28 March 2020

Why Did India Decide to Activate SAARC During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

By Brabim Karki

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to convene a video conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) states to collectively rein in the threat of COVID-19 can be seen as a thoughtful drive to respond to China’s growing influence in the region by reasserting India’s leadership.

It is a good and timely initiative as COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-nCoV-2 virus, has created widespread concerns in South Asian countries. These countries are starting to suffer a widespread cessation of economic activity due to fears of this deadly virus. 

India pledged $10 million toward a COVID-19 emergency fund and it also announced that it would be putting together a team of specialists for the SAARC states. 

This video call played a great role in triggering SAARC, which has been sluggish since 2016. Following the 2016 Uri terror attacks that year by a Pakistan-based group, India had refused to participate in the SAARC summit, which was to be held in Islamabad. The summit was finally called off as three other nations also withdrew from the summit.

Modi’s proposal now is a positive move toward smooth South Asian integration. Such a grouping is a helpful way for regional nations to show solidarity with countries that face disaster or crisis. Such integration is more effective when institutions set powerful demonstrations by helping countries in need. But now, such cooperation is under strain: countries in the European Union didn’t provide any medical assistance to Italy initially, for instance. Italy is suffering greatly due to the outbreak. The European Union was seen as leaving Italians in their hour of need and now China is filling the void.

Why Widespread Coronavirus Testing Isn’t Coming Anytime Soon

By Robert P. Baird

A critical shortage of swabs and other testing components is, in many cases, making it impossible for labs across the country to expand their capacity

This past Thursday, Donald Trump visited the National Response Coordination Center for a teleconference with the nation’s governors about how to handle the covid-19 pandemic. The center, which is situated inside the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, in Washington, is designed, in the agency’s words, to coördinate “the overall Federal support for major incidents and emergencies.” Trump—along with Mike Pence, and several other Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials—sat around a table in a gray-walled conference room, while the governors were patched in from around the country. The governors said their states needed personal protective equipment (P.P.E.) for health-care workers, ventilators for patients, block grants for their balance sheets, and the National Guard to build hospitals and distribute food. They also needed tests. Kristi Noem, of South Dakota, said that her state’s public-health laboratory—the only lab doing covid-19 testing in the state—had so much trouble securing reagents that it was forced to temporarily stop testing altogether. “We, for two weeks, were requesting reagents for our public-health lab from C.D.C., who pushed us to private suppliers, who kept cancelling orders on us,” she said. In order to get her public-health lab the reagents it needed, Noem said, “we had to get a little pushy with a few people.”

Trump and his team sought to reassure the governors. Admiral Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, who was appointed two weeks ago to coördinate the federal effort to get testing back on track, said, “We’re very effectively transitioning to large-scale testing by leveraging all components of our American health-care system, including C.D.C. and the state public-health labs, health care and hospitals, and large commercial labs.” Giroir told the governors that, in the twelve days between March 2nd and March 14th, more than ten million tests had been made available in the U.S. And, citing numbers from the F.D.A., he suggested that another seventeen million would be added by March 28th. “We have plenty of tests on the back side. We have plenty of supplies on the front side,” Giroir said. Pence, too, emphasized that “now tens of thousands of more tests are being performed literally every day,” while Trump, responding to Noem’s difficulties securing reagents, told her not to be concerned. “We got you, Kristi,” he said. “There is tremendous supply.”

Press Statement - Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State - On the Political Impasse in Afghanistan

The United States is proud of our partnership with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Afghan people, and admires what Afghanistan has achieved since 2001. We have forged a deep bond, especially with Afghan security forces, through shared sacrifice in responding to threats to international peace and security since 2001. Underscoring the national priority the United States attaches to helping bring about a political settlement to forty years of devastating war, Secretary Pompeo came to Kabul today with an urgent message. He spoke directly to the nation’s leaders to impress upon them the need to compromise for the sake of the Afghan people.

