Lives have been destroyed, economic activities are disrupted, massive lay-offs will follow… If anything, the current situation gives a glimpse of the widescale damages that can be caused by a bacteriological warfare without firing a single bullet
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a daily briefing on the coronavirus at the White House on April 7. Photo – Mandel Ngan/AFP Via Getty Images
By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Deep suspicions on the circumstances surrounding the deadly virus that continues to wreak havoc across the world have been aired for some time. China responded by dismissing any possibility that experts working on viruses in a laboratory in Wuhan might have accidentally let out the virus fabricated within its precincts. Right from the outset, Chinese doctors challenged the director of the lab to explain the origin of the virus on biological grounds; she failed to convince them in denying any responsibility of the laboratory. Reportedly, she has since disappeared from public space. The most chilling allegation up to now from Chinese citizens’ sources is that the wild animals used for experimentation in the lab were put back for sale in the Hubei market. That remains to be proved.
Early in March, China’s state television accused four Americans, who were in Wuhan in October 2019, of propagating the virus, and claimed that the US administration was hiding the matter from the public and challenged the US president to divulge the number of deaths since November last year. Any attempt at equating the epidemic with China itself led, as usual, to a rise of adrenaline. More precise than the ‘Chinese virus’ was ‘Wuhan virus’ by Taiwan much earlier on as the tiny country immediately brought back its citizens from Wuhan and closed its frontiers with China last year. China retaliated by sending warships in the seas near Taiwan in a show of muscle-flexing.
With the rising death toll on a daily basis around the world, particularly in the West, the responsibility of the World Health Organization (WHO) for failing to report on the epidemic in its early stage has come under criticism and drawn attention to the appointment of its director, a controversial former Minister of Health in Ethiopia, as the head of WHO owing to China’s lobbying with quite a number of countries with a pro-China slant for ideological and commercial reasons. Fierce criticism comes mainly from the public on the internet while mainstream international media outlets mildly question the responsibility of China and WHO. On the contrary, Western media with leftist tendencies have chosen to praise the Chinese authorities for their “effective and quick handling” of the epidemic in China.
This kind of support encourages the Chinese government to pose as an indispensable player in the fight against the pandemic at the international level, and to come forward in a most cynical manner to suggest a change in political structures worldwide for an effective handling of viruses and future pandemics by WHO. In other words, a shift from democratic régimes to iron-fisted authoritarian régimes for a world health strategy to be effective under the supervision of WHO – itself controlled by China. Never mind that Taiwan, South Korea, Germany and New Zealand have displayed great efficiency in tackling the pandemic; these are democracies and three of them are governed by women. With a population of 1.3 billion, India is doing remarkably well by using modern high-tech in contact tracing despite difficulties of containing migrants’ movements.
Someone had to come up on the world stage to denounce all the masquerade and voice the serious concerns raised from all parts of the world. US President Donald Trump does not mince his words and calls a spade a spade. His direct address to China in clear terms and his demand that light be shed on its strategy and WHO’s role opened the way for other leaders to speak up. The European Union does not have a common health policy written in its charter, hence its lack of response to the terrible situation faced by Italy. Moreover cowardice and a bit of realpolitik silence many leaders on key international issues and muzzle media outlets. Tied by commercial contracts with China, French President Macron’s mild statement to the Financial Times is no big deal. Like the US, France failed to assess the real danger of the pandemic in the early stage and to impose strict measures. The issue of a pandemic was not on the agenda despite regular reports over the last years from the French ministry of Defence on external security threats, which also included the possibility of a virus let out accidentally from a laboratory.
Britain toes the line in support to the US President, and Australia demands an independent committee to investigate into the circumstances of the pandemic which has sent more than one third of world population into confinement, contaminated around 2.9 million people, and taken the lives of almost 170,000 others, with 42,000 in US alone.
Questions needing answers
Many questions demand answers. Why was the young doctor, the first whistleblower, silenced and his warning not made public? Can China claim that it was not aware of the extent of the threat to public health be taken seriously? Was it for economic reasons that China kept silent and continued to open its frontiers to international transport and trade?
On what grounds did the WHO director underestimate the danger of the epidemic? What made him think that he had the legitimacy to rail against the US for stopping flights to and from China? His professional background and record as former minister of Health in Ethiopia should have raised doubts about his competence to head the WHO. Supporters of China’s candidate for the WHO top job might undertake some introspection and come out with an honest explanation to the world. In all likelihood, these countries are highly indebted to China, and their leaders are corrupt autocrats, dictators and tyrants.
Whatever be the nationality, French or American, of the other experts working with their Chinese virologists, the role of one and all calls for transparency. ‘Not in My Backyard’ is the principle which makes rich countries conduct toxic and lethal tests in far-away places but rather near other people’s villages and towns – for instance France’s nuclear tests in Polynesia, Europe’s nuclear wastes shipped off to India and handled with bare hands by poor workers, factories pouring toxic wastes in underprivileged areas in many countries.
Lives have been destroyed, economic activities are disrupted, massive lay-offs will follow and the world has to brace up for a devastating recession. If anything, the current situation gives a glimpse of the widescale damages that can be caused by a bacteriological warfare without firing a single bullet.
Accountability for the global impact
China must be made accountable for what has happened on its soil. People in China and the world cannot be taken for a ride and gulp down any trumped-up version which suits the whims and fancies of the Communist government. Taking advantage of its position as chairman of the UNSC in March, China forbade all discussions on the pandemic. It is a very serious fault, indeed, and China should be brought to task. The pandemic highlights China’s influence at the UN in the election of candidates at the head of key UN bodies, in the stance taken by its Secretary General who found time in the middle of the epidemic to travel to South-East Asia in January and pontificate on India’s internal matters.
It is in China’s long term interest to cooperate with an independent external committee to investigate and tell the truth to the world. There is no denying that the pandemic has thrust the world in a futuristic scenario of disasters that are only shown in films. Dependence on imports and rare metals from the world workshop which China cannot follow the same course, and there will be demands from several countries to relocate industries back home.
In the coming months, the state of world economy is bound to be paved with upheavals. Address trade deficits, re-assess consumer habits and real needs, and reduce imports. Big bully and muscle-flexing military postures with a thumbs-up approval from comrades of dubious integrity may not be the right strategy to bring a degree of serenity to the world.
* Published in print edition on 24 April 2020