, the UK and Russia has proven to be inept at handling the pandemic. The high number of infections and deaths in these countries shows how the national leadership in these countries have failed. These countries may have the best scientists and hospitals, but these cannot compensate for the tragedy of incompetent national leaders.


The Covid pandemic has turned the world upside down. Rich and developed countries like the US, the UK and Russia has proven to be inept at handling the pandemic. The high number of infections and deaths in these countries shows how the national leadership in these countries have failed. These countries may have the best scientists and hospitals, but these cannot compensate for the tragedy of incompetent national leaders.

If we add Brazil and India to the list of failed leaderships during this pandemic, one common theme emerges. They are all led by right wing rulers who fancy themselves as some form of saviour of their nations. Yet, they are all responsible for taking their country to the brink. All these countries are major global economic powers. We would expect them to also lead the world out of this pandemic. It is becoming apparent that if they cannot manage the pandemic in their respective countries, how can they provide global leadership. The emergence of the US as a superpower was in fact a reversal of the direction the country was heading before the WW2. The mood in the US after the First World War was to position itself as a neutral country. The US Congress enacted the Neutrality Acts of 1935 and 1937 to create policies and regulations to ensure US neutrality. However, all this ended with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. US ascendancy as a global power was inevitable after WW2. In addition to being the only country with Atomic weapon, it’s cities and economy was the least ravaged by the war. However, military might alone is not enough to become a global leader. Its economy also needed markets and the only market that were prosperous enough before the war to buy US industrial products was Europe. As such rebuilding Europe was important.

The Marshall Plan

A key element is the post-WW2 reconstruction was the Marshall Plan. It was essentially a financial assistance program from the US to help European countries rebuild after the war. The Marshall plan essentially served 2 key purposes i.e. rebuild the economy of Europe and thus creating a market for US exports and block Soviet influence and advances. Even though the Marshall Plan was paid for by the US, it was a win-win formula that ultimately benefitted both the donor and the recipients. The recovery in Europe also happened in tandem with the formation of NATO with the US playing a leading role in its formation. Post WW2 US leaders were farsighted enough to recognize that global leadership cannot be attained while being inward looking and having one’s head in the sand. The US must lead and to lead it must be willing to help others stand up from their fall.

Fast forward to 2020 and the world is facing a pandemic that is both a health crisis as well as an economic disaster. The IMF expects global GDP to contract by 3 percent in 2020 and the GDP per capita in 170 countries to shrink. Some analysts regard the post-Covid economic recovery as being like a post-war recovery. Dell’Ariccia et al. (2020) argue that lessons from past post-war recoveries show that the public sector will have to play a key role. Government spending will be the driver that is going to power the economy to recovery. If the post-WW2 recovery was aided by the Marshall Plan and multi-lateral institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, the question now is who is going to lead the post-Covid recovery. The US has become nation led by a tin pot president who is clueless about what needs to be done to help his own people, much less provide global leadership.

In times of crisis like the current pandemic, many countries found themselves left on their own to fend off Covid. Italy complained about the lack of EU help during its fight against the disease. The Saudi-Russia oil war that led to the collapse of oil price shows how self-centred motives can lead to destructive consequences. And behind every self-centred move are self-centred leaders with myopic outlooks.

The Successful Covid19 Leadership

Global Leadership

Yet, what is needed now is global leadership. No one country can rebuild its economy if others around it are still in recession. The world has become interdependent and international trade is the fuel that keeps many economies moving. The global supply chain today cuts across national boundaries. Countries have to recover together. What is needed now is a multi-lateral approach where the global recovery should be like the rising tide that raises the big ships and the small boats in the harbour.  But the question now who is providing the global leadership for this recovery?

Neither US nor the EU is looking beyond their own interest. Regionalism is supposed to help small countries band together to support one another and enhance their bargaining power. But even ASEAN seems clueless and silent on what to do next. The regional bloc also seems to suffer from a lack of leadership in this issue. And of course, there is the OIC… Seriously? Really? China has been positioning itself as a global leader. But the world is confused with the split personality China is showing. On the economic front it seems to be projecting a benevolent image with its many aid programs to less developed countries. But on the political and military front it is showing the image of a bully who will not hesitate to flex its muscles in territorial disputes with its neighbours. It’s One Belt One Road initiative emphasizes collaboration and joint development, but its military force is fuelling tension and enmity in the region.

Many are wondering whether as China hands over a flower in one hand it is in fact hiding a dagger in its other hand, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting countries. And there is also the concern about China’s attitude toward democratic rule and human rights. After all, China is still a one-party rule country. Its persecution of minorities has also raised concerns about its values and whether it has the moral authority to be a leader. Perhaps these criticisms of China are purely academic concerns. Countries that suffer need any help they can get to rebuild their economies. Maybe these countries should not be idealistic and just close their eyes to China’s imperfections. Beggars can’t be choosy.

The Unsung Heroes

After all, many countries used to receive aid from a country that continues to persecute and discriminate against minorities, especially blacks and indigenous natives. A country that supports and funds Israeli occupation and persecution of Palestinians does not have more moral authority than China either. And how much worse can China’s one-party rule be compared to the stupidity of a tin pot president? Perhaps the post-Covid era will be the dawn of the global leadership of the dragon.


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