Opinion – Coronavirus and its local, regional and global implications

The last week witnessed the regionalization and globalization of Coronavirus, which expanded to various countries such as South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan.

North Korea, which closed the border with China quickly after January 20, has 3,000 suspected cases along the Chinese border, according to an unconfirmed Hong Kong Chinese media report. The local, regional and global implications of Coronavirus are tremendous.

Local governments in countries affected by this rapidly spreading contagious disease are immediately under the scrutiny of their mass media and central authorities. Many government and party officials in Wuhan city and Hubei province were removed, showing the displeasure of the central government in China.

Interestingly, a tug of war between some local authorities and central officials took place in Hubei province on February 24, when a government circular in Wuhan claimed to resume transport between the city and other areas.

Three and a half hours later, this government announcement was reversed by another circular saying that there was no move to reopen the transport routes from the city to other regions. Mainland media reported that a deputy mayor made a “premature” announcement without the discussion and approval of senior provincial authorities.

In response, the new party secretary of Hubei province, Ying Yong, made an immediate pronouncement, emphasizing the need for the whole province, including the Wuhan city, to observe the lockdown.

At the same time, Sun Chunlan, who led a central leading group to contain Coronavirus in Hubei, went down to various localities to ensure that local officials stuck to the central directives of imposing a lockdown.

Yet, she added that for those Chinese citizens who were trapped in the Hubei province, measures were taken to protect their interests and deal with their concerns. Obviously, some citizens, who were outside Hubei and yet were trapped in Hubei, felt unhappy.

Curiously, a woman, who was found to be released from a Wuhan prison, and who reached Beijing on February 22, was reportedly confirmed to have Coronavirus. It was not known why she had been allowed to leave Wuhan for Beijing.

Some netizens questioned the incidence and the central authorities had to investigate. There appeared to be inspection and implementation gaps in the detection of Coronavirus among the people staying and living in Wuhan.

Because of the local implementation gaps, President Xi Jinping was reportedly unhappy with the performance and behavior of some party cadres and officials. On February 23, he delivered a speech in a committee meeting on the prevention and containment of Coronavirus and its related socio-economic development.

Xi emphasized that in the presence of the Standing Committee of the Politburo such as Li Keqiang, Lu Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huining and Zhao Leji, the “battlefields” at Wuhan and Hubei province were extremely important.

Xi praised all those party cadres and officials for trying their best to contain Coronavirus, but he criticized those who adopted a “relaxed” and “mesmerized” attitude toward the disease.

President Xi added that Beijing would have to perform well in the prevention and containment of Coronavirus, implying that the defense of the capital city was of paramount importance.

Other priorities of the Chinese government included the provision of medical supplies and logistics to hospital staff, the acceleration of the production of vaccines and effective medication, the necessity of cooperation with regional countries and international organizations, the need for proper party propaganda and publicity work, and the urgency of maintaining law and order in the society and economy. 

President Xi also mentioned the need for a gradual process of resuming economic production in China. He raised eight points: (1) a step-by-step process of arranging different districts and levels to resume production; (2) the increase in the use of macro-economic controls such as tax reduction and exemption to help small and medium enterprises; (3) the consolidation of providing employment and jobs to the people, especially graduates.

Xi also undelrined (4) the insistence on anti-poverty work; (5) the promotion of enterprises to resume their production through an acceleration of infrastructure projects and development; (6) the maintenance of agricultural production and food supplies in the spring time; (7) the need to provide basic necessities for the poor and the needy; and  (8) the necessity of maintaining the stability of imports, exports, trade and investment.

Clearly, the central government of China has mapped out a comprehensive emergency strategy that contains the further spread of Coronavirus, protects the livelihood of the peoples, resumes economic production, and maintains social stability. Coronavirus in China has not only impacted all local governments, but it also requires strong intervention and leadership from the central government.

The central-local dynamics in China can also be seen in other countries affected by the spread of Coronavirus. South Korea is a good example. The reported infection of a woman in Daegu city and the rapid spread of Coronavirus among those people who attended the regular services of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus were alarming. It is a challenge for both the local government of Daegu and the central leadership in Seoul to stop the further spread of the contagious disease, which can be detrimental to the society and economy of South Korea.

The most distinguishing difference between South Korea and China is that while the former is a liberal democracy, the latter is authoritarian in governance. Interestingly, in containing infectious diseases, authoritarianism tends to be more effective than democracies.

Hence, South Korea’s developments deserve to be observed. Its local and central governments may have to learn from some of the experiences of, say Hong Kong, where schools were quickly closed and where a partial lockdown was implemented by closing the majority of entry points from the mainland after the decisive lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei by the central leadership in Beijing. 

In the past, globalization was hailed as a positive sign of the economic interdependence of countries in the world. However, in recent years, economic protectionism has pushed back globalization, as with the US-China trade war.

The onset of Coronavirus is pushing back the process of globalization further, sending a warning signal to globalists in the world that infectious diseases have perhaps become the major menace to globalization. The challenge is how countries in the world cooperate to combat and contain infectious diseases.

Indeed, the role of World Health Organization (WHO) is critical. It has praised China’s rapid and tremendous efforts at containing Coronavirus. Still, the challenge of WHO is to coordinate countries well and to accelerate the process of looking for effective vaccines.  

Globally, some degree of anti-China sentiment has been looming in different parts of the world. Interestingly, on February 27, the authoritative Chinese epidemiologist, Zhong Nanshan, said that although Coronavirus began in China, this did not necessarily mean that the virus must originate there.

He made this interesting remark which coincided with the phenomenon that some foreigners put the blame of Coronavirus on China. In the mainland, a former CCTV television host, who said that China should say “sorry” to the world for the chaos produced by Coronavirus, was quickly criticized by netizens.

The development of Coronavirus has proceeded in such a way as to become a highly ultra-nationalist issue on the one hand and an unfortunately anti-Chinese and anti-China sentiment on the other. Some mainland netizens have adopted a highly nationalist stance, blaming Coronavirus on foreigners, even to the extent of naming the United States.

On the other hand, some foreigners have failed to be sympathetic with the occurrence of Coronavirus in China, blaming the Chinese, exaggerating the predicament of China, and unfortunately affecting the interest and image of even overseas Chinese in different countries. The unintended consequences of Coronavirus are huge and unfortunate.

In short, Coronavirus has become not just a local problem, politically and socio-economically, but also a regional and global concern that necessitates peoples in the world to cooperate in the quest for effective solutions. Coronavirus is perhaps symbolizing the dark side of globalization.

MNA political commentator