COVID-19 and dynamics of international politics: opportunities for middle powers

_ Hendra Manurung, lecturer of international relations. President University. Bekasi, 17 July 2020. Global health has emerged as a flourishing field of study that advances key ideas and debates in international relations (Davies et. all, 2014: 825). It highlights how the study of global health is increasingly generating new perspectives on some of the core assumptions and debates in the inter-disciplinary discipline.

Pandemic COVID-19 has unmasked a global order which is too risky to depend solely on world dominant power continuously. These two economic superpowers: the United States and China actually directly involved in the international politics of blaming each other frontally, and keep fighting narrative related economic advantages since 2017.

Most of international arm-conflict in era of post-Cold War happened in Indian Ocean regions which highlight on regional geopolitics weakness.

The US and China still remain central actors to dynamics equilibrium that underpins security and stability in the Asia-Pacific or, as the US government and some others now call it, the Indo-Pacific. China is not only reported in boosting its presence in South China Sea. Tokyo officially mentions that China utilizes its military and non-military power in order to enforce unilateral claim in the regions (Kompas, July 15, 2020).

The deterioration of the crucially important relationship between these world’s two most powerful countries has deepened and accelerated during Donald Trump’s presidency (2016-2020).

While, China still ambitiously attempts to change status quo in order to expanding control and influence in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic in East China Sea and Japan Sea. India and the US also respond relevantly to China active presence phenomena in Indian Ocean and South China Sea. For Japan, it is necessary to keep an eye on the COVID-19 infection, which is bringing about diverse impacts and restrictions to military activities of respective countries. Japan perceives China presence in the regions as serious threat, which is written briefly:

“In order to fully transform the people’s armed forces into world-class forces by the mid-21st century, China has sustained high-level growth of its defense budget without transparency, engaging in broad, rapid improvement of its military power in qualitative and quantitative terms with focus on nuclear, missile, naval and air forces. In doing so, it has attached importance to strengthening its operational capabilities in order to steadily acquire information superiority, and also enhanced its capabilities in the domains of space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic spectrum” (Defense of Japan, July 14, 2020).  

In fact, this condition cannot be ignored other countries presence. Expectations of momentum ‘rise of the rest’ and ‘none left behind’ must be kept with a perspective of states unique behavior emphasizes multilateralism spirit in current international politics. The existence of the US and China relations remains important related to multilateral funding capacity and production contribution of medical devices whose needs generate. However, this research attempts to elaborate on countries with the spirit of multilateralism in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic. One good example is delivered by Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono statement in front of the forum Shangrila Dialogue 2012:

Keep in mind that the relations of major powers are not entirely up to them. Middle and smaller powers too can help lock the major powers into this durable architecture, through a variety of instruments” (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Shangrila Dialogue, June 1, 2012).

President SBY’s statement represented Indonesia’s confidence, which should be able to be a narrative of the middle power countries in dealing this pandemic. Pandemic COVID-19 has strengthened the intersection of urgency health issues in globalization. Outbreaks since the past two decades and culminated in a pandemic COVID 19th, continues to force the international community to reconsider the issue of health in the middle of the swift globalization. Middle power countries are expected to do more than just material compatibility due to its tendency as the guardian spirit of multilateralism (Joint Communique 14th MIKTA Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, February 7, 2019; European Commission-Press release, September 10, 2019).

This jargon is not only a counter narrative on fighting the political narrative in mutual blame the US-China. The efforts of the middle power countries and coalitions of countries with broader understanding are the anchors of the narrative of shared victory. It is namely the victory of humanity in the midst of global pandemic challenges by maintaining the presence of public goods amid nationalistic policy tendencies.

While, Manurung stated, in Asia Pacific region, Russia and Indonesia mutual interest empower to have stronger relations which are generally on the rise and are dynamically evolving since President Joko Widodo leadership began on October 20, 2014 (Hendra Manurung, 2020). Russia and Indonesia have great potential for the intensification of cooperation in the political, trade, economic, technological and military-technical fields. During the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic spread nationally on March 2, 2020, the recently improved political and economic situation in Indonesia acts as constructing foundation for this development.

