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Korean experience of combating coronavirus

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The Republic of Korea was one of the first countries that the coronavirus spread to, and for quite some time the country held the second place in the world in the number of recorded cases of COVID-19 infection.  South Korea has since slid to the 26th place, however, with the number of daily infections not exceeding 10 – a pretty impressive result for a country that has found itself in the epicenter of a pandemic. The South Korean experience in fighting the epidemic was discussed by a panel of experts meeting at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).

The first case of COVID-19 infection in South Korea was registered on January 20, and a mere 30 cases had been recorded nationally by mid-February. No restrictive measures were taken, with the authorities just advising people to avoid mass gatherings. Still, on February 16, members of the Shincheonji religious group attended a massive prayer in the country’s third biggest city of Daegu. According to representatives of this church, which is considered a totalitarian sect in South Korea, 1,290 people attended the service, but investigators later determined that the actual figure was around 10,000. Moreover, it turned out that 42 members of the sect had visited China’s Wuhan in January. As a result, on February 29, the number of per day infections recorded in the south of the Korean Peninsula spiked to 900. According to the authorities, 3,526 cases of COVID-19 infection were confirmed nationally by March 1. According to Lee Sang-min, a researcher at the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies’ Institute of Russian Studies in Seoul, and a visiting researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, 60 percent (5,200) of coronavirus infections in South Korea are due to the activities of the Shincheonji church.

On April 5, South Korea’s coronavirus infection rates started to fall. In a matter of just four weeks, the Korean authorities managed to bring the number of daily cases down to 70, and presently their number does not exceed 10. Today, the overall situation in South Korea is fairly stable with 10,801 cases of COVID-19 infection, 9,217 recoveries and 252 deaths having so far been registered in the country.

According to Alexander Vorontsov, head of the Korea and Mongolia department, member of the scientific council of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, and a Russian International Affairs Council expert, one of the reasons why South Korea managed so quickly to check the spread of the virus is the country’s advanced health care system and high level of technological progress. From the very outset of the COVID-19 epidemic, South Korean specialists developed special public monitoring programs: if a person with coronavirus or someone suspected of being infected left the house, information about his movements was transmitted in real time to doctors and police and, most importantly, to his or her neighbors warning them to avoid contact with that person. Dedicated applications were also introduced allowing people to maintain round-the-clock online communication with doctors.

“The 3-T system has proved its effectiveness in combating the virus: testing, tracking (observation) and treatment. Additionally, the government established a wide-ranging system of an early diagnosis of the disease. Up until mid-March, South Korea led the world in terms of the level of testing with over 15,000 free tests performed each day,” Vorontsov emphasized.

Besides, South Korea has made good use of its experience of combating previous coronavirus epidemics, such as SARS and MERS. Alexander Vorontsov said that in 2015, the South Korean Health Ministry was given broad extrajudicial powers, uncommon for Western democracies, to collect personal data of confirmed and potential patients during periods of epidemics. During the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), this proved highly effective allowing, in particular, the creation of an extensive infrastructure for monitoring the spread of the disease and the movements of those infected.

Lee Sang-min, for his part, noted that the South Korean authorities have tried not to infringe on the principles of democracy that the country has been building for more than 30 years. Therefore, they did not cancel international flights (selectively), nor did they close down restaurants, barbershops and stores.

“The South Korean government was immediately ready to quickly address the problem uncompromisingly, but openly, with due respect for the letter and spirit of the law and the citizens’ right to free movement,” the expert noted.

Lee Sang-min added that by mid-April, the situation in the country had improved to an extent that the authorities decided to hold parliamentary elections on April 15.

Alexander Vorontsov noted that “holding elections amid a pandemic is unprecedented. From the standpoint of the global situation with the epidemic, [South] Korea really took an extremely risky step: when they decided to go ahead with the elections, the country had not yet seen any decline in infection, but apparently they were looking to the future.” 

He also mentioned as an interesting phenomenon public opinion changes in South Korea. When the epidemic began, South Korea, observing democratic norms, did not impose quarantine, kept open its borders with China and even provided humanitarian assistance to Beijing in the form of face masks and medical equipment. This provoked questions and even anti-government sentiment among the population, especially the opposition. President Moon Jae-in was accused of pro-Chinese sentiments and a whole campaign was launched to collect signatures for his impeachment (activists managed to collect 1.2 million signatures). Such practice is not new for South Korea, whose previous head of state, Park Geun-hye, was removed from office on charges of corruption and disclosure of classified documents.

