Lessons from the pandemic: our future relationship with China

In the early stages of the COVID-19 global pandemic, media in the UK focused mainly on China. How they were handling the virus and how it began were just some of the questions being asked. China is where the virus started, so this was natural. Slightly further on in the timeline, however, media reporting in the UK has shifted away from China, and onto our own government’s handling of the virus. China passed its peak long before the UK and has reported zero new cases on multiple occasions. Here in the UK, we are still experiencing thousands of new cases every day. Thus, a shift away from China as the focal point is equally understandable. Yet the questions posed at the start of this pandemic must continue to be asked and begin to be answered.

It is now common knowledge that the scale, severity, and existence of the virus was reported with delay from China, with whistle-blowers being silenced by the government. It is therefore likely that this lack of speed and transparency had a drastic effect on the impact of COVID-19 on other countries. Speed is a vital player in this pandemic. Germany’s success in its handling of the outbreak has been put down to a number of factors, one being the speed of the German government’s decision to impose restrictions on the country in order to contain the virus. Thus, in this pandemic, the difference that a week can make is thousands of lives. If China had acted with greater transparency towards the rest of the world, many lives could have been saved. So, scrutinising the Chinese government and demanding answers is not unreasonable.

However, there is a difference between having concerns over the nature of information from the Chinese government, and simply using China as a way for leaders to avoid real scrutiny. Needless to say, I am referring to President Trump. The US has been hit hard by the virus, and he has shown limited intelligence in dealing with the impact. Trump has been reckless with his rhetoric on China and appears to make accusations which are neither founded in concrete evidence, nor bear real relevance to the situation of the US. He has decided to confront the Chinese government, rather than to cooperate with them, as European leaders seem to be doing. Trump is asking a number of key questions that should be answered, such as those regarding the number of deaths from COVID-19 in China, and to when the outbreak started. Yet, the claim in late April that the delay of alerting the rest of the world was a plot by the Chinese government to ruin Trump’s re-election chances is not the kind of accusations that should be made at this time. Allegations like this do not seem to have the humanitarian concerns in mind that should be of primary concern when it comes to the pandemic.

Moreover, Trump has threatened to cut China off, ruining trade negotiations and a future relationship. Here in the UK, Dominic Raab has said that there is no way that Britain can go back to ‘business as usual’ with China after the pandemic. However, it is unclear what is really meant by this. Does this mean the imposition of sanctions on China? Or does it imply a cautious future relationship, with recognition of what has occurred since the pandemic? Yet, governments should be careful when being vocal about the future of China. The questions being asked of China are largely unanswered, and it is not until we have those answers should government’s attempt to make speculations on this future.

Regarding China and the UK’s relationship, it will come down to what the government believes is the fault of the Chinese government, or just the nature of the pandemic. We know about the delayed reporting of the virus, but specific details are lacking, and the nature of the Chinese government could mean that we may never obtain such specifics. It is also true that this is not the first time that a deadly and infectious virus has originated from China. These are definitely things to bear in mind regarding future scrutiny and monitoring of the country.

Perhaps there should also be an assessment into how the world has regarded pandemics on the whole. A report in 1990 by Marcia Inhorne and Peter Brown claimed that infectious diseases claim more lives than all other causes of mass death put together – including wars and natural disasters. In our increasingly globalised world, it seems obvious that a highly infectious disease will have no problem crossing boundaries, spreading to even the smallest of communities across the globe. So why was the world so unprepared for something as lethal and damaging as a global pandemic? Maybe we should focus less on holding China to account and look into why this issue was not one taken more seriously by everyone. We should not have allowed a global pandemic to have taken place for governments to be proactive in dealing with extreme threats to our societies. The damning effects of this virus may be a vital lesson for the politicians to stop pretending to be experts, and finally listen to the scientists.

Image: Nuno Alberto on Unsplash

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