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Dhaka Tribune

Asian century, coronavirus, and the game of thrones

The rise of an Asian superpower is a threat to the West

Update : 15 Feb 2023, 01:23 AM

About a century ago, the Spanish flu infected over millions of people roughly between January 1918 and December 1920. Over 50 million people are known to have died, mostly in Europe and the United States. It was a difficult time. The allied powers were fighting against the Axis Powers.

What was the explanation of this high mortality? Scientists took over 90 years to offer an analysis in 2007 that the viral infection was no more aggressive than previous influenza strains. Instead, malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, and poor hygiene promoted bacterial superinfection. This superinfection killed most of the victims, typically after a somewhat prolonged death bed.

Other epidemics like HIV, SARS, Ebola have come and gone. The first outbreak of the coronavirus in China came all too suddenly. China, the 21st century technological superpower, has taken all necessary measures to identify the genes/ DNA and contain the spread of the disease. China, the forerunner in AI and 5G, has overcome the crisis.

During the Spanish flu pandemic, communications were not stopped between and amongst the countries fighting the war afflicted by it. No country is known to have shut down communications with each other.

In the case of the coronavirus, many feel disconcerted. President Xi Jinping is dismayed at the negative response from the Western powers. President Xi has had telephone communications with US Presidents. The unspoken feeling is: "Here is an opportunity to chain in the Asian superpower!"

An unexpected opponent

Many of us feel sick to read what Walter Russell Mead et al called "China is the real sick man of Asia" published in the Wall Street Journal. Chang Jun of the China Daily rightly drew attention of the international community -- "the expression in WSJ is also resented by the Chinese, whose country has suffered from past foreign invasions. Worse, the sarcasm, prejudice, and bias expressed are exorbitant."

As Shashi Tharoor has said "how the US has started a Trade War harming the entire world." The main focus is on how to stop China -- the Asian superpower challenging the West. 

The West does not have the capital and technology to spare -- China has. Professor Rehman Sobhan rightly said, "with both India and Japan as full partners in the BRI, such a pan-Asian grouping could once again recreate a bipolar global order which remains essential to the peace and prosperity of the 21st century."

But the West is not convinced; they want to push back China. This is because China, an Asian country, is developing faster than the West. It is the colonial mindset that cannot accept Chinese development.   

What the West did in the centuries past still tickles their romantic nostalgia. They used their colonial tools to benefit them. As the British brutally suppressed the first war of Independence of India in 1857, they also invaded China in the 1840s. The Opium Wars no doubt wounded China, but the British could not defeat them. 

India was looted by the British through various means: Desecration of the Queen of Oudh, massacres of Jallianwala Bagh, inhuman torture on the Bengali peasants, murdering them, cutting their fingers to force indigo plantation, growing of indigo under duress, to be exported to China. And last but not the least, by artificial creation of famines in 1770, 1780, and 1943 -- in Bengal -- so much for their hatred against the recalcitrant Bengalese! That kept the huge colony in thralldom.

John Strachey, War Minister in the British Labour government, gave an example, while citing on corruption, how the colonial power impoverished the Indian subcontinent. In his book The End of Empire in 1959 he said about Bengal: "Lord Clive, in an effort to lessen the rampant corruption of the East India Company officials, legalized their right to private trade even though they were paid servants. Every officer got his share strictly according to seniority -- a colonel got £7,000 a year, a major £2,000 (about £90,000 and £40,000 in present day value). Drawing on nearly two centuries of detailed data on tax and trade, Utsa Patnaik in his book A Theory of Imperialism calculated that Britain drained a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during the period 1765 to 1938. It's a staggering sum. For perspective, $45 trillion is 17 times more than the total annual gross domestic product of the United Kingdom today."

The British also put its long hand on China -- two opium wars and an unequal Treaty. 

History has decidedly a sense of paradox, albeit of a different kind: The British exported the opium to China grown in Bengal.

The US imposed Monroe doctrine. South America was the US backyard. Africa was occupied by France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, and Italy, and the Philippines by the US. The nostalgia of those crimson days are still haunting them -- they are not yet ready to admit their inhuman exploitation of the colonies.   

There was no United Nations, nor were there any modern tools in the hands of the Colonies, be it India, China, Africa, or Latin America. The colonial powers had hay days. 

Growing risks

In real GDP terms, Asia's share was 34% in 2017, and is expected to hit 46% by 2040. The GDP of China in 2019 estimated at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) was $27.309 trillion, while that of the US is $21.439 trillion. China is a major driver there. India is catching up as a major power.

India is the present day success story. She has overtaken British economy -- thus India is number five in the world. By 2031, India's GDP is likely to be 11 trillion. BRICS have the potential for becoming G7 in the future.

The slowing trend of Chinese economy will severely impact the development of Asian countries --  the ultimate goal of the West; coronavirus is just a pretense. The West also will suffer. China is the workshop of the planet. The West is already in a crunch because of shortage of spares.    

The pretense of the crisis is being used as an argument by the West for shifting supply lines from China to elsewhere. This is contradictory with International Law. The International Law rather asks for support and cooperation in case of human crisis and health emergency.

According to the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) of World Health Organization (WHO), countries should work together (a) to save lives and livelihoods endangered by the international spread of diseases and other health risks, and (b) to avoid unnecessary interference with international trade and travel. In the situation that Chinese authorities declared as "major test of China's system and capacity for governance" and WHO defined as “global health emergency” of our new era, the big powers should not show their apathy towards the crisis. 

A friend in need

On January 30 in Geneva, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the global media on the outbreak after returning from China, where he met with Chinese leaders. He said, "China deserves the international community's gratitude and respect for having taken very serious measures to contain the new coronavirus outbreak and prevent its spread overseas."

"China has been completely committed to transparency, both internally and externally, and has agreed to work with other countries that need support," Tedros said. "I will praise China again and again, because its actions actually helped in reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus to other countries … We shall tell the truth, and that's the truth."

China will overcome the crisis. The viral DNA signature is being determined and published in record time. Health officials are racing to develop treatments and testing methods for the virus. Meanwhile, Wuhan launched an emergency test laboratory. The Huo Yan Laboratory is designed to handle 10,000 samples each day to detect the virus.

Former German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, "the open, transparent, and cooperative manner and the forceful and effective measures the Chinese government has adopted are admirable." Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "China's anti-epidemic efforts will soon take effect and I am confident in China's ability to win the battle against the epidemic."

China needs global support for quick recovery. The Asian countries should be the forerunners in extending their helping hand to China, as they will be the first victim next to China. 

Malaysia has sent a medical team to China. Like Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, Japan sent a medical team and other support system to China. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen visited Wuhan to show solidarity with the people of China. Turkey sent a big supply of medical goods. It should be followed by others. 

Bangladesh and China have an excellent relationship. Look at the Padma Bridge. While the World Bank folded up, China extended her helping hand. Last but not the least, China provided the much needed boulders for strengthening the base of the bridge. The Bangladesh contractor failed to supply boulders: they could only get the Bhutanese boulders, which were too small. China got it from Kalimantan.

Today, the dream of Padma bridge, the dream of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has come true. It is now a reality. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Bangladesh should stand by the people of China. To a cognoscenti, the Western overreaction to coronavirus is more dangerous than the virus itself. 

Waliur Rahman is an author and researcher.

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