The United States deeply regrets that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have informed Secretary Pompeo that they have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens. The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests. Their failure has harmed U.S.-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonors those Afghan, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.

A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Post Pandemic World

by Muqtedar Khan

The COVID-19 pandemic could transform the world. Many geopolitical experts are concerned that this crisis, more than any other this century, has the potential to permanently reconstitute the global order. Some are even arguing that while the United States is abdicating global leadership during the current pandemic, China is using it to reinforce its growing status as the alternate destination for economic aid, medical and scientific support, and leadership for many nations, including Western and developed nations like Italy. Some commentators claim that China is using the crisis to dethrone the United States as the global superpower. 

While it is difficult to predict the overall death toll, socio-political disruption, and the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a few things are already manifest. The main vehicle of COVID-19’s destructive impact will not be through its potentially significant death toll but rather through its economic fallout. There will be a sustained global economic recession that will impact some countries harder than others. All major powers – the United States, China, Europe, and Russia will come out bruised and battered by the pandemic, and in the Middle East, Iran – the only counter-hegemonic player – will be definitely downsized in economy and state capacity. While the United States’ soft power has declined in the age of Trump, the crisis now tarnishes the larger-than-life images of Xi Jinping of China, Narendra Modi of India, and other populist leaders. Even European nations’ aura of good governance and exemplary healthcare systems has lost its shine. The pandemic is proving to be a great leveler. 

The Great Disruption is a Great Opportunity

How Government Failure Gave Birth to the Coronavirus Crisis

Paul R. Pillar
The several ways in which President Donald Trump’s methods of operation—including his lies, refusal to accept responsibility, and downplaying problems to protect his personal image and political standing—have spelled a failure of leadership in the current coronavirus crisis have already become familiar. Columnists and commentators have had much to say about this, as have the financial markets. Another now-familiar pattern has been that a significant number of other countries have out-performed the United States in their response to the crisis, according to such measures as the speed of responding, the comprehensiveness of testing, and the appropriateness of protective steps taken. Those strong performers have included states hit hard by the virus as well as ones that—thanks in large part to their effective responses—have been spared the worst of the pandemic.

One of the strongest of these performers is Singapore. The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Singapore’s handling of the crisis and has singled it out as a model for other countries to follow. Singapore faces significant vulnerabilities to the virus as a high-density city-state in East Asia with many personal and commercial connections to China. But at last count, it had not recorded any deaths from coronavirus, with just over two hundred of its people infected and about half of those already recovered.

The WHO and others highlight the specific steps Singapore has taken, including very aggressive contact tracing and complete transparency with the public regarding patterns of infection. But also useful in understanding the difference in performance is to take a broader look at the underlying political and cultural differences between Singapore and Trump’s America. One dimension on which those two polities are poles apart is the degree of respect for public service, including professional civil servants.

How to Stop the Coronavirus from Destroying America

by Lee Drake, March 24, 2020

If you have a 3D printer at home or at your workplace, then you can help manufacture N95 respirators.

For at least a decade, technology has been a source of solutions. Need a ride? Want takeout? Want to identify a fraudulent transaction out of a million legitimate ones? Is this you at a banquet last July? The pace of development has made technology synonymous with empowerment. 

Until coronavirus.

With a pandemic sweeping the globe, what can you do to help if you've spent your time with computers and gadgets? The good news is that there are some things that can be done, some easy, some challenging. 

The coronavirus strain threatening the world, SARS-CoV-2, emerged in December 2019 with the first cases in China. Scientists are rushing to understand how it invades our cells and co-opts them into coronavirus producing machines. A key way to understand these cellular attacks is to simulate them - what vulnerabilities do our proteins have? Does coronavirus have any vulnerabilities itself we could exploit to make treatments?

