Making predictions about the impact of COVID-19 on Asia’s strategic environment is a risky endeavour. With international borders locked down, economies near standstill, and infections still rising in parts of the world, it’s hard to anticipate the challenges we will face in the next few weeks, let alone a year from now. But a few months into the first global pandemic in a century, perhaps we can at least think about how it looks through different lenses of security. These are the way the virus represents a threat to human security, the challenge it poses to economic security and the way it has exacerbated and aggravated pre-existing trends in geopolitics.
First and foremost of course COVID-19 is a devastating threat to regional and global public health. Although the virus has inflicted a heavy global toll with millions infected and hundreds of thousands dead, Asia appears to have fared better than much of Western Europe and the Americas. Asia-Pacific nations have had a range of experiences tackling the COVID-19 virus. Some - notably South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand - have been more successful than others. Categories such as democratic vs authoritarian, rich vs poor, big vs small do not seem to provide a simple guide to success. What is clear however is that states have relied overwhelmingly on individual, national-level responses and there has been little in the way of coordinated or deep regional cooperation. For all the oft-stated importance of the ASEAN-centred architecture, or regional groups like the East Asia Summit or APEC, they have been largely irrelevant to the immediate pandemic response.