While the world is still reeling from the death and devastation wrought by the deadly coronavirus unleashed from the Chinese city of Wuhan, it is indeed ironical that Beijing is gloating over having “passed an extraordinary and historic virus test,” in bringing the highly contagious disease under control.
Chinese President Xi Jinping at a glittering ceremony in Beijing on Tuesday pompously claimed that “the Communist Party’s strong leadership is the most reliable backbone when the storm hits” and events related to the pandemic again prove the “superiority” of China’s socialist system.
He awarded medals to the country’s medical professionals for their success in fighting Covid-19. However, the bitter truth about the ruthless crackdown by the totalitarian regime on its own doctors in Wuhan who dared to speak the truth about the highly contagious nature of the killer virus was brushed under the red carpet rolled out for Xi Jinping.
China has come in for severe criticism for hiding facts about the deadly virus that has brought unprecedented misery to humankind. In hindsight it is quite clear that the pandemic could have been controlled at an early phase and not spread like wildfire across nations, if China had made it known at the incipient stage that the disease was both highly infectious and fatal. China also did not reveal to the rest of world any facts about the genetic material of the virus. As a result valuable time was lost in the fight against the pandemic leading to the situation spinning out of control and resulting in a lot more deaths and suffering than should have been the case.
The obsession with image management even at the cost of precious human lives appears to be a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. But the colossal loss of lives and livelihoods have now engulfed the entire world as the pandemic has brought one country after another down to their knees.
Beijing had at the time of the outbreak of the coronavirus, criticized all advisories by other countries asking their citizens not to visit China. It had alleged that these were aimed at tarnishing the image of the world’s fastest growing economy.
China for the first time admitted that coronavirus was an epidemic only on Dec 31 nearly two months after the deadly virus jumped species in the Chinese meat market and invaded humankind. When Dr Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan, died after contracting coronavirus, he was hailed as a hero by many as he was amongst the first who dared to warn that the infections could spin out of human control. In early January, the Chinese authorities had reprimanded him, and forced him to sign a statement denouncing his warning. Dr. Li’s death clearly demonstrated how the Chinese government mishandled the situation.
The WHO, on its part, proposed Covid-19 as the official name for the disease, an acronym that stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The name makes no reference to any of the people, places, or animals associated with the pandemic, to avoid stigmatizing anyone. But while the world organisation has been kind, China has not reciprocated the gesture and chosen to go around bragging instead.
The WHO has also come under much criticism for its late declaration of the nature of the disease, but insiders say the opaque Chinese system makes things that much more difficult for them. It was on Jan 30, that WHO declared the disease a “public health emergency of international concern” and as late as March 11 that it was declared a pandemic.
The United States, caught unawares as it was, has put the blame squarely on China and the WHO for the deadly disease turning into a global catastrophe.
Other countries such as Australia have also asked for an investigation into the outbreak of Covid-19 and China’s attempt to mislead the world on the issue.
Authoritarian China, on its part, has acted in predictable fashion in hitting out at its critics and hounding the nationals of these countries if they happen to be stationed in its territory. On Tuesday, two Australian journalists, who were nearly kidnapped by official Chinese agencies, were rescued after intervention at the highest level and flown back home under diplomatic escort. This is the typical iron-fisted manner in which China reacts to criticism and continues to keep its activities under a cloak of secrecy.
The cornered dragon has also gone in for flaunting its military might to distract world attention from its role in the pandemic, even though this has been at the cost of strained relations with its neighbors. If China is getting increasingly alienated in the world, it only has itself to blame. Shunning the “might is right” approach would indeed have to be the first step in the right direction, if it wants to gain acceptability in a wider world order.