$10 a Barrel Oil Is Possible: Can American Energy Independence Survive the 2020 Oil War?

by Anthony Fensom

President Trump has suggested America still has “a lot of power over the situation” and could yet find a middle ground. The U.S. leader will need all his famed dealmaking ability and more though to pull off what could be a deal of the century with Saudi Arabia, to keep U.S. energy independence and the shale industry alive.“Trust me, this will be a regrettable day.”

The declaration by the Saudi energy minister, Prince Abbdelaziz Bin Salman, at the March 6 “Black Friday” OPEC plus meeting has proven accurate as the world’s energy giants engage in a war over the black gold, causing prices to crash and sparking bankruptcy fears for the entire U.S. shale industry.

With America’s energy independence under threat, can the nation’s oil and gas industry survive the fallout?

‘No Plan B’

After restraining supply since 2017 to support prices, the fateful meeting in Vienna had seen the OPEC oil cartel seek additional production cuts of 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) from April.

A blueprint for remote working: Lessons from China

By Raphael Bick, Michael Chang, Kevin Wei Wang, and Tianwen Yu

A blueprint for remote working: Lessons from China

As home to some of the world’s largest firms, China offers lessons for those that are just now starting to embrace the shift to remote working.

From Alibaba to Ping An and Google to Ford, companies around the globe are telling staff to work from home1 in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Such remote working at scale is unprecedented and will leave a lasting impression on the way people live and work for many years to come. China, which felt the first impact of the pandemic,2 was an early mover in this space. As home to some of the world’s largest firms, it offers lessons for those that are just now starting to embrace the shift.

Working from home skyrocketed in China3 in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis as companies told their employees to stay home. Around 200 million people4 were working remotely by the end of the Chinese New Year holiday. While this arrangement has some benefits, such as avoiding long commutes, many employees and companies found it challenging. One employee at an internet company quipped his work day changed from ‘996’ to ‘007,’ meaning from nine to nine, 6 days a week, to all the time. On the personal front, employees found it difficult to manage kids’ home-schooling via video conference while coordinating with remote colleagues. At a company level, many felt that productivity rapidly tailed off if not managed properly.

Flattening the COVID-19 Curve in Developing Countries

LEE, MASSACHUSETTS – COVID-19 is ravaging advanced economies such as Italy, France, Spain, and the United States. Beyond the deaths and human suffering, markets are discounting a catastrophic recession accompanied by massive defaults, as expressed in the radical repricing of corporate credit risk by financial markets.

The substantial increase in the scale and scope of government action needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic should be viewed as an unprecedented form of short-term systemic insurance. This approach requires not only vast government spending but also a temporary state-led reorganization of the entire economy.1Add to Bookmarks

As horrific as this sounds, the situation in the advanced economies is likely to be much more benign than what developing countries are facing, not only in terms of the disease burden, but also in terms of the economic devastation they will face. And while two academic communities – public-health experts and macroeconomists – are starting to talk to each other, unfortunately the conversation has mostly involved only the advanced countries.

The public health community has made the differential equations that govern contagion almost mainstream. People now talk about the role of the R0 factor (the average number of new infections caused by each infected person) and about the need to flatten the contagion curve through social distancing and lockdowns.

The Lessons from Italy’s Covid-19 Mistakes

Ferdinando Giugliano

Ferdinando Giugliano writes columns and editorials on European economics for Bloomberg View. He is also an economics columnist for La Repubblica and was a member of the editorial board of the Financial Times.

Italy is doubling down on its lockdown strategy to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, halting all non-essential economic activities for two weeks. There are early signs that these draconian steps are paying off, but the human and economic costs will be steep.

The government made mistakes, ones that the rest of the Western world should have learned from but didn’t. Italy has surpassed China as the country with the most deaths from Covid-19, according to the official data. Nearly 5,500 Italians have lost their lives to the disease, compared with less than 3,300 Chinese — even though Italy’s population is barely 4% that of China’s. Almost 60,000 individuals have tested positive for the virus, more than double the number in Spain and Germany.

