China Now Playing Savior of Global Virus Pandemic – Guest Author Nirmalya Chatterjee
China’s political, economic and propaganda machines are now at full gear trying to change the narrative on global pandemic of COVID-19.
The Chinese Communist Party and the Beijing central government thought that they had instituted a ‘fail safe’ reporting system after their experience with the SARS crisis of 2012. But all hell broke loose this time with the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan. The local Wuhan administration downplayed and covered up the outbreak when it first emerged last December out of the fear of retribution from the Chinese central government. Lo and behold, some internal memos of the Wuhan administration leaked out to the Beijing government. Teams were sent out by the party bosses to Wuhan to find out the seriousness of this virus. The exact nature of how it started out of the Wuhan market is still being investigated by the scientists around the world. One would think that Chinese government will keep a close watch on risky sources of pandemic just as a part of basic public health policy. The world started to learn about it slowly as the western scientists and news media persisted on digging out the facts. China certainly has paid a big price for it. Several thousands died, their economy collapsed and the country’s image was greatly tarnished. Nevertheless, in the war of blame game, China’s Foreign Ministry promoted the theory that the U.S. army personnel who visited Wuhan in October brought the virus there.
Critics, including many Chinese social-media users, were accusing the government of cover up as the stories started to trickle out. Once the party figured out what was going on in Wuhan, it wasted no time in taking stern measures in order to try containing the deadly virus. The whole Wuhan city of 19 million people was immediately quarantined. Travel into and out of Wuhan were completely under government’s control. Heavy testing started to isolate the infected there. The government built several makeshift hospitals with thousands of beds in a matter of days. A massive amount of medical equipment arrived from the U.S. and Europe. The virus started to come under control. On March 10, Premier Xi Jinping visited Wuhan to signal his confidence in the work the government had done. President Trump, around the same time, was downplaying the crisis by saying, “We are doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” Many of the states in the U.S. to this day have been either reluctant or too slow to order a ‘stay home’ policy that has been strongly urged by the health scientists. As the pandemic continued to engulf the United States, the federal government has been too slow to initiate mass production of much needed medical equipment as a part of the Defense Equipment Act. A stark difference in political will between the two super powers has emerged.
As the virus started to come under control and the factories started to reopen, the Chinese government turned to its economic might to help fight the virus globally because the virus by this time has spread to other parts of the world in a very big way. Chinese factories have started cranking millions of pieces of personal protective equipment (face masks, gloves, gowns), hospital beds, ventilators, etc. The United States and most other countries are now scrambling to replenish their depleted medical supplies as the pandemic widens. China’s economic might backed by its strong political will is now coming into play. In just two weeks in March, China shipped 26 million face masks and 2.3 million testing kits to 89 countries. Much of the depleted personal protection equipment is now being urgently ordered from, you guessed it, China. The state governors are crying for help and virtually have only one place to get it from. The governor of New York, the hotspot of the pandemic in the US now, has been talking about getting equipment from China in his daily press briefing as it is impossible to find them from anywhere else. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has just flown in 2 million face masks from China to donate a million to New York and a million to Nevada. The team plane of New England Patriot football team just rushed in 1.2 million face masks from China to Massachusetts at the urging of its governor. Alibaba Group’s (Chinas’ equivalent of Amazon) founder Jack Ma just shipped a donation of 14 million masks and half million testing kits to Memphis, Tennessee. Much of China’s aid has also been shipped to countries that are helping China to build its ‘Belt & Road’ infrastructure initiatives like Hungary, Check Republic. China is using its state media to tout its humanitarian assistance as “bearing the responsibility of a great power’. The story of China’s role in being responsible for the origin of the pandemic is starting to change to that of global leadership in fighting the pandemic.
Shift in US Tone
President Trump called it the ‘Chinese virus’ in his White House press briefing only a couple of weeks ago. This greatly irked the Chinese leadership, especially with the backdrop of a year-long trade war with China. The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently told the US allies, “The Chinese Communist Party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated.” Many of the European countries accused China of shipping medical equipment of substandard quality. The Chinese foreign ministry has objected to characterizing China’s assistance as a way of expanding its political influence by saying – “Would they rather China watch on with folded arms, and be indifferent at this time?” India’s media has voiced strong frustration with China but Prime Minister Modi, a strong ally of President Trump, would not go as far as calling it the ‘Chinese virus’. After weeks of no communication, President Trump called Mr. Xi last week and reportedly talked about cooperation to fight the pandemic. Mr. Trump twitted afterward: “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!” At his April 1st White House press conference, Mr. Trump said, “I think we all understand where the virus came from…We don’t have to make a big deal out of it.”
Nirmalya Chatterjee is an 11 year resident of Las Vegas. He is a management consultant for consumer products and the hospitality industry. During his professional career, Nirmalya had several senior levels and ex-pat assignments. He was the Chief Financial Officer for Coors Brewing Company; Vice President of Finance for Las Vegas Sands Corporation; Sr. Vice President of Finance, Galaxy Entertainment Macau; and General Manager of Revlon India. Most recently, Nirmalya served as the Chairman of the Hindu Temple and Jain Center of Las Vegas.
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