The Fable of the Chinese Bat

In November 2019, a variant of the Coronavirus family of flu-like infection started to spread in the Chinese urban district of Wuhan. The number of cases began to suddenly swell the following month, multiplying every single day. One of the local doctors who treated the patients was Dr. Li Wenliang. He shared his fears of a potential pandemic with colleagues and authorities, but was, quite predictably, censored and rebuked for spreading “rumours”.

However, this negligence quickly proved to be deadly, as the fears became reality in only a few weeks. In January 2020, the situation had become so bad and internal criticism so high that China finally decided to acknowledge the pandemic and issued social distancing advice and later as well, travel restrictions. The number of cases had reached such high levels that it spread not only across China, but also to the rest of the world. This caused massive upheaval and unprecedented damage to the global economy.

China has the most elaborate monitoring and censorship system in the world today. Roughly a billion-and- four-hundred-million people are constantly kept under a watchful eye and subjected to strict control on information of all forms. In this environment, such incidents are far from rare. These do seldom damage to everyone other than the Chinese people living under the rule of the Communist Party. This time, however, the incompetence of higher Chinese authorities (President Xi Jinping was aware of the outbreak possibly as early as December) caused incredible suffering around the world. The first days of the outbreak were vital in saving the world from this deadly pandemic. One study estimated that if the regulations announced in January had been declared only a week earlier, then the total number of cases might have been one-third of the current number.

The failure of Chinese leadership to properly alert the rest of the world had dire consequences.

Since  it was  Chinese  officials  who  provided  all information  about  the  pandemic  at this point,  the reluctance of Chinese authorities to accept the likelihood of human transmission resulted in the World Health Organization instructing all of its member states against travel restrictions. It was not until late- March that many countries started to impose travel restrictions from the affected areas, but at that point, COVID-19, as it was now known, had already spread throughout America, Asia and Europe.

This makes it almost certain that a possible Communist Party cover-up of the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in the virus reaching a catastrophic global pandemic. It could have well been a short outbreak followed by minor outbursts as in the case of Ebola in West Africa if prevented earlier from spreading. Similarly, China imported  millions  of tons of safety  equipment  from  around  late-January  to March,  but selectively provided aid when the pandemic spread across the globe.

The theory proposed by some U.S. policy makers that the COVID-19 virus might have spread as a result of inadequate safety measures in an experiment could have some basis. The repeated refusal of China to allow an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, among other things, seems to give some weight to this theory too. Of course this theory could also be a deflection by the U.S. government from its own reality of mishandling the pandemic.

An important question arises then. Should China pay reparations to the dozens of countries hard-hit by the pandemic?

Hundreds of millions of people have been forced out of work and most of human activity has been disrupted for months. Let us not forget the almost half a million people who have lost their lives to the disease. One thing is for sure, that this concern is indeed a genuine one and should be investigated by an international committee agreed upon by China and other worst-affected countries. As expected, China has been strongly condemning any such effort, which makes it very unlikely that any confession, and therefore, compensation, will occur in the near future.

The practice has always been that most major conflicts around the world in the past decades have gone uncompensated. The powers involved usually retain their stance after the conflict ends or de-escalates. This has been the case for Serbia, Chechnya, Vietnam, and countless other war zones around the world. What differs is that this global incident is of epic proportions. It could well be considered an attack to humanity by an economic power that has much to gain from the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s depression.

The number of direct and indirect victims affected by ill decision-making on the part of Communist officials is so high that it makes the scale of desired reparations incomparable to the other humanitarian crimes in recent history.

Although it is very likely that the Chinese government can be rightfully blamed for the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, the question of paying reparations to the countries and individuals affected is a complex one. This should remain an important discussion for years to come.

Dr Matthew Pajares-Yngson
Dr Matthew Pajares-Yngson
Datu Matthew Pajares Yngson is the Representative Councillor of the Caribbean ASEAN Council, and Diplomatic Affairs Envoy of the Eastern Caribbean-Southeast Asia Chamber, an organization recognized by the United Nations through the UN-OHRLLS. Datu Yngson holds a Doctorate in Professional Studies in International Relations and Diplomacy, and a Master of Arts in International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy. He is the only Filipino-Dominican alumnus of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences since its establishment in 1956. Datu Yngson is also the Royal Ambassador of The 35th Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo and was bestowed the princely title of "Rajah of Tambulian Island" for his humanitarian work in supporting the Tausug people of the Sulu Archipelago.