Authors: Yang Yizhong & Paul Wang
Since the coronavirus outbreak was officially announced several weeks ago, it has stirred many concerns and uncertainties within China and around the world. For example, there are quite a few criticisms and discrimination about human rights violation, political inefficiency and economic policy of China due to this virus crisis throughout the country. However, it is self-evident that China is not alone in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, also called “The COVID-19”. As Sivanka Dhanapala, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in China, put it “Let me say straight away, this is a time for solidarity, for international solidarity. Now it’s important, really important, that we need international solidarity and cooperation to share and to pool resources where they are most needed and to make sure vulnerable people get the help that they need. It needs to come together, as an international community, in fighting the virus.”
Under such circumstances, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke at the 56th Munich Security Conference on 15 February, reiterating the Chinese resolve, confidence and goal which could be put into the official line: “Under the strong leadership of China, the 1.4 billion people are united as one in fighting the sudden outbreak of a novel virus; and the final goal is only: to win this non-conventional war.” In light of so dangerous uncertainties ahead, it is necessary to understand China’s strategy, capability and approaches as well.
Obviously, the leading elite and the people of China have demonstrated firm resolve in dealing with the epidemic. The high speed and massive scale of China’s response are rarely seen in the world. More accurately, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged medical staff from the Chinese armed forces to move towards Wuhan and the other virus-hit cities to protect the locals and called for enhanced coordination between local authorities and the military. Until this point, a total of over 4,000 medical staff from the Chinese armed forces have been dispatched to this area. As a result, all relevant parties have taken effective measures to stop the spread of the virus, including requiring the Chinese military to bear the responsibility to make sure of the prevention and control of the outbreak of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus. For sure, their efforts are consistently supported by medical and pharmaceutical researchers who have been working day and night, isolated the first virus strain and developed the test reagent in less than seven days. Hailed as heroes in harm’s way, over 20,000 healthcare workers in 100 plus medical teams converged in Hubei, the hardest hit province, from across the nation to support epidemic control. Exemplifying professional dedication, all medical workers are saving and protecting lives around the clock despite the risk of infection and exhaustion from overwork. Here overseas Chinese around the globe have continued rushing to make donations in cash and all kinds to help combat the virus outbreak.
Meanwhile, China has timely released the latest information about situation of the disease and called for deepened international cooperation, such as working closely with WHO, inviting international experts to join our ranks, and providing assistance and facilitation to foreign nationals in China. To date, confirmed cases outside China account for less than one percent of the world’s total. It means China has effectively curbed the spread of the outbreak beyond our borders. For that, China has made extraordinary efforts and a heavy sacrifice as well. That said, China is not fighting alone. The international community has given China valuable moral and material support. For example, Russia, Belarus and the ROK swiftly delivered badly needed medical supplies to Wuhan through chartered flights. Pakistan sent its Chinese brothers virtually all the masks in its stock. At the peak of the outbreak, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia paid a special visit to Beijing to offer his staunch support for China. The leaders of some countries, such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Italy, also conveyed their warm messages in support of China’s epidemic response.
Here is self-evident to mention that Japan, as the most wealthy neighbour of China and also having the long-time historical and territorial disputes with China, has sent huge assistance supplies to China, attached with ancient Chinese poetic lines: “Fear not the want of armour, for mine is also yours to wear”, conveying a touching message of empathy from an ancient Chinese poem. In other parts of the world, Americans from all walks of life donated medical items and supplies; not to mention the emergency aid supplies to China from EU countries. Individually speaking, Philippe Klein, a French doctor working in Wuhan, did not hesitate to stay and fought alongside the Chinese colleagues. He revealed that he kept a bottle of champagne to be popped open for celebrating the end of the epidemic. It was also reported that a Zimbabwean student who lived in Wuhan for three years, chose to stay and signed up to be a volunteer. As the Chinese are a grateful nation, they will remember and hold dear every act of support. What are discussed here aim to remind all that we live in a time when traditional and non-traditional security issues are entwined, and when local issues easily become global and vice versa. No country can prosper in isolation or meet all challenges on its own, as our interests are closely inter-connected in the age of globalization. Now for virus respects no borders, it requires a collective response from the international community.
In sum, it is true that now in China Xi wields near-absolute political power over the ruling party and the Marxist-directed state. Arguably, only an socialist regime could have pursued the draconian methods that China has in trying to control the virus since January. Yet, time will tell how effective these measures ultimately prove to be. What is certain, however, is that the crisis, once resolved, will not change the goal that China is going to achieve in the near future.
As China holds that as human society has entered the age of globalization, it is necessary to transcend the old concept of East-West divergence and the North-South divide, to see our shared planet as a community for all. In so doing, China argues for all nations go beyond the ideological gap and accommodate historical and cultural differences. During the crisis moment, it is sensible to see that repeated relationships can nurture co-operative restraint and reciprocity. Yet, the COVID-19 epidemic has inspired cover stories across the world. Some focused on the virus, others described the life changed by the quarantine measures, but among them, Time magazine predicted that disease could “Derail the China Dream,” and Bloomberg Businessweek warned that there is a “Fragile China” that we need to “Handle with care.” However, the China collapse theory is doomed to fail as China and its people have showed much of the strength and creativity in the epidemic time and again.
In this contest, IMF chief Georgieva said recently, it was “too early” to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation. If the disease is “contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound”, in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said. To be fair, China has done a good job so far in responding to the epidemic. Obviously, President Xi’s management of the coronavirus crisis at home, and of politically totemic projects such as 5G expansion abroad, assumes a critical new significance.