Updated: Jan 21
President Donald Trump’s in his daily press meet on updates of COVID-19 has repeatedly said China has failed to alert the world. He also termed COVID-19 as “China Virus”. Not only Trump but also the US Secretary of State Micheal Pompoe has repeatedly quoted COVID-19 as “Wuhan Virus”. We observe the consistency in Trump’s administration on COVID-19. You may think “what’s so big deal in it, that’s fact”. But you should also observe China’s narrative. China is now on a mission to change the view that the world has on it. They know that post pandemic, China will be held accountable for their failure in containing the disease in early stages and also for not being transparent to the world. China may expressly state certain reasons for not containing disease but the question on transparency is something that hurts them.
Can world trust China’s show of transparency?
China’s political establishment or model is fully based on information asymmetry. It’s core agenda is to control important institutions. China’s politics can’t survive without this fundamental political model.
Xi Jinping, the president of China would have seen this. He knows that the world will question his vulnerabilities. So, in early stages he tried to suppress it but when things went out of control his spokespersons corresponded with WHO.
Evidence like suppression of data, silencing of researchers and doctors etc have raised serious concerns on China’s transparency.
How China can be held accountable?
Countries bordering China in Southeast Asian region actually believed Chinese narrative. Indonesia President has publicly stated that they didn’t want to create panic among people. That’s the reason why they didn’t come out with any transparent statements. He even didn’t give information about his own test. These countries took no measures because of the influence that China had either politically or economically.
ASEAN as an organization has till now not taken a United stand against China on this issue only because of their dependence on China. So, it's time for big countries like US, India, Australia etc. to step in.
US has started to criticize China as I have said above. India on the other hand has initiated the SAARC with Prime minister Modi requesting the leaders to coordinate with them to tackle the situation. Modi had a telephonic conversation with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Modi also participated in Extra ordinary Virtual G20 Leaders Summit. He also discussed the matters with Australian Prime minister.
Although big countries have a lot much to do in coming days but we can observe that they are trying to make China accountable for its non-responsible acts.
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI corridor)
Many of you who are reading this article may not know want is a BRI corridor. So, I will explain it in short. It is a strategy adopted by China to construct a unified large market and make use of both international and domestic markets. Through these markets countries could exchange their culture, technology database, and also get capital inflows. Through this strategy China want to be the global power.
President Xi jinping’s most prestigious and controversial project will be questioned now as a public health risk corridor. They could be questioned because a part of corridor connects to Europe. Europe has got badly effected due to this virus.
What is China’s strategy to counter these narratives?
Their strategy is to change the narrative that the world is observing today. For this China have to make any other nation responsible. So now it has publicly said US was responsible for the virus in their region. Chinese foreign affairs minister has said that the US military has actually planted the virus in Wuhan. He also said US was trying to defame China. By this narrative China wants history to be rewritten while it is being made.
China is also going for a broader image (global leader). It has re branded the BRI corridor as a public health responder corridor by providing doctoral equipment to other nations. It has succeeded with this strategy because European Union (EU) now wants China to be their primary partner than the West. Especially Italy Prime minister has repeatedly praised China’s effort to contain the virus in Wuhan. China is also providing medical support to Spain. It is like a perpetrator who is not only playing as a victim but also as Saviour. Even an expert like Harsh V Pant (director and head of strategic studies program at ORF) has said,
This is a structural problem. See the West, it is totally in shambles. EU is not able to come up with a co-herent response till date. This is one of the so-called Supranational organization which the world have.
China may also look to de accelerate or stall it’s foreign investment in BRI as it is likely that it would be focusing on their own domestic economy. China’s economy has been declining with the global economy. It is also for the first time that the communist party has released their unemployment figures which was way too high. So, going by these evidence it is likely that China would like to repair its economy or else there would be pressures mounting from its own people.
Possible questions which may be raised post COVID-19
Trade weaponization by China is something which many countries would like to re-visit to. There is an opportunity but every country may work for itself. If they feel that there is any threat to their diplomacy with China then they would like to re think their approach.
The West would surely change the supply chains and the order in which they work. The changes could be great or disastrous. We have to wait and see.
I personally think many countries should try to push back China by questioning their economic dependency on it. Also, I would like to see majority of the countries punish China for its behavior. Ultimately, if world doesn’t punish China then China would punish them back.
– ANJAN KUMAR
(Opinion expressed by the author is his personal. The Generalist Insights take no responsibility of the opinion expressed.)