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Tibetan leadership lets slip double standards during Canada, Israel visits

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When Dr. Lobsang Sangay, head of the Tibetan government in exile, spoke before a Canadian Parliament Committee on 12 June, he claimed to speak for six million Tibetans not actually under his authority, while failing to articulate even one concrete measure his or previous governments in exile have taken to either improve the lives of about 100’000 exiled countrymen actually under their jurisdiction, or to expedite their return to their homeland.

Instead, he spent most of his address to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and much of his response time in the questions and answers session, lamenting the Chinese occupation of Tibet and its subsequent annexation and exploitation of the territory. His remarks came notwithstanding the official position of the government in exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which backs the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” approach of viewing the territory as an autonomous region within China.

A week later he quietly visited Israel for five days in a low-key bid to shore up support for his campaign. Dr. Lobsang Sangay claimed he deliberately chose not to meet with government officials, saying he wanted to learn more about the country first, but intends to return to Jerusalem next year to step up his advocacy. When Dr. Sangay spoke with The Jerusalem Post at the tail-end of his five-day trip to Israel, he claimed again to speak for six million Tibetans, comparing the situation of the Tibetans to the situation of the Jews searching for the Promised Land in Palestine, today Israel. However, he systematically avoided commenting on issues related to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

In his Canadian and Israeli visits, Sangay ran through an often-repeated litany of grievances in his efforts to tick the boxes of human rights and environmental organisations, a litany dictated by his monetary and ideological patron, the US  Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).  Somewhat ironically, the U.S. recently withdrew from the UN Human Rights council, while the CECC is headed by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, not well known for a strong stand on human rights or environmental issues elsewhere.

In Canada, Sangay spent some 15 minutes lamenting Chinese actions in its subjugation of Tibet before taking 45 minutes of softball questions which could almost have been copied from the CECC website. At no point did he offer a set of proposals to indicate what the CTA itself might do if it were ever in a position to govern both the 100,000 Tibetan refugees that it purportedly represents, and those six million Tibetans already living under China in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Similarly, in Israel Sangay spent most of his time explaining the ecological and humanitarian situation in Tibet to the Israeli public, citing the same grievances as in Canada, visiting the symbols of the Jewish state and forgetting to mention grave human rights issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor did he visit the Palestinian territory. In the future, Sangay said, he plans to seek support from Israel for the Tibetan people, recalling that the current Dalai Lama has visited Israel on several occasions.

In both Canada and Israel, so scant on detail were Sangay’s discussions that those in attendance are unlikely to have learned much at all about what the CTA actually does to advance conditions for those Tibetans it theoretically serves. Perhaps the only thing that Canadians and Israelis learned from Sangay is that he uses two measures to weigh human rights. Territorial occupation may pass without comment in the case of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, but China’s occupation of Tibet is a grave human rights violation.

Not a single mention was made of how the CTA might implement government in the remote case that Tibet achieved independence, nor yet how the land might be governed as an autonomous region. There was no discussion on how the CTA might transition from a small administration serving 100,000 refugees to a national government of six million citizens. Nor was there any allusion to how the CTA would develop the regional economy, promote health and education, administer a judicial system or conduct foreign relations, all areas for which any government-in-waiting should at least have a basic plan.

But maybe that was by design. Drawing attention to any of these issues would have risked revealing how little, in reality, the CTA does or has done in concrete terms, and how short in substance its efforts have been in these areas since the Dalai Lama and his followers first fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese occupation in 1959. While the CTA was first formed in September 1960 and has since received hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian donations, in all that time it has failed to develop even a rudimentary plan of action outlining the steps that would be needed and the areas of most urgent focus should it one day actually take on the role of representing all Tibetans. While it has devoted a large amount of resources to waging a costly and often successful propaganda war against China, the CTA appears to have spent far less on dealing with the real issues facing even the relatively small number of refugees in its charge.

While China’s ascendancy is one factor, the sheer deficiency of tangible CTA policies and measures in its 60 years as an exile government explains the despairing state of the Tibetan cause today, and shows why many Tibetans refugees have taken matters into their own hands, some becoming Indian citizens, others choosing to return to the Tibet Autonomous Region under Chinese rule.

