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[Kim Seong-Kon] What we should do in post-coronavirus era

It may be too early to predict what will happen in the post-coronavirus world. Yet already one hears foretold that when the crisis is over, the world will not be the same. For example, globalization will surely decline and nationalism will rise instead because many people believe globalization is responsible for the spread of the pandemic. Undeniably, easy international travel and borderless mobility contributed to the spread of the disease.

However, the reverse of globalization will not be easy because you cannot possibly deglobalize an already globalized world. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said in his recent interview with the Dong-A Ilbo, globalization will continue even after the pandemic. He said that perhaps there may be some setbacks in the economy and trade and yet, globalization has many other faucets that will continue to run. Of course, there may be some new restrictions and limitations on previously free activities and yet, we cannot stop globalization.

The distinguished Israeli historian Yuval Harari wrote in his recent column “The world after coronavirus” that the post-coronavirus era might see the advent of a Big Brother that closely monitors and controls the people under the excuse of emergency. Nevertheless, Harari is optimistic, too; he also wrote that in the post-coronavirus era, the global village might share information and communicate with each other faster than ever, thereby the world will keep globalizing.

Others predict that a flood of reshoring will occur, bringing factories back from overseas to their own countries. Experiencing economic calamity during the pandemic, people now realize that without factories supplying parts and merchandise in their own country, they cannot withstand an international crisis such as COVID-19.

If such a phenomenon prevails, those countries that have provided cheap labor costs for foreign companies will inevitably take the heaviest blow. Countries whose economy depends on international trade will suffer, too, as many countries will reduce import for a while. After the pandemic, therefore, quite a few countries will face unprecedented economic recessions.

In these challenging times, we should meditate carefully on what we Asians should do to cope with the current global crisis and how to prepare for the post-coronavirus era. Indeed, it is a compelling issue, to which we much give some serious thought because the world will not be the same after the pandemic that has seriously damaged the image of Asians.

Recently, a book has come out under the title “Korea and Koreans in a Globalizing World.” In this insightful and intriguing book, author Cha Yun, chairman and founder of Chayun Public Relations, provides profound wisdom and indispensable guidelines that will enable us to navigate in this perfect storm of the pandemic. The recurring message of this book stresses the importance of three things that Koreans should bear in mind always: the need to insist on globalization rather than tribalization even after the pandemic, the need for international cooperation instead of isolation, and the need for unreserved embracing of others, transcending our ultranationalistic “wurikiri” notion.

The author of the book argues that Koreans sometimes confuse ultranationalism with patriotism. Patriotism means we love our country so much that we want to defend it with our lives. However, there are times when the government finds it suitable to push the patriotic spirit to an extreme in order to serve its interests, and thus patriotism often turns to ultranationalism. For example, when our government becomes embroiled in a diplomatic conflict with another country, and our politicians lead a nationwide campaign to boycott that particular country’s products, then you can be sure that they are manipulating our patriotic sentiments. Chairman Cha aptly points out that such a campaign has nothing to do with patriotism; it is just distorted nationalism.

Chairman Cha contends that since no country can exist alone, Korea should seek peaceful coexistence with other nations. Unfortunately, our politicians indiscreetly clash with other countries, for which the Korean people have had to pay the price instead. The author also points out that we should be considerate and thoughtful of others. He maintains that we should break the nutshell of factions and clans, and be open-minded to those who are different from us. The author suggests that we have a future-oriented global mindset, rather than a parochial, monochromatic mentality.

The wounds inflicted by the coronavirus will surely leave indelible scars in our world. Indeed, it will take a long time to forget the ordeal and heal the psychological and economic wounds caused by the pandemic. Still, however, we should try hard to make this catastrophe a new opportunity to build a better world.

In order to overcome the coronavirus crisis, social distancing is required. Nevertheless, we should take the advice of Harvard professor Michael Sandel, who urged us to keep physical distance and spiritual proximity at the same time. Writing in this spirit, Chairman Cha has given us a milestone book; a guiding constellation for us to survive and thrive in the post-coronavirus era.


Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.
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