Corona Virus is not a brand new virus. But COVID-19 is. Nobody heard about this COVID-19 until it created mayhem in the Chinese city of Wuhan. While global sympathy was there for the Chinese citizens who mercilessly suffered from this virus or died of this viral attack, the sympathy turned into suspicion, concerns, and even anger against China as COVID-19 spread around the world and assumed pandemic proportions.
Before this virus started its dance of death in the United States, President Donald Trump dubbed it the ‘China virus’. Trump’s statement accelerated the US-China Cold Confrontation that was brewing for years and got intensified in recent times by the tariff war. President Trump perhaps wanted to convince the Europeans, a severe victim of COVID-19, that the pandemic is the handiwork of China. He thought it would paint China black, reduce its soft power, erase its trade benefits, and would weaken China’s influence in the world.
China understood the deadly consequences of the characterization of the virus as the ‘China virus’ and went on a diplomatic offensive to counter it. The use of the term Spanish Flu was not much of a botheration for Spain. Times were different then. But China has realized the cost of the term ‘China virus’. It would be costly in terms of its image as well as businesses. To a large extent, however, China succeeded in minimizing the use of the term ‘China virus’, even as the WHO began to use the term ‘COVID-19’. Even Donald Trump stopped using it, although some US leaders continued to use it periodically in the continual war of words between Washington and Beijing. By suspending its contribution to WHO and blaming this world body for being supportive of China, the Trump Administration has further escalated its confrontation with China.
However, the real challenge for China is managing a growing demand for an international investigation into the origin of the virus. It all began with an Australian call for an independent investigation into the whole origin and spread of the novel Corona virus beyond China’s borders. Such demand soon caught the attention of many and stretched as a wildfire. The conspiracy theories were already abundant. China bashers joined the chorus. Furthermore, a sort of international opinion has been shaping up that an independent international investigation into the whole Corona virus episode is required to know the truth.
The entire world actually wants to know how COVID-19’s global war against human civilization was unleashed. Never before in history, such a war involving the entire globe and engulfing people with fear and death was witnessed in terms of the speed of the spread of the virus to an extent where a majority of the countries had to adopt varying degrees of lockdowns of social interactions, economic exchanges, and business transactions. Actually, people at large would not have been so alarmed and disturbed had the present not been the era of instant communications on land, water, air, and cyberspace.
Different countries have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in different degrees and intensities. The consequences of the pandemic will also not be in equal proportions among countries. However, in an integrated world, very few will remain insulated from the overall commercial and social consequences of the pandemic. Thus is the demand for an independent international investigation.
China has point blank refused to invite any international investigative team into its territory. Seen from the Chinese perspective, it would be an intrusion into its realm of sovereignty. Beijing also thinks that a propaganda war has been initiated against it by the Trump Administration to tarnish the image of China. Moreover, China takes offense to an inadequate appreciation of its efforts to share its experiences with handling the COVID-19 pandemic with other countries. It grudges that its assistance given to many countries free of cost is not getting proper attention. It is incensed that while buying its protective gear and other medical equipment, many countries, including the United States, continue to blame China for the pandemic.
However, Beijing equally does not care that many countries have found China-made medical kits to fight the novel Corona Virus are of poor quality and are not much of help in detecting the infection. It rather accuses that such complaints are the handiwork of its detractors.
China’s refusal to allow independent international investigation will have colossal cost to its reputation, image, and its international businesses. There are countries like Pakistan that find no fault with China at all. There are countries, for instance, along its borders in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia that are fearful of China and will not share their opinions on the need for an independent investigation. And then there are countries that will weigh the pros and cons of antagonizing China for fear of losing their business interests and will abstain from taking positions.
Nevertheless, the preponderant impression in everyone’s mind will be a suspicion that China is not spotless in admitting its fault. Thus even without taking a public position on this issue, all such countries will begin to rethink the ways and means of doing business with China. The impact of it will be visible in medium to long-term and will unquestionably be not in the best interests of China.
If the Chinese Government is reasonably convinced that it had absolutely no role, direct or indirect, in the spread of the novel Corona Virus to distant lands, why should it be afraid of an independent investigation by international experts? If the Chinese government has been able to determine that its timely action could have prevented the calamity caused by this pandemic, an early admission of it would be good for China and the world.
What is most likely is China, while negatively responding to a demand for an independent international investigation, may take a proactive initiative and invite an international team of experts to inquire into the entire episode.
However, mistrust is not going to go. A China-sponsored international investigation will be seen as an oxymoron. Moreover, China may perceive an externally foisted international investigative team as a cloak-and-dagger initiative to contain it.
How this episode plays out will require a wait-and-watch approach!