By Wang Wen Source: China Plus Published: 2020-09-23
The development of human society is historically a never-ending fight against various viruses, as put by historian William McNeill in his book Plagues and People. Unfortunately, humans have not been able to defeat these viruses, and the decline of many empires can partly be attributed to these viruses. From the fight for dominance between Sparta and Athens to the collapse of the Roman Empire, from the reshaping of the European church system by the Black Death in the 14th century to the tragic war in the 1730s, and from the failure of Napoleon's expedition to Moscow in 1812 to the death of 100 million people caused by the Great Influenza in 1918, invisible viruses such as smallpox, measles, and typhoid all played detrimental roles in the rise and fall of these great powers and the eventual rebuilding of civilizations across human history. In the 20th century, known as “The Age of Extremes” by Eric Hobsbawm, 110 million people died in wars, while 1.4 billion died from infectious diseases. Human beings are arrogant enough that they want to conquer the Earth. They forget that they are the actual parasites of the Earth, and that the parasites on their bodies can destroy and reshape them at any time. If the Earth's 4.6-billion-year history was condensed into 24 hours, human beings would be the newest of creatures, only born in the last two seconds. This pandemic reminds us that we should always stay humble. In other words, viruses educate people to be more modest, kind, and united.
However, it is unfortunate that almost all of the smartest minds in politics, economics, sociology, and military affairs have ignored the variable of infectious diseases in their study of the changing world. Professors are ready to summarize seemingly regular influencers, while deliberately avoiding the complexity of infectious diseases in their social science research. In this regard, I hope that the COVID-19 pandemic will ring the alarm bells, and reshape the way we approach social sciences by pushing these scholars and experts to study the future impact of infectious diseases.
At present, from the perspective of history and past civilizations, most people have not been able to fully foresee the impact of the pandemic. It now seems that the global impact of the pandemic is still uncertain. My colleague and I have published a research report on three possible levels of the pandemic based on extent of influence: a regional crisis, a hazardous century, and the rise and fall of civilization. At the first level, a regional crisis can have a global impact with low intensity. In this case, globalization will suffer a shock, and the impact of the pandemic can be effectively controlled in the next three to four months. The world economy will usher in a temporary structural depression, and recovery will take one to three years. At the second level, a hazardous century suggests a medium intensity of global impact. In this context, the impact of the global pandemic will last for several years, the international order will be subverted, and reorganization will take a longer time. The rebuilding of new global governance and the reorganization of the international order will take as much effort as the reorganization of the international order after World War II. At the third level, the rise and fall of civilization is a high-intensity global impact. In this case, the impact of the global pandemic will far exceed our imagination, and it can lead to the rise and fall of human civilizations. There will be no "recovery" but only the rebuilding of a new world and new civilizations after the pandemic. No matter the level, the pandemic can have a huge impact on economic and social development.
Since the 20th century, the insatiable human pursuit of economic development has led to an imbalance between human demand and what the Earth can supply. The merciless destruction of forests, wastelands, grasslands, mountains, and lakes, and the release of parasitic pathogens in different ecosystems have resulted in unprecedented retaliation against the actions of human beings. Data shows that over the past half century, more than 30 new infectious diseases (such as AIDS) have emerged, costing more than 2% of annual global GDP, which has actually wiped out the economic achievements that countries have been trying to achieve through fiscal, financial, and other socioeconomic policies. At the same time, explosive population growth and accelerated migration, including the global transfer of population either through tourism or study abroad, have broken the original balance and greatly accelerated the spread of viruses. About 3 million people cross borders every day, and viruses spread faster than expected. It took Spain’s 1918 Flu half a year to spread across the globe, while COVID-19 only took days to reach every corner of the Earth. People believe that scientific progress can lead to the extinction of infectious diseases, but mutations makes viruses resistant to new treatments. Currently, millions of medical staff and medical experts are studying COVID-19, but they are shocked to find that the mutation of the virus makes the development of vaccines and specific drugs very difficult. My top concern is the possible occurrence of a third epicenter for COVID-19. After the first outbreak in East Asia which has basically been brought under control, and while the second outbreak with Europe and the United States as the epicenter was about to reach its peak, Africa and South Asia, a region with more than 3 billion people, is looking to become a new epicenter. It's hard to imagine ways to deal with the massive spread of the pandemic in developing countries and low-income regions, with greater population density and insufficient medical equipment. What humans now need is not only a revolution of national governance to transform the actions of governments to cope with a public health crisis, which should prevent poverty-stricken areas from becoming new hotbeds of the virus, but also a shift in the global paradigm and new thinking of what global governance actually means. Thinking only of the security of national boundaries is limited. Mutual accusations that became global disaster before the pandemic also seem short-sighted. Infectious diseases are no longer a simple medical issue nor a national issue, but a global ideological issue. Just like when humans were faced with the spread of the Black Death, people rethought about their relationship with others and the world, thus promoting the Renaissance and leading to modern civilizations.
