GP Insights # 304, 21 March 2020
The outbreak and spread of COVID-19 worldwide have put to the test the response and capacity of states in an unprecedented manner. The virus first detected in the city of Wuhan; it has taken the lives of thousands across the world. China, Iran, Italy have been affected most severely till date.
In the US, Donald Trump deemed the virus as a media hoax before having to switch his stance. He soon made another controversial statement naming the pathogen as 'Chinese Virus'. This has given a new identity to the virus in the international political field. While viruses and pathogens do not have a nationality, this seems to be propaganda from the Trump administration to show China in poor light. This issue takes an interesting turn with China trying to blame the US military for spreading the virus.
What is the background?
The virus was first detected in December of 2019 by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese state media has been accused of taking an active part in suppressing the spread of information that would tarnish the states repute. By late December, news regarding the outbreak of a new disease including keywords like 'SARS variation', 'Wuhan seafood market' etc. were censored off the social media by China as doctors tried to warn the world.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian tweeted the possibility of US military's role in the outbreak, but without any evidence to support the claim. The US senator Tom Cotton posited a Chinese developed bioweapon theory which he later clarified to be one among many possible explanations to the origins of the virus.
What does it mean?
While the world is trying to point fingers at each other for the origin of the virus, the disease is still not under control. People are dying, and economies are falling. In the US, healthcare has been expensive for the average American, and in developing and underdeveloped nations where the virus has only made landfall, it is only going to be worse. Trump's calling the 2019-nCoV as 'Chinese' adds to a long-standing history of the US to blame other countries for diseases along with making policies of exclusion for citizens of such countries.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was a result of years of hate crimes and discrimination over fears of Cholera and Smallpox. Spanish Flu originated in Kansas but was wrongly named after Spain detected it for the first time during World War I. Trump's statement might generate Sinophobia in the masses. It might also be helpful for his protectionist policies. A bioweapon theory seems too farfetched as an infectious disease that is beyond control would not be the best bioweapon in today's globalised world.
The disease will certainly affect China's mammoth project of BRI as well. China wants to divert attention from the looming economic crisis which could have been better managed if not for the state's initial reaction to suppress information regarding the disease which could have better prepared all countries for the pandemic.