THE US and its allies in the West, Japan and India are parroting the US to make China accountable for COVID-19. Pakistan is the only country that has openly supported China for its commendable role in helping other countries in the fight against Novel Coronavirus. China on Monday rejected Australia’s call for a probe examining the global response to the Coronavirus pandemic accusing Beijing of early handling of the outbreak. Washington and several allies have accused China of failing to adequately respond to the viral disease threat in the weeks after it was first detected in its city of Wuhan late last year. In a surprise move, US President Donald Trump also cut funding to the World Health Organization after accusing it of mismanaging the crisis and covering up the seriousness of the initial outbreak before its global spread killing more than 165,000 people.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the accusations disrespected the Chinese people’s tremendous efforts and sacrifices in fighting the contagion. “Any question about China’s transparency in the prevention and control of epidemic situation is not in line with facts,” Geng told a press briefing. He was speaking in response to a question about Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who, a day earlier, said her country would insist on the probe into the response by Beijing and the WHO. Chinese scientists rejected conspiracy theories pushed by some in the US government claiming the virus could have originated at a maximum-security virology lab in Wuhan. This is indeed an anti-China campaign by US and the West. Trump went so far as to blame that China could have been knowingly responsible for spreading infection and could face consequences as a result.
Anyhow, China has been generous in sending doctors and testing equipment to Italy and also to France; but at the behest of the US they started propaganda that the testing gear and other equipment was sub-standard and faulty. In fact, the US wanted to cover up its inability to fight the pandemic, and also the fear that it may ultimately lose the sole superpower status. UK’s daily ‘The Independent’ carried an article written by Patrick Cockburn who stated, “The US is losing its world superpower status due to its failure to lead during the Covid-19 crisis – and this time, it might not recover”. The fall in US influence was visible at virtual meetings of world leaders where the main US diplomatic effort was devoted to an abortive attempt to persuade the others to sign a statement referring to the “Wuhan Virus”. The author went on to state that the decline of the US is usually seen as the counterpart to the rise of China – and China has, at least for the moment, successfully got a grip on its own epidemic.
It is the Chinese who are sending ventilators and medical teams to Italy and face masks to Africa. Italians were unhappy that all the other EU states ignored Italy’s desperate appeal for medical equipment and only China responded. A Chinese charity sent 300,000 face masks to Belgium in a container with the slogan “Unity Makes Strength” in three languages – French, Flemish and Chinese. Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had sought support for an international investigation into the Coronavirus pandemic in phone calls with US President Donald Trump, and the German and French leaders overnight. Morrison said on Twitter that he had a very constructive discussion with Trump on the two nation’s health responses to COVID-19 and the need to get economies up and running. “We also talked about the WHO & working together to improve the transparency and effectiveness of the international responses to pandemics,” he tweeted. China’s Embassy in Canberra said in a statement late on Tuesday that Australian lawmakers were acting as the mouthpiece of Trump. “These days, certain Australian politicians are keen to parrot what those Americans have asserted and simply follow them in staging political attacks on China,” a statement for the embassy said. Bilateral ties between Australia and China have soured in recent years, with Canberra raising concerns about China’s growing influence in the Pacific region.
Diplomatic relations with China worsened after the Australian government became the first country to exclude telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies from its 5G network. The problem is that the US economy is bad right now. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and millions more will. Estimates for how much unemployment is expected to spike and GDP will fall are staggering. Production and spending across much of the country have been brought to an abrupt halt. “There is likely to be some permanent damage inflicted on the economy,” says Greg Daco, chief US economist at Oxford Economics. “What this shock is doing is exacerbating pre-existing inequality issues across the country. The individuals who have been hit the hardest are the individuals who were in the most precarious position to start with.” Economists say it could be anywhere from 2021 to 2031 before the economy returns to something like the pre-coronavirus “normal.” But it may never be entirely the same. The situation in European countries is no different.
The problem is that reduction in economic activity reduces the circulation of money and, with it, tax revenues. This reduces the finances available for the public-health countermeasures needed to control the pandemic. It also hits individuals and families, who see their incomes plummet. Once they have depleted their financial reserves, companies may close down, with consequences for their owners, employees and suppliers. Anyhow, the world is at a crossroads. One analyst wrote: “The COVID-19 pandemic could encourage people to realize that they all depend on each other on this small planet and, whether it is global heating, inequality, or environmental degradation, will either swim or sink together”.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.