In place of policy development, the CTA has preferred to produce a constant stream of rhetoric against China, exploiting the charm of the Dalai Lama and China’s unworthiness in order to develop a persuasive international public relations strategy, to focus its efforts on maintaining the fiction of a determined population presenting a united front in the face of a mighty oppressor. In the meantime, it has silenced any and all dissenting voices from within and without the exile community, sometimes vigorously. For example, Lukar Jam, who opposes the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way and has therefore been labelled anti-Dalai Lama, was fiercely opposed by the sitting Tibetan leadership in his 2015 campaign to head the CTA, with leaders actually manipulating electoral rules to scupper his campaign. In the meanwhile, Tibetan monks pushing for dialogue with China such as ex-Tibetan Prime Minister Professor Samdhong Rinpoche do not seem to be getting much support and may even have had their efforts sabotaged.  The message of amity and reconciliation from advocates of world peace such as Mingyur Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Tsem Tulku Rinpoche seem to fall on deaf ears in Dharamsala where the CTA is headquartered. Those who are more outspoken about the urgency of accord such as Tsem Tulku Rinpoche have been mercilessly harangued at every opportunity for daring to suggest that in the interest of peace and for the sake of the Tibetan refugees who are now in the third generation as exiles, that the CTA should create a climate of détente to return China to dialogue, instead of constantly agitating Beijing, precisely what the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way is advocating.

The rhetoric has been directed at a Western audience to stir up a common fear: “China destroys the environment and will soon conquer the whole world with the Silk Road project”. It is a hollow soundbite, but does little to promote the Tibetan cause for autonomy. This at a time when clear proposals would be especially vital, given the increasing attention to the Dalai Lama’s supposed ill health (several rumours suggest he is afflicted with terminal cancer). It is now critical for the CTA to restore confidence by showing that it is up to the task of governing six million Tibetans along with some extremely complex geopolitical/cross-border issues.

Smug claims bear little scrutiny

During his Canadian address, one of Sangay’s most ludicrous claims was that the CTA was an example of “a well-practiced implemented democracy” that could actually be a role model for the world. The claim is so flawed that it can be countered on several fronts. Both cynically and shamelessly, he claimed that in the Tibetan concept of democracy, the opposition does not exist (it does, even if it is not welcomed with open arms) and that this notion of governance is a characteristic of the Buddhist culture.

But his somewhat smug assertions do not stand up to scrutiny.

It should not be forgotten that numerous travellers and scholars who visited Tibet prior to the Chinese occupation described a country in which warlords and Buddhist monks lived very well indeed, sharing the country’s riches among themselves, whilst much of the population, and particularly those who worked the lands belonging to the wealthy, lived a form of feudal serfdom, little better off than slaves. A large amount of documentation indicates that these people could be literally bought and sold with the land they lived on, and that condign punishments, including execution, amputations and other forms of torture, were frequently used against those who sought to push back against the authority of their “masters”.

That hardly indicates a democratic tradition, and makes a mockery of Sangay’s claims of a “well practiced” democracy based on consensus rather than adversarial politics. Moreover, his claims gloss over the lengths the government in exile will go to keep dissenters in line.

A case in point is the long-standing rejection of the practice of Dorje Shugden, a centuries-old devotion to a deity considered by many to be a protector of the “Geluk”, or “yellow hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism to which all Dalai Lamas belong. Since 1996, the CTA has maintained an effective ban on the practice, producing a large body of directives, literature and videos claiming it is harmful to Tibetan unity and accusing practitioners of being Chinese stooges. This is in spite of Article 10 of the Tibetan Constitution, itself drafted by the CTA, which guarantees freedom of religion.

The CTA also maintains an ambiguous position on autonomy for the Tibet region as it performs what a somewhat ludicrous balancing act aimed at keeping external proponents of Tibetan independence onside. We only need to consider that the CTA happily accepts support from many Western-based NGOs advocating for human rights in Tibet, virtually all of which openly support Independence for the territory (in the Tibetan language “Rangzen”) as their ultimate objective. But with the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” proposals forming the basis of the official CTA position, any mention of “Rangzen” among the exile communities is discouraged in the harshest of terms, and any pro-independence voices have been systematically stifled by and excluded from the government in exile.