However, when the measures taken by the government worked and people saw how competently it fulfills its obligations, the situation changed. In parliamentary elections that were held, setting a record for turnout (66%) for the first time since 1996 (and this amid a pandemic!), the pro-presidential Toburo Democratic Party garnered a hefty 60 percent of the vote.

As someone with first-hand knowledge of the events, Lee Sang-min said that maximum precautions had been taken at polling stations with everyone wearing face masks and gloves and keeping a distance. All polling places were disinfected and everyone had his or her temperature measured.

“When the government effectively performs in a crisis, then people have no choice but to support it, so we can say that the coronavirus played a big role in the political life of the country. I think the ruling party would have won anyway, but the virus ensured a record turnout and number of votes,” he emphasized.

According to Lee Sang-min, although the pandemic did not predetermine the fate of the ruling party, it considerably strengthened its position nonetheless – something that can’t be said about the country’s economy.

“The economic situation in [South] Korea is the same as elsewhere in the world. In April, exports of goods dropped by 27 percent. The negative prospects for economic growth in Korea are lower than in other countries, but, according to experts, the pace of economic development will still be around 1.9 percent, which is an extremely bad showing for the country. Today, we should not strive for economic growth, the paradigm should be shifted to the safety and well-being of people,” he said. To date, the government has approved four packages of financial incentives for small and medium-sized businesses (approximately 25,000 rubles per capita).                          

The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

While speaking about South Korea’s successes, experts could not ignore the unique experience of North Korea. According to the latest WHO data, not a single case of infection has so far been recorded in the DPRK. The Korean Peninsula and the Korean nation have obviously demonstrated and implemented highly successful methods of combating the virus. Moreover,  they have done it completely different ways: South Korea, as a country integrated into many international processes, opted for an open and compromise path, while North Korea chose the method of total quarantine and closing of borders.

“The experience of the DPRK is absolutely one of a kind. It is the only country in the world that, finding itself in the epicenter of a pandemic, prevented the coronavirus from making its way into the county. In my opinion, the North Korean leadership managed to make the best use of its advantages. Everyone knows that the country is poor, with a low standard of living, has long been under sanctions, and that its health care system is completely undeveloped: the acute shortage of medicines and medical equipment is compounded by a lack of funding. Under such circumstances, the North Korean government realized that if the virus got in fighting it would simply be mission impossible,” Alexander Vorontsov emphasized.

As a result, while the rest of the world was just starting to look into the problem of coronavirus and its occurrence, the North Korean leaders acted with fantastic speed: on January 21, they sealed the country’s borders and imposed harsh restrictions. In addition, a strict period of medical observation of diplomatic personnel was introduced from February 1 to 15, subsequently extended to March 3 due to violation of restrictions by members of several diplomatic missions during the initial quarantine period. The restrictions required foreigners to remain inside their missions at all times and use only one food store and medical facility in Pyongyang, where they were accompanied by specially-assigned North Korean representatives in order to rule out possible stops on the way by their vehicles.

According to Alexander Vorontsov, experts are now divided in their assessments of North Korea’s anti-virus effort. Some believe that the virus will make its way into the country anyway, and that North Korea will not be able to fight it. Others argue that the North Korean authorities will still be able to prevent infection with the use of ultra-strict isolation measures, but such a lengthy quarantine period will undermine the country’s already weak economy.

“My guess is that the DPRK has experience of surviving in the most adverse economic conditions. I believe that extremely tough as the measures they are taking are, they are still justified. Preventing the virus from entering the country is an overarching task, which they have successfully coped with so far,” Alexander Vorontsov noted.

From our partner International Affairs

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East Asia

From Patriotism to Humanity: China Leading the Fight of the COVID-19

Sabah Aslam

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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has not only impacted human and social life in terms of disease and infection but also created a controversy in the international media and social network to the point that some western media fell into the trap of racism and xenophobia showing an unusual and an inhuman reactions, instead of solidarity and unity exhibition.

Since China is the first country infected with this virus, so it has already started its fight, the government as a leader has put a clear and effective strategy with successful measures of treatment, protection and prevention. In order to maintain the situation the government dedicated all kind of resources and today’s statics shows an increasing of the confirmed infections and death cases and a considered decrease of healed people’s number.

