Coronavirus News Asia

Why Beijing must change before it’s too late


The Covid-19 pandemic is really a consequence, not a cause, of the geopolitical confrontation between the United States and China. Had there been mutual trust and good bilateral relations, Beijing might have been less defensive about the early outbreak of the disease, the US might have better understood the spread of the virus out of Wuhan and the global damage of the deadly flu might have been better contained.

A similar pattern was followed during the 2003 SARS outbreak. In a few months, the epidemic was controlled in China, and worldwide, and the global economy restarted gingerly on a V-shape trajectory. Presently the disease is not under control, the ongoing recession might well be the worst in the history of capitalism and the US-China clash is spinning out of control.

The real sickness is the geopolitical situation then, not the flu. The issues that cause the US-China row should be brought under control, and the restart button should be pressed. But it is not happening, and indications suggest it could get much worse. The pandemic could ravage the world for months, even years, and existing tensions could get worse.

Real economy in standstill

Meanwhile, on March 20 an oil Armageddon took place. For the first time ever the price of the former “black gold” became negative. The short-term reason was that producers had to dump excessive stocks. The long-term reason is that the global economy sees no prospect of recovery. Besides the trillions of dollars dumped by the US administration to support the stock market, the real economy is coming to a standstill and there is no clear indication of when it could restart. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) believes the virus will stay with us for two or three years and the economy could go through a painful process of successive stops and starts that could more disruptive than a war.

In the US tens of thousands are dying and tens of millions are losing their jobs and, possibly, their homes. Millions of small and big companies could shut down for good. For the US, it is the biggest economic, social and political crisis created by external forces – a virus coming from abroad – since the war of independence. It is larger than the 1929 depression or the 9/11 terrorist attack. The 1861-1865 US Civil War was an entirely internal crisis; World War II was external, massive, but actually it solved the domestic economic depression. This time is different and could bring unprecedented damage. From the US perspective, it’s all China’s fault. Could the virus in America be the Pearl Harbor of the next conflict?

Even if the virus disappears in a few months as a natural process, the damage will be lasting. This first significant epidemic in US history shows that America needs to consider rebuilding a health care system that proved inadequate for the emergency. All kinds of infrastructure also proved inadequate – underground systems, trains, airports, telecommunication, artificial intelligence, etc. In all of these areas China and some Asian countries fared better, which helped them fight the virus. Moreover, especially at the beginning, the US failed to show global leadership and this contributed to the ensuing confusion in coping with the disease. The US needs to do some soul searching. And this happens in the middle of a massive bilateral tussle with China.

Where did it start?

The origins of these tensions have a long history. With the disease, we have to start from the beginning – in China. The epidemic started with the collision of two geopolitical, social, and economic Chinas: backward and poor rural areas vs modern, wealthy cities. The two structurally intertwined Chinas cannot exist without each other, but precisely for this reason, they produce repeated epidemics. For example, the avian flu in the early 2000s, SARS in 2003, and the uncontrollable spread of swine fever from 2018 until today are all the result of contagion from viruses transmitted from rural to urban areas and back.

Containing the negative health consequences of the relationship between metropolitan and agricultural areas, with hundreds of millions of migrant workers moving from one to the other, is a matter that has been neglected but has become a matter of urgency.



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