In effect, the Canadian Standing Committee and the Israeli public could learn as much from what Sangay did not say as from what he said. He spoke of how China had exploited Tibet since first occupying the region in 1951, appropriating all water and mineral resources to its own end; how China was shipping its own citizens to the region in order to “dilute” the local population and was using discriminatory wage practices by paying more to ethnic Chinese than to Tibetans doing the same job; and how China’s ultimate goal was to assimilate the local population to such an extent that the Tibetan identity no longer had any meaning.

What he did not mention was, as noted above, that prior to Chinese occupation only wealthy Tibetan landowners, warlords and monks drew any benefit from the country’s resources, while the vast majority of the population were in effect indentured labourers with no democratic rights at all. Nor did he mention that, since its formation, the government in exile has failed to come up with any sort of plan for governing the vast region of Tibet, should it ever achieve its ambition of doing so. He didn’t say, either, that the CTA’s constant antagonising of China has begun to erode the goodwill of the CTA’s hosts, India, and of neighbours including Mongolia, which are seeking to develop better relations with China, now the world’s second-largest economy.

Sangay’s presentation of a Tibetan tradition of consensual democracy may have struck his hearers in Canada and Israel as quaint or even desirable. But those with a deeper knowledge of the CTA would probably point out it is hardly a tradition – as noted above, even in country’s most recent history as an independent nation, the majority of its citizens were little more than slaves. They might also note that in the CTA’s efforts to present a picture of unity to the outside world, it appears more willing to silence dissenters than engage in discussion; and that, when faced with concerted opposition among the people it is supposed to represent, the CTA’s response is generally neither consensual nor democratic.

If the CTA is to go beyond grandiloquent speeches, bizarre and erroneous claims of a “democratic tradition” and other empty grandstanding, it needs to develop real and achievable policies that can both improve the lives of the Tibetan diaspora in a real and measurable way, and engage China openly in order to seek some degree of common ground. As major economies around the world seek to improve relations with China, Tibet is no longer a cause célèbre that ruling Western governments use as a bargaining chip in negotiations. Instead, the Tibetan question has become a marginal issue, raised by opposition politicians in western democracies – with diminishing effect – when they wish to get noticed. Unless it can come up with a concrete programme that can ultimately achieve real benefits for the Tibetan diaspora, the CTA risks becoming irrelevant in the very near future.

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From China, A Plan For The Future

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On October 26, the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China opened in Beijing, with the ambitious goal of defining – after months of preparation and four days of debate behind closed doors – the strategic policy lines of the 14th five-year plan of the country, which – unlike the rest of the world -went practically unscathed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

 The plan – designed to cover the 2021-2025 five-year period – has the meaningful title of “Vision 2035”, aimed at underlining its potential medium-term impact on China’s economy and its international relations. The US economic agency Bloomberg called the plan a “Warning Shot”, a “five-year warning shot to the United States”.

 In fact, as Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out, “Vision 2035” aims at making China a “moderately prosperous country” and redefining its economic (and hence geopolitical) relations on a global level.

Before examining the broad policy lines of the 14th Five-Year Plan, as announced by the Chinese media in recent months, it should be stressed that the Chinese leadership of the third millennium is profoundly different from the Maoist one. In the days of the “Great Helmsman”, five-year plans were dictated by the most integralist ideology and often did irreparable damage to China’s economy and society.

In 1958, the second five-year plan, defined by Mao Zedong as “The Great Leap Forward”, tried to transform the Chinese economic and production system from rural into industrial with an attempt at a huge forced reconversion that wanted to turn farmers into workers and cultivated fields into manufacturing industries by decree.

 The attempt failed miserably and the famine that followed due to the abandonment of the rural areas caused over 20 million deaths.

Post-Maoist China learned from previous mistakes and it shifted from rigid and obtuse ideological beliefs to scientific pragmatism, with the result that today China is on the way to gaining the leadership of the world economy.

The last five-year plan, i.e. the 13thone for the 2016-2020 period, aimed at “replacing unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable growth” with innovative, coordinated and environmentally-sensitive measures for inclusive growth capable of establishing a new “moderately prosperous society from all viewpoints”(which remains the same objective as the new plan).

