There is an argument on the naming of the Coronavirus between China and the global public. Nationals from countries, other than those living on Chinese largesse, seek to call the presently spreading Coronavirus by its original names ‘Wuhan Coronavirus’ or ‘Chinese Coronavirus’ as against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) designated name, ‘COVID 19’. The name of the virus will impact public minds even after the world recovers from the current pandemic which has claimed over thirty-thousand lives and infected over half a million.
The epicentre of the virus continues to shiftwith passage of time. When Wuhan claimed to bring it under control, the epicentre shifted to Italy and Iran, subsequently to Spain and presently it is New York. Nations are fighting singular battles to control the virus, with little help from allies and friends. There is no nation, despite its powerful healthcare systems, which has not been overwhelmed by rising cases.
China, where the virus originated, and which received donations of medical equipment, when it battled the virus, has now begun providing the same globally, not as a donation, but on payment. It is seeking to profit from the expanding virus, whereas when it was overwhelmed, it accepted donations willingly. It assumes itself to be an authority on controlling the pandemic, while videos on social media display their brutal handling of local population,which no democracy can replicate.
There is rising anger against China for mishandling the crisis, delaying sharing vital data and preventing movement of its locals from Wuhan to across the globe. Experts claim that had China acted three weeks earlier, the casualty figures would be 95% lesser than at present.
The anger grows as China launches a global misinformation campaign to blame other regions for the virus, knowing well, that it originated on its soil. It commenced by blaming the US for biologically creating the virus and subsequently releasing it in Wuhan. When that story failed to grab attention, it shifted blame to Italy, stating there were flu related deaths, which could have been the Coronavirus, even before it emerged in Wuhan.
It has never convinced the globe on how it controlled the virus within China, preventing its spread across the country, despite large movement of internal population. This raised questions on whether the virus was part of an elaborate biological warfare plan and its leak controlled within China, while it spread globally. There are also reports that China possesses a vaccine which it delays sharing till the virus reaches alarming proportions globally.
China manipulated the WHO, which proved itself to be as defunct as manyinternational agencies, working at the mercy of major powers. WHO continued to praise China throughout the crisis, never once questioning it for its follies, slow reaction and hiding vital data on social transmission of the virus, which affected patients globally. While changing the name of the Wuhan Virus to COVID 19 was within its right and as per existing laws, it should have asked China to explain why it did not act as per the International Health Regulations (IHC) guidelines for a second time, the first being the SARS outbreak in 2004.
As the crisis deepens and more nations become roped into the spread of Coronavirus, the faith and trust on the WHO would reduce. The organization would lose relevance because it let itself be manipulated by China at a time when the world was facing a pandemic. Its current actions of warning the global community holds no water nor is it of interest to any nation. It is time nations withdraw from the WHO protesting its failure to act responsibly and impartially.
Why is China resorting to these actions?
Most of the nations where Coronavirus had initially spread are countries where China has invested heavily in its One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. Iran and Italy are countries where Chinese labour is employed and Chinese frequently travel. Most movement from Wuhan were to these regions. Thus, the initial carriers of the virus outside China were Chinese themselves working on Chinese funded projects.
Hence, as nations blame China for its slow actions in sharing information and controlling the external spread, as against its internal, nations may rethink on its engagement with China on OBOR. While Governments may view it differently, local public anger would force them to change their opinion, especially in democracies. This would impact the Chinese economy.
China’s diplomatic clout would be hampered as nations accuse it of misdeeds in sharing inputs on the virus. Nations would doubt promises being made by the Chinese Government in future. The world would look at China with jaundiced eyes, which would harm its global image. Even nations where China has invested heavily would have a rethink on its relations. Simplistically, China would lose its international standing.
China has begun taking small steps to change its image by using the Jack Ma foundation to provide some amount of relief material globally. Most material being provided is either faulty or lack quality checks. This action is causing more damage than good.
China has refused to allow a discussion on the Coronavirus in the UN Security Council. While earlier it pushed discussion on all issues which have not concerned it, including Kashmir at the behest of Pakistan, its refusal to discuss a global pandemic indicates its malicious intentions. It also conveys that China has something to hide. This discussion, if it takes place, would be another nail in China’s current global standing.
While the world economy slows, Chinese economy is rebounding. There are reports that Chinese companies began manufacturing medical essentials for global distribution even while the virus remained confined within China. China is now selling its products, most being faulty and lacking quality. This will further fuel global anger and enhance suspicions. There is already a rising call on social media for boycotting Chinese goods, which would only grow as the pandemic comes under control.
China is presently struggling to save its diplomatic power and international investment while rebuilding its economy. It may remain a military power but if nations ignore it, it will lose global relevance. This is what China seeks to avoid by compelling the world to ignore its role in the rise and spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus. This is only possible if the global terminology is accepted as COVID 19, an action which it is compelling the WHO and its paid media networks to push.
Rising global casualties and resultant economic recession indicates that China will not succeed. While it may convince few Governments to avoid blaming China, the global public, which influence Government policy would remain anti-China. The world has already begun demanding accountability and apologies from China. If China accepts it, it will result in the fall of Xi Jinping. If it does not, it will become a global pariah. It faces tough choices.
The author is Major General (Retd)