Patron: Her Excellency The Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand

A Challenge to Humanity

By Dr Anita Perkins

An Interview with Asia Forum Executive Director Dr Farib Sos on the Impact of Covid-19

(1) How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted you and your family and work?

The virus is a challenge to humanity. It makes me reflect more on my personal values and principles. How can we find balance and set the right priorities when it comes to our livelihoods, monetary value and having healthy communities? I can’t see us returning to the same work practices and business models as before Covid-19.

These have been extraordinary circumstances for all. Almost all of our daily routines have been disrupted, including socialising, shopping, physical activities and family gathering. It’s hard not being able to physically interact with grandchildren and so on. Covid-19 has created fears and anxieties about whether we are safe today and will remain alive tomorrow.

(2) Have you ever experienced something like this? If so, how did it compare to the current situation?

I grew up in a country with a history of social unrest and wars, under different regimes and national leaders. There was the monarchy and military dictatorships, and the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ was extreme. 80-90 % of wealth and assets were owned or held by the most powerful individuals, military elites and generals. 70-80% of the population struggled to make ends meet.

I saw gun battles, mortar attacks, rocket launches. People got killed and bodies piled up on the rice fields and battlegrounds. Bodies floated in the river.

Covid-19 also kills people, but in a different way. Whereas war has a man-made cause and is visible, Covid-19 is a part of nature and invisible. However, arguably the causes and effects for both wars and the pandemic would be minimal if consensus could be reached through global leadership efforts.

(3) What challenges and opportunities do you see arising from the crisis for geopolitics and international relations in the Asia – Pacific?

Covid-19 has somehow reversed globalisation. It has decoupled supply chains and marginalised multilateral institutions. It would be premature for me to speculate but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new normal. This could include working from home, more online business and public interactions, and new operating models for many enterprises.

In my view, with a global power shift, the structure of global and national economies, the role of the multilateral agencies and traditional social interactions, and the way we work will be different. The reassertion of country sovereignty and greater self-sufficiency will grow in order to defend against unreliable or vulnerable single supply lines for items such as medical equipment, pharmaceutical products and energy.

The trade tension between China and the US has become more challenging. Mutual accusations concerning the pandemic have made for poisonous relations between the two countries. China has offered its resources and knowhow in handling the virus to build relationships around the globe. The US is perceived to be absent from discussions on the global solution to this crisis. To mitigate the tension between the two superpowers – China and the US – small countries have to come together and not only foster but strengthen international rules-based multilateral systems and institutions.

(4) What do you think we in New Zealand should be thinking about in relation to Covid-19 and our future engagement with Asia – Pacific countries?

As a small country New Zealand relies on international trade for its growth and prosperity. Obviously, in its vested interests it must continue to strengthen its public institutions, e.g. public health, social development, education etc. and get the economy moving faster once the crisis has passed. Also, it must continue to mobilise like-minded countries to advocate and strengthen international rules-based and multilateral institutions.

New Zealand needs to sensitively navigate its relationship with the superpowers of China and the US. President Trump has painted the WHO as a Chinese tool to misinform or hide the truth over the transmission and spread of Covid-19. The US is currently seen as an irrevocably weak global leader. Right now, the best course of action is to remain engaged at high levels with both. We need to clearly and consistently voice our concerns and interests to both Beijing and Washington to avert the worst of this deteriorating relationship. If it does not do this, New Zealand will risk its own speedy economic recovery.

(5) What does this all mean for the Asia Forum? What message do you have for regular attendees of our forums?

We as Asia Forum members have gone through very challenging times over the last 25 years. Covid-19 has posed a new challenge. Remember to stay healthy and be kind to one another. As far as the Forum goes, the question is how do we stay relevant, responsive and alive? Asia Forum is interested to know your views on this matter. Please get in touch with me to have your say.

As a temporary measure, as long as we are in a lockdown, we are exploring options to convene online through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. We may use this online method to replace or supplement participants’ physical attendance even after the Covid level has dropped to Levels 1 and 2. We appreciate your patience and we’ll keep you updated.