Armies are mobilising against the coronavirus

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here.

TWO WEEKS ago Xi Jinping, China’s president, made a triumphal visit to Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, ravaged by covid-19, to declare that the virus had been “basically curbed”. His first stop was a hospital built at breakneck speed and run by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Now armies across the world are temporarily putting down their guns and playing a frontline role in the war against the virus. That will ease the burden on overwhelmed civilians, but it may have far-reaching implications for the forces’ military proficiency.

Mass Exodus: How Washington Became a Ghost Town Haunted By a Pandemic

by Maggie Ybarra

On my last day in Washington, the train was mostly empty. Some commuters wore medical masks. One man donned a gas mask. He’d been wearing it for days. The train dropped us off at Union Station, which, for me, has always served as the doorway between one life and the next, the one that swings back and forth between the gritty beauty of Baltimore and the pink-tie bravado of Washington. It was always a busy space, bustling with tourists. On a daily basis, I was pushed aside by one inconsiderate person or another who had become frustrated with the size of the crowd. Once, when I tried to bypass the crowd exiting the train and rushing into the station by going through the exit door, the man exiting that door with a duffel bag tightened his grip on the bag and then punched me in the stomach. This time it was different. Union Station’s marble floors and limestone walls captured only the echoes of a reduced number of footsteps. Society was spooked. People were dying after being exposed to a deadly virus. Overseas, hospitals were hemorrhaging resources under the weight of intense duress from an onslaught of medical cases. In America, doctors and nurses were preparing to do the same.

The country had gone to war. Its citizens were fighting an invisible enemy. Some of them were hiding from it, hoping to avoid its wrath. Others were doing their best impression of Paul Revere riding his horse in a frenzied panic to warn people against a pending attack launched by British troops.

Coronavirus was coming.

Limited Payoffs: What Have BRI Investments Delivered for China Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak?

By: Johan van de Ven


The coronavirus outbreak, now declared to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO, March 11), offers a prism through which to assess how China interacts with the rest of the world in a time of crisis—one that was at first confined to China’s borders, but has since become a global emergency. Some commentaries on the connection between the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have portrayed Xi Jinping’s centerpiece foreign policy program as a dangerous vector enabling the pandemic—even though China was engaged in international trade and transportation prior to the commencement of the BRI in 2013 (Foreign Policy, January 24).

For its part, state media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has linked BRI relationships to support for China amid the initial stages of the crisis, citing positive examples of support from media outlets in South Africa, Russia, and Pakistan (People’s Daily, February 20). More recently, as the spread of the disease has abated in China and increased elsewhere, Chinese authorities have sought to illustrate their support, via the “warmth” of the Belt and Road, for current hotspots such as Italy and Iran—while also criticizing the U.S. response to the crisis (Zhejiang News, March 12). Such developments in China’s foreign relations amid the coronavirus outbreak offer a window to assess the effectiveness of the BRI in one of its central goals: namely, expanding the soft power available to the PRC.

China Brief Spotlight on Analysis: COVID-19

By: John Dotson

Around the New Year, reports first began to emerge of a novel coronavirus (since designated as “COVID-19” by the World Health Organization) originating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. This disease outbreak has since become a major international health crisis, with official figures indicating over 100,000 worldwide cases of infection and nearly 3,500 deaths. (Actual figures may be far higher, due to under-reporting of the infection rate and death toll within China itself.) The epidemic has produced a severe social and economic crisis within China, with vast areas of the country placed under lockdown. Large sectors of the economy have also been brought to a halt, due to restrictions on transportation networks and workers being placed under quarantine.

The Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief has long taken pride in its role as a venue for insightful analyses of Chinese politics unsurpassed in English-language publications. From the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, China Brief has offered the public a series of articles that have analyzed in detail the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak—as well as what the crisis reveals about the governance model of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Donald Trump's China Problem Has Arrived

by Dan Blumenthal
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This crisis reveals the kind of problems China will pose for us in the coming years: that of a more powerful country with great but unmet ambitions. It is no peer of the US. It will export its problems unless we figure out ways to contain these threats. It will pose security problems as it needs to distract from its internal incompetence. But it will not lead a new global order.