As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization’ Chief TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus has defended his earlier praise of China’s response to the outbreak and mentioned that all the member of the WHO has praised China for what it did by taking action in the epicenter, helped to prevent cases of being exported to other provinces in china and the rest of the world. This formal statement just confirmed the truth to the world about China’s reliability and the sacrifices made to safeguard the world.

All Chinese government’s management and measures wouldn’t be successful without the great response of the society. As a matter of fact we need to acknowledge the high level of patriotism of the Chinese citizens. No matter their social status;the military, police, engineers, workers, doctors and nurses, business and company owners, celebrities, civilians and ordinary people, students and volunteers, young-middle-old generations, all this people responded to the call of duty applied and followed meticulously all the recommended measures by the government, indeed by their own free will, they sacrificed wealth, made many donations, provided help and assistance donated free masks , free supplies, goods, food and even provided free services, and differently some people made a priceless contribution such the doctors, fully dedicated, working on clock on the front line risking and even sacrificing their lives to save other people’s lives.

Meantime, in the other side of the globe the coronavirus kept spreading, the virus is traveling the world it has no boundaries and it’s affecting the economy, the social life and the public health, it becomes a public enemy, presenting a threat especially for the African communities, in fact many of them they do not have neither the financial means nor a good health security. But since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Africa CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) took many actions and followed the Chinese in term of union and solidarity.

Indeed Africa CDC collaborated with the World Health Organization to train in-coming analysts in event-based surveillance. Also The Africa CDC has been working with member states to build infection prevention and control capacities in healthcare facilities and with the airline sector to support screening of travelers.

These prevention measures may help control the COVID-19, but African leaders still need to pay attention and follow suit to avoid an outbreak and not reproduce the Italian or Iranian scenarios. Recently, World Health Organization chief TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus warned about the efficiency of the prevention measures and said mediocre preparations could have fatal consequences. He also said the real struggle lies in management of the situation in case of an outbreak.

Generally, Africa doesn’t have a high level of public health. Many diseases and viruses have appeared on the continent, such as HIV, Ebola and tuberculosis. In order to fight and eliminate this threat, a number of African governments have increased expenditures allocated to health and started cooperation for health development with the Chinese government.

China promised to continue to scale up assistance to African countries by creating a health care intuitive allowing the African countries to achieve independent and sustainable development. The plan also contain a long-term strategy of health development, exchange of scientists and new research and technical support for strengthening health-related capacities under the International Health Regulations. China aim to improve African medical and health service and hospital management to provide a better services to the African people by training medical staff, public health workers and administrative personnel. Besides China promised to upgrade its medical and health aid programs for Africa, particularly flagship projects such as the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cooperation’s plan shows the Chinese-African comity, the friendship and the mutual respect and we can clearly see that China is determined to the contribution in the development of the African nations. The actual epidemic situation of the COVID19 in Africa needs more attention and prevention, the collaboration precisely with china will be a wise action considering the Chinese experience of management, logistics, and organization to maintain the situation in case of outbreak and bringing out the best of the Sino-African alliance.

Despite that China is still fighting this epidemic in its own territory, the government express his readiness to help the other infected countries, recently the Chinese Foreign Ministry expresses sincere thanks for the support and assistance provided by many countries such South Korea and Japan, adding that China is ready to improve and strengthen the mechanism of responding to health and epidemic emergencies and promote the exchange of epidemiological information, exchange of experiences, prevention and control, to implement cooperation In the areas of diagnosis, treatment, research programs, and the development of medicines and vaccines.

China is acting heroically; in the middle of its own fight against the virus the PRC still showing gratitude and good will to help others countries. Till now Africa still has the chance to prevent and learn the Chinese experience, sadly some Africans countries still didn’t take serious prevention measures but China can provide the help and the assistance.

During the outbreak of the COVID-19 we all have seen the Chinese citizen showing patriotism and helping to maintain the situation, meanwhile the Chinese government have shown the same to the world, the lockdown was a strategy to stop the virus from spreading globally, if the Chinese government didn’t take the decision to lockdown cities and stop flights and traffics, experts confirmed that the COVID-19 could infect much more of global population, in fact it was a noble and human act, full of altruism and unselfish, all the matter was the human life.

Now China jumps to the next step which is helping the affected countries and proposing ways of preventions, sharing the genetic code for the virus with researchers around the world and providing medical trials information, treatment, and research programs for the development of medicines.

It’s time for solidarity and support and to have hope. This is a matter of life or death, and China can fight against the outbreak with the rest of the world to the safety…. to restore faith in humanity.

