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In Session: COVID-19: Inequality and States of Exception in Global Asia
4: Covid-19 Geopolitics and Geo-Body Insecurities in Southeast Asia
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Carl E. Grundy-Warr
National University of Singapore, Singapore
COVID-19 is a global public health pandemic which requires scientific, technical, public policy and health system responses at multi-scales. This pandemic has sharply exposed how quickly a viral threat to human life quickly becomes an issue of practical, formal, and popular geopolitics. The naming, supposed origins, spread, and transboundary nature of COVID-19, turned a global public health issue into a source of geopolitical tension between superpowers, and a source of political tension within many nation-states. COVID-19 has exacerbated the deeply uneven geographies of capitalist societies, with class, race, and gendered dimensions, which in turn, expose inequalities in public health security. Whilst politicians and scientists have not always agreed on courses of action to tackle the pandemic, the language used is frequently of some type of warfare against “an invisible enemy”, yet it is our very human interdependencies and mobilities that have made our species more vulnerable to microbial and ecological threats. Multilateral collaboration, information and technology sharing, and de-politicising nonhuman viral matter seem to be rudiments for stemming the pandemic. However, the pandemic has turned the world into a territorialised epidemiological checkerboard with harder borders and inwardly obsessed national geo-bodies. This paper explores critical dimensions of COVID-19 geopolitics. First, it investigates territorial dimensions of public health security by focusing on human mobility across and within borders, and how different states have dealt with migrant bodies as ways of “securing” the public health of their respective geo-bodies. Whilst human bodies have become less mobile, there have been strenuous efforts to maintain and secure vital flows of goods, resources, and supplies globally and regionally. Finally, the paper discusses medical diplomacy, vaccine deployment, and regional public health security.