Entering this current public health crisis, China was already in trouble: Its economy was on a path to long term stagnation. Contrary to conventional wisdom, its response to the 2008 financial crisis put it in deeper economic trouble as it accumulated more debt on a massive scale. Xi Jinping ended all hope of economic reform, as he deeply centralized control over the Communist Party of China (CCP). Meanwhile, Xi articulated the most ambitious Chinese goals for global leadership in the CCP’s history. But large ambitions without the means to pay for them cannot be realized. Xi was setting himself up for failure, and many Chinese elites began to grumble about his arrogance and incompetence.

China Wants to Rule the Waves. Here’s How the U.S. Can Stop It.

James Stavridis

Just over a century ago, in the run-up to World War I, Britain and Germany were locked in a naval arms race. Inspired by the strategic thinking of the American Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, German Kaiser Wilhelm decided to build a huge battle fleet that could credibly challenge the dominant British on the high seas. He wanted both increased ship numbers, as well as the new “dreadnought” fast battleships. Both fleet size and technology drove the naval race. There are echoes of that competition today between the U.S. — the established global naval power — and China.

What are the key decisions coming in terms of the size of the U.S. fleet, its mixes of capability and readiness? How will those decisions be influenced by the rise of a true peer competitor over the coming decades?

Let’s start with what is officially known as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. It is currently optimized for regional sea control and power projection. However, what the Chinese see as their “region” is expanding and will soon encompass the Indian Ocean. Over the longer term, they envision fully global operations, similar to the U.S. Navy. Today, the Chinese have only six nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, 10 nuclear-powered attack subs, two aircraft carriers (neither of them nuclear-powered, although they are building one of those) and a single cruiser. The vast majority of their naval forces are optimized for working in littoral waters — those near a coast — and in the South China Sea: destroyers, frigates, corvettes and missile boats, alongside diesel submarines. China has more than 550 warships — far more than the U.S., although they aren’t nearly as individually capable. Still, as Joseph Stalin is said to have remarked, “quantity has a quality all its own.”

How Increased U.S. Shale Oil Production Led to the Breakdown in Russia-Saudi Relations

Jim Krane 

Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch a price war in oil markets earlier this month could not have been more poorly timed, coming amid plummeting global demand for oil due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Saudi announcement sunk oil prices to an 18-year low, near $20 per barrel, after five years at more than double that price, putting further downward pressure on already troubled financial markets.

Saudi Arabia had gambled that by flooding the market and pushing down prices, it could punish Russia for refusing to cut its output, while recouping market share that had been ceded to U.S. shale oil producers. But the risky move could do lasting damage to the global economy, to oil-dependent countries and to Riyadh’s budding partnership with Moscow.

China-Iran Relations: The Not-So-Special “Special Relationship”

By: John Calabrese


Over the years, unremitting hostility between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran has created opportunities as well as dilemmas for the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, and the subsequent adoption of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, presented mixed challenges and opportunities for the PRC. Beijing has sought to exploit the rift between Washington and Tehran without further fueling Sino-American tensions.

For the past year, Washington and Tehran have been locked in an action-reaction cycle of escalation. This dangerous spiral reached new heights with the January 2 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander General Qasem Soleimani, which was followed by retaliatory Iranian missile attacks on two coalition bases in Iraq that injured dozens of American troops. Although both sides managed to pull back from the brink of war in early January, underlying tensions remain—as does the possibility of a more direct military confrontation.

In what manner and to what extent has the current unstable situation affected China’s interests in, and relationship with, Iran? What is the likelihood that, as this latest round of high-stakes poker between Washington and Tehran continues to unfold, Beijing will seize it as yet another opportunity to profit from America’s entanglements in the wider Middle East?

