A world shaped by Covid-19

Parag Khanna: an exclusive interview with the Indian and naturalized American political scientist. That is how Covid-19 is shaping the world

Parag Khanna: an exclusive interview with the Indian and naturalized American political scientist. That is how Covid-19 is shaping the worldParag Khanna: an exclusive interview with the Indian political scientist

“The answer to the pandemic crisis has showed how some societies, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, have been able to express an effective combination of reliable leaderships, independent competencies, public consultation, crisis preparation and national resiliency which we expect from the best governments at a global level.” These are the words of Parag Khanna, Indian and naturalized American political scientist – who currently lives in Singapore, with all the intentions to continue to live there in the near future – which strongly underline the political model offered by Asian societies, at the centre of his recent works such as Technocracy in America (2017) and The Future is Asian? (2019).

Friendly and moderate, the 42 years old expert in international politics, as well as founder and administrator member of FutureMap – a strategic consultancy society based on data and forecasts – shares with us his reflections on the different ways through which we are facing and, in some cases, gradually mitigating the Covid-19 spread, stressing the need of an adequate use of technology – not damaging individual privacy and setting itself within a cultural horizon of checks and balances and democratic transparency.

Parag Khanna, on the base of the Asian multipolarity analysed by you in your recent book “The Future is Asian”, China – the point of departure of the pandemic – and South Korea have both presented different and effective answers to the emergency. What can we learn from their approach?

The South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan governments did better than others since they have very efficient healthcare systems and they are very careful of their aged population. We must not forget that, 20 years ago, they also experienced the Sars pandemic. Their citizens trust their government and, consequently, they strictly observe the instructions of medical professionals. We should also remember that 1 out of 10, or 1 out of 20, member of Singapore Parliament is a physician, and therefore is quite aware of what he is talking about: the population follows their guidelines, relying on their medical expertise. While the West looks superficially, and in a condescending way, to the Asian continent, I believe instead that it is time to analyse seriously the latter’s sophisticated societies, as I did in some of my works. We have a lot to learn about the management of some issues through what I defined as ‘the technocratic way’. In my 2017 book Technocracy in America (Fazi Editore), I analysed several countries searching the best inclusive and responsive governance practices, and I developed a model of “direct technocracy”, which combines a collective presidency executive and a multiparty Parliament of Swiss type with a public administration comparable to the Singapore’s one.

In a world that is growingly interconnected, should the answers to threats such as Covid-19 be global, coherent, and well-structured as well? When a cure or a vaccine would eventually be found, in your opinion, will it be accessible to all or nationalism will prevail?

I believe that, at international level, we should not follow a centralized model but, on the contrary, thinking on how to develop expertise locally, to enhance the internet connection, the sharing of information through the responsible bodies, in order to allow the diffusion of knowledge and resources, so that each State would be prepared to react to crisis in an effective way. I have already addressed this issue in my 2011 book, How to run the World (Fazi Editore). Regarding the availability for all of a future vaccine, I believe that it would depends on its production regulation. At the moment, several pharmaceutical tests have been developed which can provide a definitive recognition, positive or negative, in five minutes. We still have to evaluate, however, an effective outcome of these tests, that is if, practically, they would eventually be diffused rapidly or not at a global level. I think that the pharma industries are obviously interested to acknowledge the impact on the international market, given the natural competition among the different laboratories. Historically, the research phase of a vaccine’s development has always been a global issue: we have already assisted to partnerships between national and generic producers, while the governments were busy trying to assure the public that the new vaccine was extensively available – as has been the case with penicillin. Despite the fact that nationalism is revealing itself as very strong sentiment nowaday, I still don’t believe that, with regards of the solution of this pandemic, it will prevail: indeed, it is now taking place a vast sharing of resources, test devices, ventilators and facemasks.

How much influence did have the communication errors and the initial underestimations of the pandemic in shaping the current situation?

Miscommunications had a heavy influence. There has been an active suppression of information by China – which has been, and is still being, widely criticized – but, later, these mistakes have been made also by other national government, which stoked the confusion. This happened, patently, in the US, in the United Kingdom, and in all the countries where everyday there is a constant accumulation of new communications promoting quarantine and lockdown, inviting their citizen to isolate themselves. We can notice how, in Asian countries, social distancing is considered as the best medication and the most valid way of prevention, which can be enhanced without any healthcare and simply keeping distances for a couple of weeks: this alone has weakened the virus transmission.

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