Emerging issues in international relations during the COVID-19 pandemic – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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  • May 4, 2020
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Emerging issues in international relations during the COVID-19 pandemic

Search 21st April, 2020 Spotlight here: http://www.newsonair.com/Main_Audio_Bulletins_Search.aspx 

Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
  • COVID-19 Crisis

The emerging issues in the international relations will witness challenges on three fronts – politically, economically and socially.


The virus has put to the test various political systems’ ability to effectively protect their populations. Brittle institutions are being exposed, and political shifts are being triggered. 

At the multilateral level, the crisis could be read as a call to more cooperation or conversely push the bipolar centers of geopolitical power further apart.

A. Credibility of the world institutions is looking at further eroded:

  • Global institutional frameworks are undemocratic and unrepresentative in its character, with its agenda not designed to serve humanity at large.
  • The lack of regional coordination showcased that post-national regional arrangements like EU also stood clueless when the virus spread like wildfire in Europe. 

B. The balance of power between countries will shift:

  • USA 
    • Power would shift from one of assertion to neutrality in global affairs.
    • Acceleration of retreat of US global leadership (reflected in US-Taliban deal)
    • In the coming months, it will be difficult for policymakers and public opinion to focus their attention on anything other than managing Covid-19. Already, the strikes against US bases in Iraq, still going on by the way, and Washington’s intention to withdraw some of its forces there, have gone virtually unnoticed.
  • Russia
    • Dominance will increase as it is currently more economically and politically stable and an important power broker in West Asia
  • China

Despite its economic progress and ability to contribute positively to global efforts to deal with the coronavirus crisis, China would have to work very hard to persuade the world that it will contribute positively and generously in dealing with the challenges the world faces today. Moreover, China underplaying the impact and consequences of what recently transpired in Wuhan is certainly not going to add to its international standing.


  • China’s industrial production is recovering even as other countries are taking a hit. 
  • The decline in oil prices will make China’s recovery even faster.
  • China appears to use its manufacturing power to its geopolitical advantage. 
  • Beijing has offered medical aid and expertise to those in need and has increased cooperation with its arch-rival Japan

C. Increasing influence of China & Russia 

  • Will be a boost to authoritarian regimes and authoritarian trends
  • Asymmetric capabilities of China and Russia will be further strengthened
  • Strengthening of China and Russia axis –will have direct impact on the liberal international order

D. Globalisation – 

  • State-led models of globalisation and economic development would be preferred over (big) corporates-led globalisation
  • There will be an increased state intervention to avoid unpredictable supply sources, avoid geopolitically sensitive zones, and national demands for emergency reserves.


As pointed out in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020, there are a number of tipping points in the economic system and the economic consequence of a shock to the global system is likely to be a correction.

Mounting pressure to reduce supply chain costs motivated companies to pursue strategies such as lean manufacturing, offshoring, and outsourcing. Such cost-cutting measures mean that when there is a supply-chain disruption, manufacturing will stop quickly because of a lack of parts.

  • China would cease to be the world’s biggest exporter of manufactured goods 
  • With no country in a position to replace China, situation will precipitate a further economic downturn internationally.
  • A global recession would be inevitable with vicious downward cycle of decreased demand, closure of firms and reduced income
  • Industries will face newer challenges such as having to adjust to a shift from cost efficiencies to innovation and policy uncertainties


COVID-19 has exposed the weakness of global governance – in the area of health. Also,…

  • New-age racism: Questions are likely to be asked about the source of goods and stringent imposition of phytosanitary measures by advanced states on products coming from developing countries
  • Impact on Indian Society: Moral claims based on birth & class and the associated notions about hygiene (purity) could become sharper


India has done well not to irresponsibly criticise China publicly and has also handled foreign policy skillfully, both regionally among the SAARC countries and globally in the G20. India’s role in working quietly and behind the scenes with Saudi Arabia to convene a tele-conference of leaders of the G20 during the crisis merits special mention. It signalled the will of the entire community of nations to confront the coronavirus challenge in unision.

Our current lifestyles as a whole – over-consumption, value chains, urbanization, mobility, relationship with nature, and so on – which, unrestrained, are ultimately responsible for increasingly severe health crises and also for increasingly frequent climate disasters. The two are indeed difficult to separate. Covid-19 emerged in the wake of major fires striking in Australia. In both cases, the same lesson applies. Only a change of course, that would not only be geopolitical but also civilizational, can save humanity.

Connecting the dots:

  1. Essay: Coronavirus is our Future
  2. Will COVID-19 further push the international system into a world with Chinese characteristics? Discuss.
  3. COVID-19 will be a Geopolitical Game-Changer. Do you agree? Explain.

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