China’s Not-So-Special “Special Relationship” with Iran

Why is Japan still a coronavirus outlier?


At the time of writing, Japan has just over 900 confirmed cases of coronavirus. That’s 900 cases recorded over a two-month period since the first person — a man who had traveled to Wuhan — was confirmed to have the disease while in a Japanese hospital between Jan. 10 and 15.

In Italy, the first case was recorded two weeks later than in Japan, on Jan. 23. Shortly after, 50,000 people were quarantined in a handful of towns in the Lombardy region. Then, it was the entire north. Now, the entire country is in quarantine, with over 40,000 confirmed cases and 3,600 dead.

In the U.S., New York has closed its bars and restaurants and California has imposed similarly wide-scale “shelter in place” restrictions on the movement of its people and the activities of its citizens.

Look around Tokyo now, and you’ll see no such scene has unfolded. Despite the cancellation of sports events, the closure of schools, and the shutting down of some, but not all, larger entertainment venues, much of Japan continues as normal. There is no quarantine and no enforced closures of bars or restaurants. Even clubs (easy places to get sick at the best of times) remain open.

A Greater Depression?


NEW YORK – The shock to the global economy from COVID-19 has been both faster and more severe than the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC) and even the Great Depression. In those two previous episodes, stock markets collapsed by 50% or more, credit markets froze up, massive bankruptcies followed, unemployment rates soared above 10%, and GDP contracted at an annualized rate of 10% or more. But all of this took around three years to play out. In the current crisis, similarly dire macroeconomic and financial outcomes have materialized in three weeks.

The substantial increase in the scale and scope of government action needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic should be viewed as an unprecedented form of short-term systemic insurance. This approach requires not only vast government spending but also a temporary state-led reorganization of the entire economy.1Add to Bookmarks

Earlier this month, it took just 15 days for the US stock market to plummet into bear territory (a 20% decline from its peak) – the fastest such decline ever. Now, markets are down 35%, credit markets have seized up, and credit spreads (like those for junk bonds) have spiked to 2008 levels. Even mainstream financial firms such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley expect US GDP to fall by an annualized rate of 6% in the first quarter, and by 24% to 30% in the second. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has warned that the unemployment rate could skyrocket to above 20% (twice the peak level during the GFC).

In other words, every component of aggregate demand – consumption, capital spending, exports – is in unprecedented free fall. While most self-serving commentatorshave been anticipating a V-shaped downturn – with output falling sharply for one quarter and then rapidly recovering the next – it should now be clear that the COVID-19 crisis is something else entirely. The contraction that is now underway looks to be neither V- nor U- nor L-shaped (a sharp downturn followed by stagnation). Rather, it looks like an I: a vertical line representing financial markets and the real economy plummeting.

Don’t Buy More SATCOM Bandwidth; Better Manage What You’ve Got: Hughes


SATELLITE 2020: Instead of buying more satellites and bandwidth access, DoD should better manage the satellite communications networks it already uses so troops on the battlefield can stay connected even when those networks are under attack, say top executives at Hughes.

Gen. Jay Raymond’s new Enterprise SATCOM Vision is a step in that direction, according to Rick Lober, vice president of the Defense and Intelligence Systems Division (DISD) at Hughes Network Systems.

“We’re tracking very, very closely General Raymond’s white paper. That talked about more emphasis on network management, which is something I feel Hughes does very well,” he said. Hughes, a subsidiary of SATCOM giant Echostar, provides terminals that link with a number of different satellite networks.

“I think they need to move away from the stovepipe systems to an overarching network management system,” he added. “They need to use network management techniques that give them a lot more efficiency in the use of bandwidth. They waste a lot of bandwidth right now.”

Infographic Of The Day: Work Smarter, Not Harder

In the past few decades, technology has changed how we work - In 2016, 85% of global business was done by virtual teams.