As coronavirus leaves behind a trail of human suffering and economic devastation, nations across the world have begun asking critical questions about the global pandemic. Countries are enquiring into Communist China’s handling of the pandemic, which first appeared late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
As early as January 14, China had used the World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations agency, to spread disinformation about the human-to-human transmissibility of Covid-19, a remark that led US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien later to call the WHO a “tool of Chinese propaganda.”
While U.S. President Donald J. Trump faced mostly undeserved, politicized criticism for questioning China’s culpability in the spread of the worldwide pandemic and his calls for an international probe into it, more and more capitals across the Western world are making similar demands.
On March 20, The Washington Post attacked President Trump for even mentioning China in context of the pandemic. “Trump has no qualms about calling coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus.’ That’s a dangerous attitude, experts say.”
As late as the end of March, CNN was still claiming that President Trump was targeting China for “political reasons… using entrenched stereotypes and fear of the other to cast off any blame that might fall on him from this crisis.”
On May 1, however, the New York Post reported that “[m]ore US allies and other countries are joining the Trump administration’s call for an investigation into China, the World Health Organization and the origins of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia has taken lead in asking for an international investigation into Beijing’s culpability in the spread of the pandemic. “Now, it would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on April 29. Australia’s demand was supported by New Zealand.
By way of response, China’s Ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, threatened a boycott of Australian goods if Prime Minister Morrison’s government continued to insist on an independent investigation into the outbreak.
In Europe, Sweden took a similar stance, asking the European Union to start a probe into “the origin and spread” of the coronavirus. “When the global situation of Covid-19 is under control, it is both reasonable and important that an international, independent investigation be conducted to gain knowledge about the origin and spread of the coronavirus,” Sweden’s health minister Lena Hallengren told the nation’s parliament in a written statement on April 20.
Under threats of cutting Europe’s medical supplies, China forced the EU to water down a report exposing Beijing’s global disinformation campaign. “The European Union toned down part of a report about Chinese state-backed disinformation because it feared Beijing would retaliate by withholding medical supplies,” the Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post, citing diplomatic sources, disclosed on April 25.
China, which first covered up the outbreak of the contagion in city of Wuhan, is now running a global disinformation and intimidation campaign, trying to blame the United States or Italy for the coronavirus. So far, apparently too many countries are now aware of China’s intentions. As Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Germany’s largest publishing house, Axel Springer, argued recently in Die Welt:
“Economic relations with China might seem harmless to many Europeans today, but they could soon lead to political dependence and ultimately to the end of a free and liberal Europe… Should we make a pact with an authoritarian regime or should we work to strengthen a community of free, constitutionally governed market economies with liberal societies?… If current European and, above all, German policy on China continues, this will lead to a gradual decoupling from America and a step-by-step infiltration and subjugation by China. Economic dependence will only be the first step. Political influence will follow.”
At the moment, it is unclear if China’s charm offensive, if one could call it that, is working.
Most recently, on May 4, Sharri Markson reported on a leaked 15-page research document, obtained by Australia’s Saturday Telegraph, written by the “Five Eyes” — the intelligence services of the US, the UK, Canada Australia and New Zealand.
“It states that to the ‘endangerment of other countries’ the Chinese government covered-up news of the virus by silencing or “disappearing” doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence of it in laboratories and refusing to provide live samples to international scientists who were working on a vaccine.”
In true Orwellian fashion, top Chinese diplomats are still demanding that foreign governments rewrite the history of the coronavirus outbreak. Under President Xi Jinping’s instructions, Chinese diplomats are running a global campaign of intimidation to divert world’s attention from Beijing’s culpability in the spread of the coronavirus. Dubbed “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, referring to a popular Chinese movie series of the same name, the strategy aims at silencing and intimidate Western governments, critical media outlets, and think tanks. The good news is that the world is finally getting a good look at the true face of China.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telephoned his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar, on March 24, and suggested that India not use “China virus” to describe the Covid-19 contagion
“It’s not acceptable and detrimental to international cooperation to label the virus and stigmatise China,” Beijing’s envoy to New Delhi, Sun Weidong, said following the call.
Apparently unwilling to risk creating a problem, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has so far refrained from confronting China for its handling of the outbreak. To India’s credit, it did play a constructive role in combatting the global pandemic. India came to the aid of its allies by shipping large consignments of the drug hydroxychloroquine and other medical supplies to 55 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France and Israel.
While India had shown restraint, Communist China has shown little. The Chinese air force has continued its incursions into Taiwanese air space. China has also tightened its grip on artificial islands it created in the South China Sea by setting up fictitious local governments on them. These weaponized islands, fielding military facilities such as naval ports and military airfields, trample on the sovereignty of many of its maritime neighbors, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
The United States and rest of the Western world would do well to see the pandemic as a wake-up call and decouple their crucial and strategic sectors from dependence on China in any way. As US General Jack Keane has repeatedly warned the US, China a not a friend; “it is a predator economically, geopolitically and militarily.”
Beijing has used its status as world’s biggest manufacturer, intellectual property thief, and debt-trap lender to force governments across the world into silence over its culpability for the deadly and devastating pandemic.
In the coming post-coronavirus world order, India is well placed to challenge China’s stranglehold over global and regional supply chains. Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” initiative, originally envisaged to create jobs in manufacturing sector, could also position the country as an alternative destination for rerouting global supply chain needs, especially in critical sectors such pharmaceuticals, industrial manufacturing, telecommunications and information technology.
To take advantage of a post-coronavirus realignment, India would do well to upgrade its infrastructure and seriously cut its bureaucratic red tape.
Modi came to power in 2014 on promises of streamlining the bureaucracy to foster a free economy. Since he took office, India has eased the government’s red tape and opened up the country to foreign companies and investment. During his tenure, the country advanced 79 places on the global “Ease of Doing Business” survey released by the World Bank annually, from 142nd to 63rd place. The country still trails China, which, until its pandemic, ranked 31. India, however, plans to invest $1.39 trillion on a series of critical infrastructure projects, including roads, railways, digital connectivity and power sectors.
The world is eagerly looking to India and its Asia-Pacific allies, in a strong alliance with the West, to take a stand, face China’s increasing military, geopolitical and economic intimidation, and take up its historic mantle of leadership.