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East Asia

Predicting the course of US-China relations in the post Covid-19 era

Ayush Banerjee

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Authors: Ayush Banerjee and Dhritiman Banerjee*

The coronavirus pandemic is a natural threat to the geopolitical order. And it is needless to state that this majorly affects the currently international paradigm in a manner that the world has not seen before. Although there have been a few instances where pandemics have shaken the mortality rates, no pandemic has spread this amount of sheer panic among the public at large. This is largely due to the growing interconnectedness and the advent of the cyberspace. Just as the internet has influenced the lives of the most privileged public, data has been influential in academics and politics alike. However, this argument has its own set of problems that continue to affect public-politic relations in ways more than one.

In the same regard, one of the most strained and keenly debated relations in international politics is that between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China. In the context of the virus itself, the virus originated in Wuhan, a province in China while the most number of fatalities have resulted in the United States of America. This idea fuelled with the new world media at the public level created an atmosphere of tension on such platforms. On Twitter notably, there were several instances of a tweet naming Covid-19 as ‘Chinese Virus’ spread like wildfire. This sparked a major controversy even at the diplomatic level. Even Donald Trump momentarily subscribed to the idea and deliberately worded his speech to use the phrase ‘Chinese/China virus’ to refer to Covid-19 at least 20 times between March 16th and March 30th 2020. The US Secretary of State- Mike Pompeo went on to accuse China of its lack of transparency, even scrapping a joint G7 statement after its members refused to refer to the virus as the ‘Wuhan virus.’ China has remained apologetic ever since. Hence, it can be rightly inferred that the relationship shared between China and USA have strained ever since the Covid-19 outbreak.

However to predict how the outbreak might jeopardise the current paradigm of world politics we must look no further than the Phase One Trade deal signed between the two countries. This deal previously ended an 18-month long trade war between USA and China. Through this deal, China committed to purchasing $200 billion additional foreign goods and services in the sectors of agriculture, energy and manufacturing. However, it is evident that in the post-Covid19 era, it will be rather implausible for China to adhere to the terms of the deal due to reasons more than one. The IMF estimated the reality of an unprecedented economic slowdown in which China is expected to grow at only 1.2% this year. Several reports suggest that investors are planning to pull out their investments from Chinese industries to fit in with the Western bandwagon.

The outbreak turned pandemic coupled with the authoritarian nature of China’s response to the entire situation has had a detrimental effect on their domestic economy creating various tremors in the anticipation of demand for various products and services. For instance, the 12 most Covid-19 affected countries account for over 40% of the Chinese exports. Nations like India and Italy that also make that list of twelve may voluntarily pull out of importing to China as they are set to gain from deferring of investments. These nations are also top suppliers of intermediate goods for the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy is quite dependent on external demand stimuli from the US and most western European states such as the United Kingdom. Therefore, until the point in time the US and EU economies completely recover from this pandemic, Chinese policymakers are bound to hold back domestic stimulus efforts as it will only have little effect if the global economy is in shambles.

The Chinese economy has crippled down considerably due to the ongoing trade war that has led to a disproportionate ratio of debt to the annual Gross Domestic Product. This ratio reached an overwhelming 248.8% by the end of March 2019 and it has only increased ever since. China has also been forced to restructure the debts of the Belt and Road initiative (erstwhile OBOR). This restructuring meant that the capital owed to China as loans by the contributing states have been readjusted to affect the projected collection considerably. As Covid-19 nearly decimates the economy of most developing nations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for these states to pay their loan back to China within the stipulated timeframes. Thus adding to the stress on the Chinese economy at large.

There has already begun a region-specific boycott of Chinese goods and industries, especially in conservative parts of USA, among the southern districts. Instances of racial abuse against ethnic Chinese communities have been on an unfortunate rise. These are all deterministic factors of public consciousness, if not, public opinion for the future that lies ahead of us. This reaction has already seen international spillovers and investors have become more anxious about investing in Chinese companies.

