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Geopolitics waits for no one: Southeast Asia a year on from the outbreak of Covid-19

Geopolitics waits for no one: Southeast Asia a year on from the outbreak of Covid-19

A year since the pandemic abruptly changed all aspects of our lives, how has Covid-19 affected Southeast Asia and what lessons can we draw at this point? Here I offer three key observations that provide a way to look at the overarching impact of the pandemic on the region.

Covid-19 is a true disruptor on all levels.

There is no good time for a pandemic, but the world arguably was less prepared than it should have been for this one—not because we haven’t experienced plagues before or because we didn’t imagine a global pandemic like this one, but because we preferred to think about the threat in the abstract rather than in practical terms as an inevitability.

The response to the coronavirus crisis has become a measure by which political systems are judged—which systems dealt with it best, which governments fared better in securing medical services and supplies, who’ll win in the vaccine race, and who has been able to influence global health institutions.

The pandemic is not just an ‘accelerator’. It has introduced profound changes on many levels. Each country’s economic strength, confidence and power will be affected in the post-Covid world, which in turn may shift the hierarchy and balance in Southeast Asia. Resource nationalism and vaccine nationalism, for example, not only will affect the physical recovery of Southeast Asian nations, but also could play a role in determining the future alignment of regional politics.

Southeast Asian nations must not misjudge just how significant this juncture is. If they do, they are likely to respond inadequately to the challenges and may miss the opportunity to assert their positions and interests in this critical time.

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