Why Did It Happen? On the Issue of China’s ‘Guilt’ for the Coronavirus Pandemic
Statements made by a number of American politicians and publicists that the criminal nature of the Chinese communist regime is at fault for the epidemic only suggest that the practice of international relations has regressed seven to eight decades, writes Vasily Kashin, Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, exclusively for valdaiclub.com.
The politicisation of the situation with the coronavirus pandemic, which has gained ferocity in recent weeks, has led to a sad but logical outcome the search for the guilty. As a “genre”, the history of launching witch hunts for those responsible for contagious disease outbreaks is old and vulgar.
Throughout the written history of mankind, a rare epidemic happened without blame being placed on sorcerers and witches, those from other religious faiths, evil foreigners, hostile intelligence agencies, as well as the insidious doctors and heartless politicians who solve their problems.
China itself has historically often served as the birthplace of pandemics this was facilitated by the features of its fauna and climate, combined with population density.
This has led to periodic outbreaks of anti-Chinese sentiments and manifestations of racism since the 19th century. The Western press of that time often portrayed the Chinese as people who are dirty, licentious and therefore undesirable.
China itself, with the support of the USSR and North Korea, accused the United States of provoking a devastating smallpox epidemic in Northeast Asia back in 1951. It was assumed that American bombers specially scattered smallpox-infected flies over the territory of North Korea.
Thus, statements made by a number of American politicians and publicists that the criminal nature of the Chinese communist regime is at fault for the epidemic and that the PRC deliberately hid vital information and even deliberately contributed to the spread of the epidemic, do not bring anything new to international relations.
They only suggest that the practice of international relations has regressed seven to eight decades. Manners were simplified and returned to the era of the first years of the Cold War. All the plaque and gloss, all the apparent softening of moral pretention that has been going on since the 1960s, was blown away by the wind.
The line of accusation against the PRC is based on the selective criticism of events from the sequence of actions and decisions taken by the Chinese leadership at the early stage of the epidemic, cherry-picking certain facts while hushing up others.
The result yields an ideologically convenient picture for Washington: one of an ineffective authoritarian regime that was unable to respond to a threat due to silence and the suppression of information, overwhelmingly heroic whistle-blowers trying to warn the world about the epidemic, and insinuations that Beijing was almost specifically contributing to the spread of the disease.
Facts indicate otherwise. Information about a new infection was quickly transmitted to the central authorities, and work on the study of a new virus was launched in the shortest possible time.
WHO disease information appeared on December 31. The senior authorities of the PRC were aware of the outbreak of a new disease in Wuhan by the end of the first week of January.
The speed of the Chinese response to the epidemic was apparently determined by only one factor: the unwillingness of the Chinese leaders to take responsibility for socially and economically painful measures until they receive convincing and final conclusions from scientists.
This was the main reason for the fatal delay of about three weeks (until January 20), when no really serious measures were taken to combat the disease. It was a tragic fact for China and the world that this period coincided with the time before the Spring Festival, when internal inter-city travel peaks.
It is difficult to talk about any specific guilt of the Chinese leadership for a pandemic in this light. Exactly the same blunder fluctuations with the introduction of draconian anti-epidemic measures due to a delay in the arrival of reinforced concrete scientific justifications, was repeated by all other large countries in the world in a worsened form.