In the years before the coronavirus pandemic hit, an intense political debate, spanning both Europe and America, was waged on the advantages and disadvantages of globalisation. In the United States, this debate formed around the candidacy and then presidency of Donald Trump. Across Europe, it formed around the rise of more nationalist parties. And in the United Kingdom, it was at the heart of the Brexit divide.
When this pandemic is behind us, that political debate may be over. We at Redfield & Wilton Strategies have written already about the pandemic’s potential effect on the European Union and on a potential backlash against China, both hallmarks of the inherited global order. But we wanted to take a look at the issue more broadly. In a recent poll of 1,500 respondents in Great Britain carried out on Wednesday, we asked respondents a fairly straightforward question: did they think globalisation might have been to blame for this pandemic?
Altogether, a solid majority of respondents appeared to agree with the sentiment that the pandemic had shown that globalisation had gone too far, with about a quarter of respondents “strongly” agreeing and a third “somewhat” agreeing. By contrast, only 13% of respondents disagreed with the statement. Interestingly, this sentiment cuts across almost all political orientations, with Conservative voters (the largest share of the public) most likely to agree with it.
In practice, the first area that may change as a result of this shift in view will be in relations with China. Members of the public responding to our poll overwhelmingly thought that China had been dishonest in reporting the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus and deaths caused by the virus. This is critical as that data formed the basis of most governments’ initial assumptions on the contagiousness and severity of the virus. If it is proven––or at least accepted by the public––that China lied about what was going on inside its own country, that distrust will extend to other aspects of the United Kingdom’s relationship to the East Asian superpower.
When asked specifically about whether the current pandemic has changed their view of the United Kingdom’s relations with China, a substantial share of respondents said yes. That share may increase.
One sore spot during this pandemic is that while the virus originated in China, China may also be part of the solution by providing needed medical equipment. Respondents were therefore split on whether the practice of buying medical equipment from China should be avoided.
In the future, we may see sentiment shift on this question as the immediate need for medical equipment declines. At that point, the UK Government can begin prioritising domestic manufacturing of such equipment as well as medicines to keep the country ready in case of another outbreak of another virus in the future.
Such framing may mirror other discussions about aspects of globalisation. If an overly globalised world can kill thousands and bring all economic and social life to a complete stop, the future debate on globalisation will no longer involve questions of opportunities and marginal benefits. Rather than speaking about advantages or disadvantages of a highly interconnected world, the citizens of the United Kingdom will discuss what is necessary for the survival of their society altogether.