The basic goal was to make GDP grow by up to 6.5% per year, an objective that has almost been achieved despite the Covid-19 epidemic, thanks to the results reached in the first three years, a period in which the growth of Western economies -ranging from the United States to Germany -recorded levels three times lower than China’s. Once overcome the pandemic crisis last March, in the third quarter of 2020 China’s GDP reached 4.9% compared to the previous year and all economists, not only the Chinese ones, are convinced that it is destined to grow further by the end of the year.

A concrete goal achieved was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12%.According to the Chinese leadership, this augurs well for achieving zero emissions by 2030, thanks to the total abandonment of the use of fossil fuels in energy production.

In China the “green shift” – so dreamt of by the European institutions – has been started concretely while results have been significant also in the fight against poverty: the 56 million “absolute poor” (people with an annual income of 335 dollars) surveyed in 2015 rose to 5.5 million in 2019. In the same period, the housing crisis was tackled with the building of 10 million social housing units that replaced thousands of slums.

It is on the basis of these results that President Xi Jinping has dictated the guidelines of the new five-year plan on which, in these days, the discussion of the Party’s Central Committee is focused.

The central focus of the 14th Plan is “dual circulation”, a strategy that aims at making both domestic demand and foreign investment in consumer goods and technology grow, with a “dual” and coordinated approach of great potential impact on the living conditions of the Chinese population and China’ international relations.

 Morgan Stanley’s economists estimate that China’s GDP will grow by 5.5% per year until 2025, a conservative estimate which, however, is considered sufficient to significantly increase people’s income and domestic demand, to attract significant foreign investment and increase China’s ability to invest abroad, both in financial markets and in industrial and technological markets.

According to Liu Peiqian, a Chinese economist working in Singapore (interviewed by Bloomberg), “in view of 2025, China’s policy is becoming increasingly focused on long-term goals, while investors can expect more continuity and certainty from China’s economic policy over the next 15 years”.

The Economist‘s financial analyst Yue Sue, interviewed by CNBC, said that “she expects the five-year plan to focus strongly on supporting technology and energy security based on diversification of energy sources, rather than relying on increased oil imports, while food security will be looked at carefully in view of possible tensions in relations with food exporting countries (first and foremost, the United States).

The decisions taken at the end of the four days of discussions on the 14th Five-Year Plan will only be made public in March next year, but economists are certain that, all things considered and given President Xi Jinping firm and authoritarian leadership, all what anticipated so far by the State media will be implemented to the letter.

Whatever the final decisions may be, it is certain that the “warning shot” to the United States, about which the Financial Times has talked, will influence – probably in a further negative way – US-China relations in the coming years.

In fact, despite the huge differences existing in domestic policy between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, both candidates in the next US presidential elections are quite in agreement with specific reference to relations with China, as they are both oriented to continue the policy of ongoing confrontation-clash between the two countries.

 For this reason, it is easy to predict that whoever wins the race for the White House, Sino-American relations on the political and economic levels are not bound to improve in the short and medium-term.

Considering the undeniable success of the previous one, the 14th five-year plan will mark a further step forward for the Chinese economy and, if it does not produce positive effects on relations with the United States, it will produce positive effects both on the domestic front and on the global arena.

China has emerged in good condition from the coronavirus epidemic, whose effects, instead, are being felt heavily in Western societies and economies. However, faced with the guidelines dictated by the new Chinese five-year plan, this reality opens up an extraordinary “window of opportunity” for the European and Italian production sector. The “dual circulation” envisaged by the plan opens up huge opportunities for European and Italian companies that want to take advantage of the opportunities offered by China’s economic growth and its increasing financial resources.

Working in effective synergy with Chinese partners is not difficult if you have good professionals, skilful technicians and workers, as well as innovative ideas based on sound scientific foundations.

I can give the example of a reality I know personally: TRAFOMEC, an Italian company established in 1981 by a brave group of engineers, which over the years has become a leader in the production of current transformers and alternators, for industrial and domestic use, as well as in the manufacturing of electrical panels for trains and ships and in technology linked to the development of alternative energies.

After building its production plants in Italy and Poland and setting up joint ventures in India, Poland and China, Trafomec merged with its Chinese subsidiary Indu-Tek in 2016, thus creating a production reality with a dual centre of gravity: in Europe (Italy and Poland) and in China – a reality that has been further enriched thanks to the collaboration recently started with Eldor Corporation, a leading multinational company in the automotive sector and partner of the world’s leading car manufacturers, present in Italy and China.

