Let us not waste the COVID-19 crisis
Kishore Mahbubani

Editor’s note: Kishore Mahbubani is a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore and the author of the book "Has China Won?" This is an excerpt of his remarks for Understanding China Conference 2020 held in Guangzhou, China. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

As we know, in the year of 2020, humanity is experiencing one of the greatest crisis in human history. I am of course referring to COVID-19. Even more damaging, the global economy has suffered, and once again global poverty is rising.  

The first question we need to ask ourselves is: What is the big message that COVID-19 is sending to humanity? Here there is absolutely no doubt what is the big metaphysical message that COVID-19 is sending. It is clear that now all of humanity is living together in one small endangered planet. I explain this using a simple boat analogy from my book "The Great Convergence." In that book I say that in the past when humanity lived in 193 separate countries, it was as though they were living in 193 separate boats, with captains or crews to take care of each boat, and rules to make sure boats did not collide. That was the 1945 rules-based order. 

But today, as a result of the world having shrunk, the 7.7 billion people in the world no longer live in 193 separate boats, the 7.7 billion people now live in separate cabins of the same boat. But the problem with our global boat is that you have captains and crews taking care of each cabin, but no captain or crew taking care of the global boat as a whole. This explains how global crises like COVID-19 break out, how global warming has become a challenge. We live in a captainless planet Earth.  

What is the obvious solution? For humanity to come together to strengthen the institutions of global governance, especially the institutions of global governance that were set up after World War II by the United States and its Western allies. They were all centered on the UN and other institutions: the Bretton Woods institutions, the IMF and World Bank. One of the greatest paradoxes of about the times we live in is that even though these institutions of global governance were set up by the West and these are essentially Western in spirit, sadly the west has been weakening and undermining the institutions of global governance.  

Of course, this claim can be disputed by some people, so let me give some concrete evidence. Clearly, one lesson we learned from COVID-19 is that the world needs a stronger World Health Organization (WHO). But guess what we have been doing to the WHO? In the 1970s, 62 percent of the funding for the WHO came from mandatory, compulsory funding. The WHO could rely on 62 percent for reliable, long-term funding. 

Over time the Western countries worked together to push down the mandatory funding from 62 percent to 18 percent, less than 20 percent. How can you create a strong organization on the basis of compulsory funding that is less than 20 percent? If you have any doubts of this, the Professor Kelley Lee has written a book on the WHO that documents all this. More recently, sadly, President Trump decided to withdraw from the WHO after COVID-19 broke out. That was very sad because what the world needs is for the U.S. to work together with the rest of the world to strengthen these institutions of global governance.  

So my message today is a simple one. To use a famous Western expression, let us not waste a crisis. Let us not waste the COVID-19 crisis. Let us use it to think very hard about how we can create a better future for humanity. Clearly, with all evidence that the destinies of all 7.7 billion people are now intertwined and we all live together on the same boat, the big message that is being sent to us now is we should work together to strengthen the institutions of global governance rather than weaken them.  

To use the WHO as a clear and simple example, the obvious thing we can do is to now reverse the pattern of funding for the WHO and instead of only giving them less than 20 percent of mandatory funding, raise it to 60, 70, 80 percent. Why is that important? Because then the WHO can then make long term plans, recruit long term health inspectors, recruit long term scientific expertise so the world can be better prepared if something like COVID-19 comes about.  

But the tragedy here is that the Western countries who created these institutions still have not come to real that this is the obvious solution that humanity can and should take today. But this is where I hope that perhaps China can provide a good positive example. The whole world has noticed that China stepped up its funding of the WHO after COVID-19 broke out. The whole has noticed that China has agreed to share its vaccine with the rest of the world. This is not just in the area of COVID-19. In other areas of global challenges, like global warming, President Xi has just announced the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2060. 

With all positive examples that China is setting, one more thing that China could do is provide the leadership to try and strengthen many of the institutions of global governance, and to try and persuade the rest of the world to increase the share of mandatory funding for many of these organizations, not just the WHO but organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). I know that well because I served as a member of the commission of eminent persons that was set up to review the future of the IAEA.  

At the end of the day, I believe that all of us in humanity should understand the clear metaphysical message that COVID-19 is sending to us. Humanity should now focus on non-traditional security threats like COVID-19 and global warming, and work together to overcome them. With that, let me wish this conference a great success. 

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