As of July the 1st, the European Union decided after long talks to open up its borders to third countries, accepting along with other travelers, tourists. A much-needed source of income especially for nations of the south that depend heavily on tourism, such as Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain. The list of these third countries (which will be updated every two weeks) included Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.In a seemingly surprising move China was included. Under one condition. China is subject to confirmation of reciprocity. Meaning that only if Beijing allows visitors from the European Union will the EU open up its borders in return. At a first glance it seems like a fair decision that allows China freedom of movement. But let us delve deeper into this.
What was the main reasoning behind Europe’s choice ofthe countries that eventually got included in the final list? As the official announcement goes it was done “…on the basis of a set of principles and objective criteria including the health situation, the ability to apply containment measures during travel, and reciprocity considerations, taking into account data from relevant sources such as ECDC and WHO…”. Looking at the health situation, always according to ECDC and WHO, China did and still is doing a far better job at containing the spread of the virus and reducing the death toll. The active Coronavirus cases are less, better tracked and treated faster and more decisively. Thus, the European Union, according to its own statement, is opening and should be opening its borders to safer countries than itself. However, in the case of China not only does it not do so but instead expects a seemingly safer country to first open up her borders. It goes as far as to require the lift of the travel ban to the entirety of the European countries, no matter how dangerous or how badly they individually treated the virus.
Moving on to the reciprocity considerations one would expect that the countries allowed to enter the European Union are alsoallowing European citizens to enter their borders. However, this measure is seemingly only required from China, as it is already clear from countries like Australia and Japan that EU citizens may not enter for non-essential reasons until further notice. It is apparent from the above that from EU’s position, in the best case, there is a double speech and a policy of not acting upon its words. In the worst case, there is a blatant hypocrisy and unfair treatment of China for unknown reasons. We could only speculate about these reasons, based on another condition set for the opening of the European borders; the transparency of the thirdcountries’ virus reporting.As some European officials already claimed, there is suspicion towards Beijing concerning its handling of the pandemic. Thus, it would be fair to assume that some of Europe’s leaders are engaged in conspiracy theories that hinder an honest interaction.
Nonetheless, as the situation stands right now, it seems almost entirely upon China to step back, open her borders to Europe and expect the same response from the opposite side. There are reasons, though, that make this action almost impossible. On one side, as already mentioned, China is in a far more precarious situation to face a new wave of Coronavirus since it would be opening her borders to a group of nations that overall have more cases, higher average and far worse tracking system. On the other side, China is still facing the danger, as it was in the beginning of the epidemic, of an uncontrolled spreading in her countryside, where the facilities are admittedly worse than in the large cities and incapable of dealing with a rapid spreading. But the great Chinese cities are also in danger. Their great population that, in certain cases, equal or surpass the population of entire European countries could render a possible spreading of the virus truly dangerous, unable to deal with, and cause a repeat of a severe lockdown just like Wuhan. The damage, economically and politically, in such a case would be tremendous.
Unless the European Union backs down from the reciprocity measure a future estimate of when the borders will open again is tough. Typically the Chinese tourists, as great spenders, were more than welcome in Europe, but in the current situation the projections for a resurgence of Chinese tourism are bleak (especially since after their trip they would have to self-quarantine for 14 days once in China; a greatly discouraging measure for potential travelers). Thus, an extra motive for a possible opening up from Europe’s side is off the table.
If Europe is playing a political game on the backs of travelers, keeping a hypocritical stance, or considering conspiracy theories, it matters not. China should give an end with a straightforward answer. By safeguarding her airports and increasing protective measures in international flights, China should take the risk, open up her borders, show she has nothing to fear and cast away the various accusations of manipulating Covid-19 numbers. At the same time China would throwthe ball back to Europe, cause greater disputes among the already divided nations, and force an answer. In response Europe would either show her true face by taking back her words or allow some kind of normality to return to international traveling.