As the number of new infections and deaths from COVID-19 grow, global anger against China’s mishandling of the pandemic in its early stages is also gaining momentum.
As of April 28, according to the worldometers.info website, the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has infected 3,136,507 people in 210 countries and regions across the globe. COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, has also killed 217,813 people.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in early December 2019 and has now spread to all corners of the globe.
Billions of people have been suffering from immense mental stress due to massive lockdowns and social restrictions. Millions have also lost their jobs and income. Children cannot go to school, people have to work from home and everybody must stay at home. The suffering continues unabated.
People across the globe are asking China tough questions about the origins of the virus and its initial handling. People allege that China, which is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, suppressed all vital initial data, blocked foreign health experts from visiting virus-hit areas, silenced whistle-blowers like Dr. Li Wenliang, who was the first Chinese medical doctor from Wuhan to raise the alarm, and delayed the passing of information to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Had we known earlier about COVID-19’s aggressive human-to-human transmission, this global disaster could have been avoided.
US President Donald Trump mentioned clearly at a news conference in Washington on April 27 that China could have stopped COVID-19 before it spread to the world.
“We believe it could have been stopped at the source. It could have been stopped quickly and it wouldn’t have spread all over the world,” Trump said.
Echoing a similar view, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo said that China failed to report the coronavirus outbreak immediately and covered up how dangerous the disease was.
China claims that it did all the right things in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. While responding to Pompeo’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that blaming China was politically motivated.
“Stop playing the political game. Better save energy on saving lives,” Hua tweeted on Twitter.
The US is the worst-hit country in the world with, as of April 28, 1,035,765 COVID-19 cases and 59,266 deaths.
Regardless of China’s claims and the conspiracy theories from both the US and China, there are indeed several missing links about what exactly happened in the months of December, January and February in China and what actions the Chinese government took at that time. Why did China fail to alert the world about the dangers of COVID-19?
In an effort to know more about the origins of the virus, the international community wants an independent, international probe.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an independent investigation.
“Australia has made a principled call for an independent review of the COVID-19 outbreak, an unprecedented global crisis with severe health, economic and social impacts,” Payne told the Sky News recently.
The US has already started its own investigation.
“We’re doing very serious investigations … We are not happy with China,” Trump said early this week.
Some people are calling for a United Nations inquiry to look into China’s handling of COVID-19.
“Our international well-being demands an independent and objective report into this disaster, not to allocate blame but to write its truthful history and learn lessons,” Geoffrey Robertson, a British human rights lawyer, told the Daily Mail recently.
Even ordinary people are asking for an inquiry.
“If we lost our loved ones and suffer hardships, we have every right to know what happened and why it happened. We need an investigation,” Bandari Ashok, an Indian student from Hyderabad, told this author in a telephone conversation recently.
But bellicose Beijing is adamant in rejecting calls for international probe.
“Some politicians are trying to make political manoeuvres over the origin to smear other countries, but their unpopular attempts will never succeed. The urgent task for all countries is focusing on international cooperation rather than pointing fingers, demanding accountability and other non-constructive approaches,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told journalists in Beijing recently.
Chinese Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye claimed that if Canberra goes ahead with its call for an international probe, the Chinese people may boycott Australian products like wine and beef.
But any effort to coerce critics will backfire. We are living in an interdependent world. China will impose economic sanctions on its critics but if billions of people decide to boycott Chinese products, what will happen to the Chinese economy? We need China and China needs the rest of the world.
Growing global anger is also leading to a wave of lawsuits against China.
Several US lawyers initiated legal action to sue China for trillions of dollars over the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Florida, lawyers filed a class-action suit against China on behalf of thousands of individuals and businesses from 40 countries, including the US and Britain, seeking compensation for the massive losses and suffering.
Similar suits were filed in California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas and Missouri. Mississippi has announced that it would file a similar suit against China.
Three quarters of Britons agree that the UK must sue the Chinese Communist Party for inflicting huge damages on the UK through COVID-19, according to a poll published in the Daily Mail recently.
A UK-based think-tank called ‘Henry Jackson Society’ said that the world can sue China for $6.7 trillion for COVID-19 losses on at least 10 grounds, including stricter international health regulations, according to The Sunday Morning Herald.
An Israeli law center called ‘Shurat HaDin’, a group which fights for victims of terrorism, is also planning to sue China.
In the coming weeks and months, many countries may sue China for their suffering.
These lawsuits may be symbolic in nature. Money may not be the main motive but rather, people seek accountability. However, these lawsuits will most likely be rejected due to immunity problems.
Normally, countries have legal immunity from prosecution in foreign countries, but in the US, there are some exceptions in case of personal or property damage.
Countries can also take China to the International Court of Justice and Permanent Court of Arbitration and the World Trade Organisation for their losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a rise in anti-Chinese sentiments in many countries. Why did this happen all of a sudden? People suffered a lot because of this disease, which should have been controlled initially by China. They are really angry at China and its government.
China was not happy when people described the virus as “Wuhan virus” and “China virus”. These are not racial remarks. In the past, we have had many diseases that were named after their places of origin. We have the Spanish flu, African Ebola, Japanese encephalitis, Asian flu, Middle-Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and many others.
If China feels that it had done the right thing, why is it so afraid of an international probe? China is right when it says that we need international cooperation to mitigate COVID-19 from our lives. At the same time, we need China’s cooperation in investigating thoroughly the origins of SARS-CoV-2 as well as in finding a vaccine and cure to COVID-19.
China’s image as a responsible global power has been tarnished badly. It will be a major litmus test for Chinese President Xi Jinping in his seven-year leadership to restore China’s image globally.