I have given this example to demonstrate the huge growth potential for Italian companies that will develop forms of collaboration with similar Chinese companies or that will decide, thanks to the opportunities offered also by the 14th five-year plan, to enter the huge Chinese market. Trafomec has grown and will grow also thanks to this challenge that – possibly with the intelligent support of the Italian government and the European authorities- can be taken up also by other Italian and European companies, thus contributing – thanks to the opening of a “new Silk Road” – to the economic recovery of our country, debilitated by the pandemic, in an optimistic vision of the future taking into account an historical fact: after the plague of 1300, Renaissance blossomed in Italy.

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What prevents Japan from ratifying the recently assented Nuclear Ban Treaty?

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With the ratification of Honduras, a Central American country, on 24 October 2020, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017 by the UN General Assembly, crosses the ’50 ratifications’ mark required for its entry-into-force, and is set to become effective on 22 January 2021. But, interestingly, how come Japan, the world’s only nuclear-attacked country, not among the 50 ratified states?

History remembers Japan as the only country in the world falling victim to a nuclear attack that happened 75 years ago, when the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked using air-dropped atom bombs by the United States with the aim of forcing a surrender from the then Empire of Japan in World War-II.

The U.S. factor in Japan’s security policy

Post-war era saw Japan evolving as a strong U.S. ally, including getting security protection under U.S. nuclear umbrella, a hard fact that prevents the Asian economic powerhouse to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty, often abbreviated as TPNW, recently assented for entering into force in January, next year.

Despite calls from anti-nuclear activists and Hiroshima-Nagasaki survivors, both living within the country and around the world, Japan’s ruling establishment faces a big conundrum, but limited in decisional autonomy with regard to a matter involving the United States.

A politician representing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said that even though his party share the idea behind the treaty, it would be too unrealistic to move in the direction of ratification, hinting at Japan’s difficulty to handle how US would perceive such a move that can translate into an open disregard for US-led security arrangements in the region.

Moreover, the perceived threat from across the Sea of Japan, arising from a dictator-ruled, nuclear-armed Pyongyang and a recently more assertive Beijing looms over the island state, something that naturally brings Japan closer to the US.

Moreover, for decades, the security alliance with Japan has been a significant factor in US foreign and defence policies in East Asia, and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Japan’s post-war security arrangements with the United States

Signed in 1951, the early ‘US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty’ was a ten-year, renewable pact that envisaged how Japan would allow U.S. forces to remain on Japanese soil after the country regained its sovereignty, in light of a new pacifist constitution.

This pact combined with the ‘Yoshida Doctrine’, a postwar policy attributed to Shigeru Yoshida, former Prime Minister of Japan, which stipulated Japan’s reliance on the US for its security needs so the government could focus on economic re-building.

The 1951 agreement was revised in 1960, granting US the right to establish military bases on Japanese islands in exchange for a renewed commitment to defend Japan in the event of an attack. These bases gave the US its first permanent military foothold in Asia.

In 1967, PM Eisaku Sato unveiled the ‘Three Non-Nuclear Principles’ (no possession, no production, and no introduction)to cool down tensions surrounding nuclear arms on US bases in Japanese soil. Since then, Japan has relied on the US nuclear umbrella for deterrence capabilities.

Today, according to a US-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations, there are more than 80 US military facilities in Japan, including key ones in Okinawa and Yokosuka. More U.S. service members are permanently stationed in Japan than in any other foreign country.

The aforementioned close security ties of Japan with the United States act as a barrier for the island state to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty.

What does the TPNW entail?

The treaty is going to be the first legally-binding international pact to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of total elimination.

As it was agreed upon, in 2017, when at least 50 countries ratify the treaty, it will qualify for entering into force within the next 90 days i.e. 22 January, next year.

Many international security analysts, however, questions the efficacy of the treaty as an instrument of war-prevention and disarmament as it does not involve any of the strongest, five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P-5), namely, the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China, all of them nuclear states along with India, Pakistan, North Korea, and sometimes ambiguously, Israel too.

