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China and the Wuhan virus

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

The Chinese are trying to change the narrative about their responsibility for the origin of the novel Coronavirus under our very eyes. This shows their over-weening self-confidence that their financial means and the world’s need of them as the world’s second-largest economy allows them to cover up their tracks. Over the years they have nurtured lobbies in the political, business, academic, think tank and media circles across the world that are ready to promote China’s case.
Its effort to sow confusion about the origin of the virus is being resisted in the US because of its effrontery in accusing the US military of planting it in Wuhan. Trump has called it the Chinese virus, but within the US too he has been criticized for his political incorrectness and exposing ethnic Chinese Americans to social prejudice and worse. Major western European countries suffering grievously from the virus do not back the US in calling it the Wuhan virus, which is why the G7 could not issue a joint statement.
New narratives
Italy and some East European countries are actually lauding China’s role in helping to combat the virus through supply of masks and testing kits. But there is a push back in some European quarters to astute propaganda that clubs these commercial transactions with some free supplies of masks. The supply of defective testing kits has also dented China’s image. But then, in this hour of dire need and China’s huge manufacturing capacities, even India has placed orders on China for personal protection equipment for medical workers and even for testing kits. It is by now widely accepted that China tried to suppress information about the new virus detected as early as November by calling it rumour-mongering. China allowed countless thousands to move out of Wuhan to the rest of China and many countries abroad.
When the truth about the virus could no longer be suppressed China acknowledged its emergence, but still tried to tailor the story to its requirements. For this it used the WHO which purveyed China’s story line about the inadvisability of a ban on flights to China and unavailability of evidence of human to human transmission of the virus as Chinese experts believed. For weeks the WHO would not declare the spread of the Coronavirus as an epidemic, much less a pandemic.
The role of the Ethiopian head of the WHO has come under sharp scrutiny. China, now the second largest contributor to the UN budget, has got its tentacles deeply into the UN system. It helped the WHO DG win the position; it makes large voluntary contributions to the organization, besides the fact that Ethiopia is a recipient of huge Chinese largesse as a major point of BRI’s entry into Africa. China seems to be extremely sensitive about the virus being associated by name with China. The WHO has obliged by calling it COVID 19. Chinese ambassadors abroad have abandoned diplomatic decency by abusing and threatening those who dare associate the virus with China by name.
By another name
Apparently the Chinese Foreign Minister wants India not to label the virus Chinese. Any official departure from WHO’s nomenclature by India would be a politically sensitive issue , but our media, the think tanks, political commentators should have no hesitation in calling it the “Wuhan virus”, which would be accurate as a general description.
It would be like calling plants not by their technical Latin name but by their common one. Even when the world is facing a crisis that is destabilizing global society, the UN Security Council has been unable to meet to discuss the security aspects of the situation. China as a permanent veto-wielding member will not allow it, much less agree to a resolution that should ideally demand a UN probe into the circumstances in which the virus emerged, its spread globally and the acts of omission and commission by China, so as to learn lessons for the future. China will never allow this. It will not also give access to complete data, as it can profiteer from any breakthrough it can achieve in developing an anti-dote for the disease ahead of others. It can then present itself as a savior and roll in billions to boot.
Warning to world
This is the second pandemic that has been unleashed on the world in one generation. The consequences of the Wuhan virus are potentially so devastating for all of us that there is a good case for a “Wuhan tax”, whose contours are best expressed in my verse below:
A Wuhan tax would be a way to make the Chinese leaders pay for letting loose this deadly scourge which is most difficult to purge so all Chinese exports will be taxed as a form of subsidy in special fund will go proceeds to spend on the economic needs of populations in distress to make the pain they suffer less under international control to supplement the World Bank’s role to be seen as reparations for the travails of all nations the world must now have the mission to curb Xi Jinping’s ambition.


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