Are Western powers using the threat of the coronavirus to thwart Chinese development?
About a century ago, the Spanish flu infected millions of people roughly between January 1918 to 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.
Other epidemics like HIV, Sars, and Ebola have come and gone. The present outbreak of coronavirus in China has come 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. I have no doubt that China, the forerunner in AI and 5G, will overcome the crisis.
During the Spanish flu pandemic, communications were not stopped between and amongst the countries fighting the war afflicted by the Spanish flu. In the case of coronavirus, many feel disconcerted. President Xi Jinping is dismayed at the lack of response from Western powers.
Many of us feel sick to read the article by 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.”
The Western countries are unhappy with the success of the BRI. They forget that BRI is showing light to millions -- the light of development, better life, better opportunity, better education, and better GDP. Debt-trap is, to a large extent, created by the Western powers.
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 China back. This is because China, an Asian country, is developing faster. It is the colonial mindset that cannot accept Chinese development.
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. BRICS are not far behind.
The slowing trend of the Chinese economy will mostly impact the development of Asian countries -- the ultimate goal of the West, and the coronavirus is just a pretense. The West also will suffer. China is the workshop of the planet.
The pretense of the crisis is being used as an argument by the West for shifting supply lines from China to elsewhere. This contradicts international law. According to the International Health Regulations (IHR) 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 this situation, the Chinese authority declared what was a “major test of China’s system and capacity for governance” and WHO defined it as the “global health emergency” of our new era. Thus, the big powers should not show their apathy towards the crisis.
In January, 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 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.
China needs global support for quick recovery. The support should come from the Western powers. The Asian countries should be the forerunners in extending their helping hand to China as they will be the first victims after China.
Malaysia is sending their medical team to China. Japan is sending a medical team and other support to China. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is visiting Wuhan to show solidarity with the people of China. Turkey has 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 a helping hand. Today, the dream of Padma Bridge, the dream of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has come true. It is now a reality.
Bangladesh should stand by the people of China. We can, as a show of support, send a small medical team. It is not what we send, rather it’s a gesture of friendship. It is not only China’s problem. It could become our problem tomorrow. To a cognoscenti, the Western overreaction to the coronavirus is more dangerous than the virus itself.
Waliur Rahman is a Former Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of Bangladesh Heritage Foundation.