By Chan Kung*
After Covid-19 broke out, it can be said that the whole world, save for specific individuals, has been treating China in a friendly and helpful attitude at a national level, particularly the World Health Organisation (WHO). Before declaring the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), WHO had put in lots of efforts, carried out several meetings, deliberated on their choices before coming up with restrictive conditions. In particular, the U.S.’ reception of China has been far more positive than it used to be, despite bilateral tensions that arose from the U.S.-China Trade War. As the U.S.’ official statement puts it – “The fight against Covid-19 and global strategic competition are two different matters and shall be handled separately.” Fundamentally, this is whole new problem on a whole new level. Global emergency response-wise, the U.S. might be the only country who responded the quickest when it came providing the most medical supplies and assistance to China. Clearly, the U.S. did the right thing. As a matter of fact, it is the only right thing to do given the situation and any irrationality would only serve to push either parties to react more rationally, not the other way around.
On the contrary for China however, has yet to agree with the U.S’ preposition of sending a team of experts to China. Yet when it came to the WHO’s team of experts, China had agreed wholeheartedly to their presence, although the country’s response to their arrival is that “they are nobodies”, which upsets the country greatly. In a way, China is saying that the experts are neither doctors nor virologist, but a team of public health officers. The problem at hand is as clear as it can be. The team deployed by the WHO are real experts and not just a group of random nobodies. The fundamental difference lies in the fact that the WHO and China have views Covid-19 differently. China sees it as a disease, while other countries around the world view it as a public health crisis. Given how China perceives the situation differently, it only natural for them to hope that whoever shows up are doctors who can remedy the situation on hand, and it would be all the more better if they had brought along some form of “miracle cure” too. That way, the disease can be eradicated and the problem on hand can be solved in no time. That being said, the WHO and other countries are more concerned about the measures taken, i.e. how can the infection be controlled, the accuracy of detection, the actual death rate and so on, all of which concerns public health sectors as well as issues pertaining to society and city management. To put it simply, one party is concerned about the technicality of things, whereas another is concerned with the management. As far as Covid-19 is concerned, China’s definition differs from the world, hence the difference in understanding which can lead to greater discrepancies and an even greater misunderstanding.
The question that still stands is how can both parties bridge the gap in understanding? The answer is to keep an open mind about things, and in order to so, China needs to compromise with the rest of the world.
Currently, many in China are outraged with the WHO’s act of declaring PHEIC on China’s Covid-19 epidemic, which has resulted in many countries imposing strict restrictions on their dealings with China. Initially, there was the travel ban, then came interrupted flight route, people and goods. In fact, China, in the strictest sense, is now basically cut off from the world, or being a relatively “decoupled” state. Obviously, that isn’t a good sign for China, or even to the rest of the world too.
According to certain statistics, recent international flights to China has dropped 67% compared to 30th January – the day when WHO declared PHEIC on Covid-19. Within the decrease in rate, it can be observed that the U.S. has reduced 80% of its flight rates, while Japan and Korea a 50% reduced rate. Going by reduced flight routes alone, 2.4 million people were affected by the act. The impact on global tourism is also evident, where large hotel group such as the Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. has announced that the earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) might experience a reduction anywhere between 2.7 billion to 5.5 billion Japanese Yen for the financial year of 2020 due to the widespread outbreak. Excluding the closure of roughly 150 hotels in China, the reduced activity overseas traveling by Chinese tourists has brought about a huge impact too. Meanwhile, the world shipping industry is also facing a tough time, with the epidemic causing the industry to have suffered a loss in weekly revenue worth 350 million USD. When asked about the current situation, an employee of the affected industry described it as “China made a sneeze and suddenly, the global shipping industry catches the flu.”
Clearly, there’s not a single soul in the world that isn’t affected by all that is happening! Then again, if that is the case, why would the world continue to impose strict restrictions to China’s human traffic and its relevant logistics then?
First and foremost, that is the main duty of the WHO. It is the WHO’s responsibility to monitor regional and global health status along with its wellbeing, compile information that is related to the disease and health system. Put simply, it acts as a global information agency and demands full transparency and cooperation from their member countries. Not doing so not only affects the status of member countries listed in the WHO, but also the interest of countries around the world. Secondly, there is an obvious reason as to why countries around the world are on high alert. Many countries around the world are poor without any developed medical and health system. Once the disease breaks out in these countries, these countries will not be able to contain the disease and will certainly face large casualties. Hence, regardless of the circumstances, China needs to bear the responsibility of opening up the world by disclosing information that is relevant to the outbreak. This is how it’s going to work out for China, and for the rest of the world.
The head of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Professor Anthony Fauci has clearly explained at the press conference in White House that “there is far too many unknowns” for Covid-19. These include its incubation period, infectivity, mode and rate of transmission, the degree of asymptomatic infection, accuracy of detection, its severity and so many more. He also stated that, it can be seen from the media that the number of case is rising sharply on a daily basis. Initially, people couldn’t even tell if there were any asymptomatic infection. If the answer were to be a yes, it will cause large area of infection, far beyond one’s imagination. He clearly expressed his point of view that the regulatory agencies in the U.S. are in breaking out in cold sweat as most of the information lack transparency. Hence, their decision to roll out conservative policies under the reasoning that situation is filled with many “unclear” and “unknowns”.
Thus, the key solution to the problem is this, China needs to compromise with the rest of the world, and uphold constant transparency of the epidemic. Only when the WHO and the main countries have fully understood the key information of the disease, i.e. the scale of the outbreak, transmission, danger, death rate, effectiveness of measurements and other basic information, can the world withdraw China’s PHEIC status with the utmost confidence. By that time too, control limitations and decoupling measurements can be withdrawn earlier. That is because the questions that everyone have on hand would have already been thoroughly figured out. The severity of the situation might be overestimated now, or perhaps not, but so long as everything remains in a grey area, the only option for the WHO and the other countries for now is to impose strict restrictions.
Of course, upholding the transparency of the epidemic and revealing certain information might expose some of the weaknesses in China’s cities. However, regardless of whether the objective conclusion benefits China or the world, it is still very much up to China to step up and take responsibility for the matter. In fact, based on the study of biology and virology, it is not possible for China alone to reach a clear and objective understanding of the virus. There is a need for the country to collaborate with the world to resolve the crisis at hand. Worthwhile noting too is the situation regarding the allocation of officers in Hubei Province, in which CNN and other Western medias believe to be a display of an open attitude from the Chinese government. Undoubtedly, if the flow of open information can be maintained, together with the cooperation with other countries, the world’s view towards China might just change.
Final analysis conclusion:
Bearing all aspects into consideration, it is a must for China to maintain the transparency in times of the epidemic and cooperate with the world. Only then can that lead to the beginning of making things better.
*Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chan Kung is now ANBOUND Chief Researcher. Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.