However, over a quarter of local assemblies across Japan have adopted a written statement demanding that the national government should sign and ratify the TPNW, a difficult choice for Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the United States has been urging countries not to ratify the Treaty, and stated that itself and all the other NATO allies will stand unified in their opposition to the potential repercussions of the TPNW. Washington has also sent letters to the countries that have ratified the treaty, requesting their withdrawal from it.

TPNW requires that all ratifying states should never under any circumstances develop, test, produce, acquire, or possess nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It also bans any potential transfer of nuclear materials among each other.

The other treaty to keep checks on horizontal spread

Year 2020 also marked 50 years since another pact aimed at preventing the horizontal spread of nuclear weapons entered into force, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT, in 1970.

While Japan has managed to ratify the NPT in 1976, six years after signing the treaty in 1970, its decisional autonomy with regard to TPNW is much more complex.

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Do not panic, we are Chinese: China’s response to the pandemic

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In Europe, in the United States and in South America, the feared second wave of Covid-19 epidemic is spreading. It is generating not only panic among the public and the institutions, but it is beginning to put health systems and economies under stress. They were starting to recover with difficulty after the impact of the first wave of the epidemic which, between the winter and spring of this year, made the pace of industrial and manufacturing production and productivity rates in the trade, tourism and catering sectors plummet globally, with figures suggesting a decidedly dark future.

In Italy, faced with the increase in infections which, however, does not mean an increase in the number of sick people, the Government has decided to delegate to the Regions’ Governors the power to implement measures to limit individual and collective freedom in the name of a “state of emergency” which has been going on since last March and seems bound to accompany us also in the coming months. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, an ominous and worrying word, “curfew”, has reappeared in official communiqués and news reports.

Over the next few days, in the Campania and Lombardy Regions, it will be forbidden to circulate in the streets from 11pm to 5am, while the purchase of alcohol and the opening hours of shopping centres, bars and restaurants will be restricted. Just to complete an increasingly tragic scenario, on October 20 last, the Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, urged Italians to “stay at home as much as possible” with a voluntary lockdown that seems to be a prelude to the adoption of measures that could bring us back to the situation of last spring with incalculable social and economic damage.

Curfews, lockdowns, targeted or generalised closures are now common practice also in France, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain which, like Italy, have suffered the devastating economic impact of the first wave and could be brought to their knees by the new pandemic emergency.

At this juncture we have to ask ourselves a question: what happened and what is happening in the country where it all began? How are things going in China that in our media, obsessively focused on domestic troubles, is mentioned only superficially and in passing?

“China is Near” was the title of a 1967 movie directed by Marco Bellocchio, that evoked the unstoppable expansion of the Maoist thinking. Today we must say that “China is far away”, encapsulated in the stereotypes developed by Western culture, which prevent us from seriously analysing its political, economic and social evolution and, above all, from drawing lessons from the political and health model that has enabled China to come out of the Covid-19 emergency with its head held high.

On September 22 last, in a blunt speech – as usual -at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump accused China of being responsible “for spreading this plague throughout the world” and – to further underline the concept -he dismissed the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus”. In the same forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping soberly urged all countries affected by the epidemic to follow his country’s example and “to abide by the indications of science without attempting to politicise the problem”.

Figures clearly demonstrate that the Chinese model is important and worthy of attention. In China, where it all began in December 2019, out of a population of about 1.4 billion inhabitants, the Covid-19 epidemic has so far caused 4,739 deaths out of 90,604 sick people. In the United States, over the same period, out of a population that is about one fifth of China’s, 7,382,194 cases of infection were recorded that led to the death of 209,382 people (data provided by the English medical journal, The Lancet, October 8, 2020).

Great Britain, with a population twenty times smaller than the Chinese population, had to deal with five times more infections than China and ten times more deaths.

These are the figures of October 20 last, referring to the whole of China: 19 cases of illness, all imported from abroad. 24 asymptomatic infections and 403 cases testing positive kept under observation. All, except one, imported from abroad(!). Figures which, as you can see, are globally lower than those recorded since the beginning of the emergency in one single Italian region!

Faced with these figures, it seems difficult to shirk a simple, dual question: how could China fight the epidemic and keep it under control? Hence why do we not follow its example by drawing on its experience?

China was accused of responding late to the first outbreak of the epidemic in December 2019 and notifying late the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new outbreak. Both accusations are completely false.