Although the contestation regarding the definition of a middle power state is still ongoing, the approach discourse has reached the third wave. Cooper and Dal (2017) characterize the third wave with the relation of middle power countries that are relatively independent with superpowers.

The global financial crisis in 2008 led to the most recent wave to see the country’s middle powers as a bridge between the forces of the status quo (G-7) with emerging powers such BRICS (Brazil Russia, India, China and South Africa). Jordaan (2003) distinguishes middle class power groups with their position on the status quo and established norms in the international community as traditional groups and emerging middle powers. However, it refers to the behavior of the first group as loyal-supporters, while the second is more colored by the critical-supporter behavior towards the strength of the status quo hegemon (Eduard Jordaan, 2003).

Thereafter, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of international health security has experienced increasing attention from countries in the world since the outbreak of a transnational pandemic in Wuhan, China, late December 2019. An important momentum in the mainstreaming of health safety issues that started from a group of countries medium is the Oslo Ministerial Declaration-Global Health: A Pressing Foreign Policy Issue of Our Time (2007). The documents initiated by the Norwegian and French Foreign Ministers and supported by Indonesian Foreign Ministers as co-chairs, Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, and Senegal (Gunnar Kvale, 2007). Those seven foreign ministers are Celso Amorim (Brazil); Philippe Douste-Blazy (Perancis); Hasan Wirayuda (Indonesia); Jonas Gahr Støre (Norwegia); Cheikh Tidiane Gadio (Senegal); Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Afrika Selatan); and Nitya Pibulsonggram (Thailand).

These seven Foreign Ministers initiative has offered a definition of global health security whose understanding must be distinguished from the meaning of peace and security in the UN Charter. Therefore, the definition then proposed to the World Health Assembly (WHA) written: “… protection against public health risks and threats that by their very nature do not respect borders. Global health security depends on critical capacity in all countries, combined with a commitment to collaborate, such as spelled out in the International Health Regulations”. Thus, in  a  declaration  on  global  health  and  foreign policy (April 21, 2007: 1373), seven ministers of foreign affairs  take  further  the  increased  attention  this  topic  has  received in recent months (R. Horton, 2007: 806-807; Donaldson and Banatvala, 2007: 857–861). The main message of this important initiative is that  a  country’s  foreign  policy  should  primarily  be  judged  by  its  effect   on  global health. The  declaration  specifies   important  interventions   related   to   health   and   health-care  problems  we  face  today,  as   well   as   to   risks   that   need   to   be   dealt  with  now  to  prevent  problems  in   the   future.   However,   how   these   interventions    will    be    prioritized    is    not   suggested.

Moreover, the global actions are more readily taken by all countries when the problems also affect the rich part of the world, such as the SARS epidemic and avian influenza. Past international initiatives have too often brought few benefits to the most disadvantaged groups. Further, health impact assessment must be done before important policy decisions are taken (Lee, Ingram, Lock, Mcinnes, 2007; 85: 207-211).

In 2012, the multilateral partnership known as the Global Health and Foreign Policy Group (GHFPG) successfully initiated General Assembly Resolution (MU) of the United Nations Global Health and Foreign Policy, A / 67 / L.36 (Davies, Elbe, Howell and McInnes, 2014: 828).

The initiative initiated by the seven Foreign Ministers is different from The Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI), which was first present in 2001 after 911 terrorist attacks in the US. Since its establishment, GHSI’s statement on the issue of health safety has shifted with the H5N1 bird flu pandemic (2003) and then combines the issue of NUBICA terrorism (nuclear biology and chemistry) with the H1N1 swine flu pandemic (2009). Rushton (2011) identifies a group of countries consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the US, and the European Union Commission more representative of a group of developed countries. With the exception of Mexico, the rhetoric and interests of coalitions of countries like this are more like the G-7 which represents the interests of developed countries (Simon Rushton, 2011: 790).

These two groups of countries have different views and perspectives on their initiative. It can be said that GHFPG represents countries with diverse geographical origins and economic establishment levels. GHFPG mostly come from medium and small countries, except France which is also dominant in the GHSI group. In GHFPG, health issues associated with the development issues of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including disparities in economic issues, political, and intellectual property.


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