Judgements on how different governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic will have an effect on their national images and soft power quotients.
20 March 2020
Government responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic are being judged and compared by fearful people around the world in real time and with limited information. News platforms are swamping us with pandemic analysis and punditry.
Some countries and governments are being praised and put forward as positive response models and others, like Italy, the opposite. Hubei province and Wuhan city’s delayed and authoritarian responses led to their leaders being replaced. The United Kingdom’s laissez faire response has been criticised widely. America’s belated response is providing liberal voices in the United States yet another reason to predict that Donald Trump will lose the upcoming presidential election. In Metro Manila, which is in a lock-down, neophyte mayor Pasig City, Vico Sotto, is seeing his political star rise due the city government’s quick and imaginative responses. Taiwan, often ignored due to geopolitical factors, is being applauded for its wise management of COVID-19.
Internationally, these judgements on how different governments are responding to this global pandemic will likely have a post-pandemic effect on the images and soft power quotients of affected states globally. Singapore’s soft power globally, which already scores high on rankings of soft power like the Lowy Institute’s Asian Power Index, will likely benefit from its measured response to COVID-19.
Critics of the Australian government and the government itself are using Singapore’s response, and often Singapore’s alone, as the model for their own preferred responses without addressing – if at all – the huge differences between the two countries
In Australia, critics are using Singapore’s quick and so far successful flattening of the COVID-19 infection curve to criticise the Morrison government’s pandemic response. On the other hand, the Morrison government is using Singapore’s rationale not to close schools to justify Australia’s similar choices (Singapore maintains that closing schools will affect parents, including those working in hospitals providing essential services, who need to go to work).
Critics of the Australian government and the government itself are using Singapore’s response, and often Singapore’s alone, as the model for their own preferred responses without addressing – if at all – the huge differences between the two countries. Nonetheless, this positive focus on Singapore provides a good basis for closer Australia-Singapore cooperation going forward and a higher level of appreciation for the Republic in the land Down Under.
Dr Malcolm Cook is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
ISEAS Commentary – 2020/32
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