According to Deepanshu Mohan, the world may experience radical shifts in the global political economy post-Covid19 based on two factors namely, the relative degree of economic recovery in the affected nations and the existing domestic political scenarios in such nations. He further states that in the post-Covid19 era, protectionist trade policies are likely to increase in the developed nations who in the name of ‘supply security’ may disentangle trade relations with China which will inversely affect the current geopolitical world order. Donald Trump could also make the pandemic a focal point in the 2020 election campaign and therefore aim to capitalise on the anti-China fervour in the US and thus strain relations even further. There lies evidence for this as well. Trump recently presented his anguish towards China being categorised as a ‘developing’ state under the World Trade Organisation list and due to the low contributions of China to the World Health Organisation. Although this may seemingly appear appropriate accusations, this is far from the whole truth. The USA, themselves have cut major proportions of its funding capacity towards the United Nations especially concerning peacekeeping and security operations.

Minxin Pei, on the other hand, stated that the Covid-19 outbreak has led the average American to view the Chinese political system with chronic scepticism as Americans blamed the repressive Chinese political system for the pandemic with the Harris poll indicating widespread American dissatisfaction with the alleged Chinese cover-up of the virus. This poll also showed overwhelming support for US punitive measures on China and the removal of US investments and businesses from China. These developments could lock the two countries into a cycle of escalation that could trigger another potential international diplomatic conflict leading to numerous security issues and economic degradation. USA and China remain the two largest economies in the world. Hence, it can be inferred that this fallout of diplomatic and economic ties between the two states might amount to significant damage in the entire global political order and the globalised system of economies and markets. In the US itself, the number of jobs created since the recession in 2008 has been washed away in two weeks.

The trade war between the two economic giants had already shaken the world before the outbreak. And the prevalent fault lines will only widen in the post-Covid19 era just as a global economic slowdown is expected. Thus, it is imperative for the world economy that this US-China relation remains amicable and stable. However, the available narratives indicate a significant detour from the ideal stability that USA and China should normatively maintain to protect the global economy from crumbling down like biscuits. The USA has resorted to legislations that are actively anti-China in terms of financial relations and international trade while China has strengthened its protectionist response system both politically and economically during this outbreak.

The Covid-19 outbreak has not acted as an impediment to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea region either. China has recently renamed 44 features in the disputed region, a decision that is considered illegal under international law. This has been time and again criticised by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. With increasing US-China missile competition a reality in the region post the abrogation of the INF treaty, the post-Covid19 era will likely see more prominent conflicts in the South and the East China Sea regions which is a strategically important waterway for both the countries alongside other nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Philippines and India.

*Dhritiman Banerjee is an undergraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He has recently published for the Millenniumpost, a Kolkata based newspaper as well as contributed to publications like the Geopolitics and South Asia Monitor. His interests lie in International Relations in general and Strategic Studies in particular.

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Political unrest in Hong Kong and Global Pandemic

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Things started from a murder of a girl in Taiwan ending up into an unseen scenario in Hong Kong. Rising tensions in the region of China and Hong Kong, situation is getting worse. First of all the episode of extradition bill and now becoming the series of different surprises, the advent of National Security Bill is not acceptable among the Hong Kong citizens. According to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong is ought to be the autonomous and free liberal region along china being constituted as a “one country, two systems.” As per this treaty, China is violating International law: which is a direct threat to its soft policy and international image.

 Secondly, the role of United States in Hong Kong is mainly concerned about the large number of U.S. Nationals working there especially at naval ports and their security. While on the national level the sustainability of democratic values and freedom in Hong Kong to whom these acts of China’s Communist party are challenging. United States being the global hegemon owns the responsibility to protect and keep the check on practice of international laws and its violation in any region of the world. Although the whole global community is concerned about the present situation of Hong Kong and its upcoming outcomes. States sign treaties and agreements on the basis of one’s predetermined political and social culture and works accordingly, so following the current scenario the Protest in Hong Kong is going to be game changing event. If the bill passed, Hong Kong will be a Chinese administered territory like another small city of Chinese Communist party but on the other hand if failed to pass this bill Hong Kong can have a victory to win the democracy and write the fate of their state in a new way.

Furthermore, the wave of global pandemic in the form of COVID 19 has already questioned the worth of human security. Millions of people are dying due to this disease originated from Wuhan, China. World is already questioning the Chinese role. Above all the differences, we all are human beings living in the world of chaos. Divisions led towards the more divisions. There is a dire need to fight collectively to this coronavirus. Being humans, we need to apply the only global value that is being human fellow. Social distancing is the new normal now but Hong Kong’s political situation is getting more anti distance campaign due to the political unrest. China needs to slow down the process. Human security needs to be the priority. Although to raise the voice of Hong Kong’s people social media can be a better platform. Let’s shake hands for peace rather than division.

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