‘From Wuhan to the World’: COVID-19 may play in favor of democracies, not autocracies




The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the power of the state in its traditional role as protector of society from outside threats. In the broader scheme, however, an increase in state power in a manner that even the citizens of the most robust democracies consider legitimate may play in favor of democracies rather than autocracies, argues François Heisbourg, Senior adviser for Europe of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Special advisor of the Paris-based Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS).

In dealing with COVID-19, the democratic state is tapping into new sources of power while Chinese President Xi Jinping, for example, has little authority to gain at the margin, he writes in From Wuhan to the World: How the Pandemic Will Reshape Geopolitics for the June/July issue of Survival: Global Politics and Society:

The twenty-first century’s advent of data and its management as the commanding source of power and money is also receiving a twentieth-century twist. In China, the state already commands data power. In democracies facing the pandemic, while civil libertarians understandably fear the rise of the ‘surveillance state’, electorates may fear the pandemic even more. Intrusive contact tracing, once permitted only under often onerous legal constraints for targeted counter-terrorism purposes and the like, is already an instrument of choice in fighting COVID-19 in some democracies, notably South Korea and Israel, and may well spread further and could involve entire populations.

Credit: IISS

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) took aim at China over its handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic in joke-filled remarks during a high school commencement address over the weekend, the Hill reports:

Sasse made the comments during his speech to Nebraska’s Fremont High School graduating class, in which he was discussing the impact the outbreak has had on Nebraska. The New York Times database shows the state has reported over 10,000 cases of the virus in recent weeks and more than 120 deaths.

“We’re gonna have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it,” he went on to say.

“You’re gonna say stuff at your high school reunion service ceremonies [like], ‘Remember that time that China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay at home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper and we all watched this documentary about some weirdo dude who raised tigers?’” joked Sasse, an honorary board member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Amid this crisis, what opportunities might exist, if any, to advance democratic freedom around the globe and to develop new forms of technological and social innovation?

Join the Tikvah Fund for a conversation with General David Petraeus, former Commander of U.S. Central Command and former Director of the CIA, as we assess the fault lines, threats, and opportunities of the current moment and beyond. General Petraeus will be interviewed by Vance Serchuk, Executive Director of the KKR Global Institute and former senior advisor to Senator Joe Lieberman.

Tell Me How This Ends: The COVID Pandemic and Its Geopolitical Implications
General David Petraeus
Monday, May 18, 2020 | 7:30 PM EDT

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