The Covid-19 crisis heralds a decade of strategic volatility. Now that the virus has emerged from China, societies, governments and international institutions must brace for contagion of all kinds—health, environmental, financial, cyber and the risk of conflict. The intense connectivity that has facilitated flows of trade, investment, resources, information and, above all, people now judders with vulnerability.
This international health emergency is a black swan event, an improbable catastrophe obvious in retrospect. It’s perhaps better termed a black elephant: a discontinuity so big and so inevitable that nations and corporations chose not to see it coming. The crisis will shake up our Indo-Pacific region. The rapid evolution of this two-ocean strategic system and its accumulation of risk is the subject of my new book, Contest for the Indo-Pacific: why China won’t map the future (soon also to be released internationally as Indo-Pacific empire: China, America and the contest for the world’s pivotal region). Any book making claims about this uncertain decade is a gift to fate. Mine went to print at the start of January, when knowledge of the true nature of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was so suppressed it may not have reached even the Chinese leadership. This book is not so much about today’s problems as about how the reinterpreted past and plausible projections of the future can illuminate policy choices in the present. Current events amplify its main contentions.
With hundreds of travelers canceling their flights due to coronavirus threat, Nagoya airport looks like a ghost town on March 7, 2020. Photo courtesy of Joe Meyers.