I hope the profound lessons from COVID-19 can result in a new Renaissance and lead mankind towards a future focused on ecological sustainability and human security.
It is safe to say that in the post-pandemic era, promoting the construction of a community with a shared future for mankind can be a remedy to the deadly impact of the pandemic. The "community with a shared future for mankind", will be the fruit of mankind’s labor, and is the epitome of thought that has developed up to modern times. The "community with a shared future for mankind" advocates transcending the boundaries of race, culture, state and ideology, providing a new perspective for thinking about the future of mankind. In fact, it integrates the interdependence of human beings in politics, economy, society, military, security, and other aspects in the 21st century. During or after the outbreak of the pandemic, such a community will have at least three major impacts on the future cooperation between countries. First, it will strengthen policy communication among countries to reduce or even avoid conflicts, especially among major powers. It is necessary to strengthen policy communication from the perspective of the "community with a shared future for mankind" to avoid the global consequences of a conflict between major powers. Only with better policy communication among countries can there be a better global social environment, and human civilization can have a more stable foundation for development and prosperity. Second, it can outline the future of human connectivity, and guide global economic policy to further strengthen connectivity among countries. Thirdly, it will greatly enhance a global identity among different societies. In the past, we only identified as separate countries, but now we should not only work with different countries, but also with the "community with a shared future for mankind," which stands on a level beyond borders.
In the face of a new era of globalization, there are at least three tasks to be done. First, we should establish an open and transparent mechanism of international assistance and feedback. During the disasters such as the tsunami in Indonesia, the earthquake in Haiti, and the Ebola virus in Africa, the Chinese government and people offered selfless help and support to affected countries; and during the outbreaks of SARS, the Wenchuan earthquake, and COVID-19, the world also offered China a lot of assistance. Such mutual support is an excellent example that brings to light the concept of the "community with a shared future for mankind." China should establish an open and transparent mechanism of "assistance and feedback," to quickly publish the use of donations from overseas groups and individuals, so as to eliminate the doubts of donors and activate more resources and forces that exist in our society. Second, we should establish a global network for the exchange of pandemic prevention information and a mechanism for pandemic risk rating. Based on big data, we can quickly establish an information sharing mechanism between countries to share current information, experience, and major findings of pandemic prevention and control. This can not only effectively curb the global spread of the pandemic, but also more effectively limit the spread of international rumors, and reduce the economic and financial impact of the pandemic. Third, we should be advocates for the moral that "life is priceless." Survival is a basic human right, and every life is worth cherishing. This should be the basic idea of building a community with a shared future for mankind. Additionally, we should not only respect human life, but also respect all life in nature. All countries should unite to protect the environment, accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and achieve green and sustainable development. Fourth, we should actively promote international cooperation for pandemic prevention and control. China sacrificed a lot in the fight against the pandemic for the benefits of mankind, and the effect of prevention and control is obvious to all. We should strengthen communication with major powers and countries seriously affected by the pandemic through more networking systems, in order to share experiences, discuss response plans, improve international health cooperation, and provide more assistance to hard-hit countries. We must also estimate the economic and financial losses caused by the pandemic so as to strengthen policy coordination among countries and maintain the stability of global supply chains and capital markets.
As General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized at the G20 video summit, the virus knows no border. The pandemic is our common enemy. Guided by the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind, the international community will make concerted efforts, unite their response, strengthen cooperation, and gather forces to overcome the pandemic and achieve victory against this major infectious disease.
The author is professor and executive dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, and executive director of China-US People-to-People Exchange Research Center. firstname.lastname@example.org
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