China is making things worse

China is making things worse

Reports of China’s swift and robust response to the coronavirus crisis have impressed the world.

It is unfortunate that China seems more concerned about its image in the eyes of the world than about the health and wellbeing of people. It is dragging its feet in permitting a number of foreign governments to evacuate their nationals from Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak. Since the disease’s outbreak in December, thousands are said to have been infected by the deadly virus. According to reports, confirmed cases have been reported from across China. The virus has also spread to other countries. Understandably, the international community is worried. Several governments, including India, have requested the Chinese government for permission to evacuate their citizens. Over 48 hours after it put in its request, Beijing is yet to allow India to do so. Chinese officials are believed to be apprehensive that visuals of people fleeing China due to the coronavirus outbreak will send out the message that Beijing is unable to deal effectively with the situation. A rising power with superpower ambitions, China is wary of the world perceiving it negatively; hence, its reluctance to allow people to leave the country at this juncture.

However, this reluctance will only make the international community more apprehensive over the wellbeing of their nationals. It will open up space for speculation and rumours to feed a negative narrative on China’s capacities. Moreover, foreigners have the right to leave China if they wish to do so. Reports of China’s swift and robust response to the coronavirus crisis have impressed the world. Apparently, China is building two new hospitals from scratch in Wuhan, and in just a matter of a few days. This is undoubtedly impressive. In 2003, it took a long time for the Chinese government to respond effectively to the SARS epidemic. Its swift response to the current outbreak signals better preparedness on the part of Chinese authorities to the public health crises. In dealing with public health and natural disaster emergencies, transparency is important. China’s preoccupation with its image could weaken its response to the coronavirus.

At the same time, over-reaction by foreign governments is avoidable. Countries will be tempted to issue travel bans, overbroad quarantines and other measures, not so much because the situation on the ground in China merits such responses but because of geopolitical motivations and to settle scores with a rising and ambitious China. Imposing restrictions on the movement of people should be on the basis of science and not international politics. While the quest for a vaccine and treatment must be fast-tracked, hasty and politically-driven decisions on dealing with the virus outbreak must be avoided.