After the outbreak of the new virus in late December, Chinese scientists isolated and identified the genome sequence of Covid-19 on January 10, 2020 and a few days later, after alerting the WHO, the authorities started to take countermeasures.

China was ready for the emergency: since the SARS epidemic – a virus similar to Covid-19 – had caused just over 700 deaths in 2002, but very serious damage to the economy due to the stop of flights, tourism and exports, the government had given orders to prepare accurate contingency plans to be activated promptly in case of new epidemics. Those plans, which were not prepared and put in a drawer but updated and carefully tested, were activated immediately after the first alarm.

With its 12 million inhabitants, Wuhan – the epicentre of the first infections – was immediately imposed a total lockdown, while in the rest of the huge country the population was urged (without curfews or states of emergency) to follow the most elementary and effective prevention and self-protection measures: social distancing, use of masks and frequent hand washing. It has been said in the West that China has reacted so effectively because it is ruled by an authoritarian regime. Indeed, Confucius has counted much more than Mao for the Chinese. The Confucian social philosophy that not even 71 years of Communist rule have managed to wipe out, with its basic rules of respect for the natural hierarchical order, makes the Chinese a naturally well-behaved, orderly and obedient people. Suffice it to recall that since the beginning of the new pandemic emergency the protests in Hong Kong have decreased until disappearing, while in Europe we are witnessing massive demonstrations with diehard “no-mask” people.

It is, however, the quick response of the Chinese political and health authorities that is at the basis of the undeniable success in fighting the epidemic, at first, and later containing it.

As stated above, Wuhan was immediately isolated and subjected to total lockdown for 76 days, while targeted closures were imposed in the Hubei Province. Throughout the country, 14,000 health checkpoints were set up at the main public transport hubs and, within two weeks since the “official” outbreak of the pandemic, in the city of Wuhan alone 9 million inhabitants were tested.

As one of the main producers and exporters of health equipment, China was not caught unprepared in terms of hospital supplies and individual protection devices: in short, no mask crisis.

While in the United States and Europe, despite the lockdown, people did not seem to be inclined to wear masks (President Trump wore a mask in public only last September), the Chinese immediately followed the authorities’ guidelines with a great sense of discipline. All the municipal security cameras were “converted” to control citizens’ use of masks, while drones equipped with loudspeakers were flown over all areas of the huge country to check the inhabitants’ compliance with the rules. The Xinhua State agency released the footage taken by a drone in Inner Mongolia, showing an astonished Mongolian lady rebuked by the drone saying” Hey Auntie, you cannot go around without a mask. Put it on right away and when you go back home remember to wash your hands”. Probably media embroidered the episode a bit, but certainly in China they did not witness the summertime movida that took place in Rome, Naples or Milan, which is at the basis of the many troubles with which we are currently confronted.

On February 5, 2020 the first Fancang hospital was opened in Wuhan, a prefabricated structure dedicated to the treatment of non-severely ill people, while traditional hospitals were reserved for the treatment of severely ill people. The use of Fancang hospitals (dozens of them were built) made it possible to limit the staying at home of people with mild symptoms, but anyway sources of contagion, within their families – the opposite of what is happening in Italy where the people with mild symptoms are advised to stay at home -and prevent the quick spreading of the virus starting from families. The Fancang hospital network made 13,000 beds available and was dismantled as from May 10, 2020 when the first wave of the epidemic ended in China and was not followed by a second wave. To avert this danger, the Chinese authorities have relaxed “internal” checks and made the control measures for those coming from abroad very strict. At a time when in Spain and Italy the checks for incoming travellers are practically derisory, in China all those who enter the country, for whatever reason, are subject to tests and strictly controlled quarantine.

In essence, China has first fought and later controlled the spreading of the Covid-19 epidemic, with drastic but rational measures and above all understood and accepted by a population educated by Confucius to respect hierarchies and discipline. China can currently be an example for the rest of the world and it is there to testify that with strict, but intelligent measures even the most dangerous situations can be tackled successfully.

It is an example that should be studied and followed without the typical arrogance of the “white man”, also considering an important fact: while the economy of Italy and of its European partners is hardly growing, China’s GDP growth rate is 4.9% higher than last year.

There is much to learn from China both in terms of managing a health emergency and in terms of protecting the economic system.

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