As of March 25, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that 196 countries, areas and territories are affected by Covid-19.
If we are to compare this number with the number of countries and territories in the world (251), then what is apparent is the fact that almost 80 per cent of the world is facing this virus.
While the curative and preventive measures put in place in several countries, such as South Korea and China, have so far proven effective in curbing the spread of the virus, such moves also involve a huge economic trade-off.
That brings us to the biggest worry associated with Covid-19, after its harmful impact on the human health — its long-term impact on the global economy.
While most economic reports on the Internet today circle around the Western concern over the lifting of lockdown in Wuhan on April 8, an objective argument can also be made that China, as the first nation impacted by the virus, is also in the position of being the first to be able to manage the spread of the virus, and thus, resume its economic activities.
China certainly has the capacity. The world’s second biggest economy is also home to some of the world’s most advanced medical and technological capabilities.
There is a sense of economic solidarity in China’s move. Through the supply of medical equipment, medic teams and low interest loans, China’s economic revival strategy also caters to the livelihood of its Asian and Western trade partners.
This is where the game-changing elements of Covid-19 can be found, especially in the observable shifts in global leadership and its potential impact on trade dependency and the realignment of Asian trade markets.
With the strategic support given, China is effectively playing its role in reducing the economic and societal impact felt not only by its Belt and Road Initiative-friendly countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but also other severely affected Western countries like Italy and Spain.
While the manoeuvre drew scepticism from the world’s leading economic giants, most notably the United States, the so-called “mask diplomacy” has certainly helped elevate China’s image of global leadership.
The countries assisted would not easily forget the aid given by China in their darkest moments, and this could influence their future decision on trade preferential treatment.
Though the threat of economic slowdown remains a real possibility, if we look at the trade data of Asean countries, or most of other Asian countries for that matter, our top five trading partners consist of none other than our own Asian neighbours.
In fact, except for Cambodia, four out of five trading partners of Asean countries come from our own Asian backyard, with Singapore, China, Japan and Hong Kong being our favourites.
A further observation on the trade data for these Asian giants — China, Japan and Hong Kong — also yielded somewhat similar results. For China, three out of its top five trading partners are Asian countries.
For Japan, more than half of its early 2020 share of export and import comes from Asia. The same can be observed from the online trade data of Hong Kong.
Therefore, even while certain media are making reports on how there would be an economic shock following the resumption of economic activities in Asian countries post-Covid-19, in reality, our markets have made a strategic choice of not putting all our eggs in one basket, hence ensuring that our trade operations would not be severely affected by the virus.
For that reason, should the economic restriction in Western countries be prolonged, the Asian market could undergo a massive realignment, from serving the Western market to serving our own Asian counterparts.
It may be not the first time we are doing so, but it would be the first time we would be pressured to continue doing so in the name of economic survival.
From the Movement Control Order, highway shutdown and massive roadblocks, Covid-19 has taught us a new normal. Whether this new normal would lead to the creation of the new world economic order could be a possibility that’s hard to ignore.
The writer is Kedah Menteri Besar Incorporated chief executive officer
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times