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Blame the Covid-19 failure on your governments, not on China
by Davide Mastracci
Monday Apr 20th, 2020 6:42 AM
The anti-Chinese narrative is based on false statements and serves to distract people from the failure of neoliberalism. Build hospitals and make health care universal! Cut military spending in half! Testing, not imprisonment, abuse and neglect!
Blame the Covid-19 failure on your governments, not China

Anyone who thought that in the face of the common danger, the West would abandon hostilities against opponents of the system and geopolitical competitors, is disappointed. In many articles in the Western world, China is seen as the actor that gave us the virus and is responsible for its spread. China's response to the outbreak has been exemplary, according to the WHO. And is sharply criticized for this by Donald Trump and many media. But a thought experiment: Imagine that not China, but Sierra Leone had been hit first - or even Brazil or the USA, whose presidents mocked the virus hysteria for weeks and put their hands in their laps - what then? In his article, Davide Mastracci, editor-in-chief and founder of the Canadian portal Readpassage, unfolds anti-Chinese myths related to Corona, revealing some amazing findings.

Blame your governments, not China, for the Covid 19 failure

The anti-Chinese narrative is based on false statements and serves to distract people from the failure of neo-liberalism.

By Davide Mastracci

[This article published on 4/18/ is translated from the German on the Internet, Gebt die Schuld für das Covid-19-Versagen euren Regierungen und nicht China.]


At the beginning of January, COVID-19 was largely restricted to China. Now, just three months later, it has spread far beyond China's borders, while the virus has been effectively contained in China itself.

There are currently about 1.36 million COVID-19 cases reported worldwide, with more than 76,000 deaths. China accounts for only 6 percent of all cases and 4.4 percent of deaths. Yesterday, for the first time since January, China reported no new deaths.

Countries in the West have now been sealed off, hospitals are overburdened and markets are collapsing. There seems to be no clear end in sight for us.

Nevertheless, a group of ideologists is already looking to the world in the aftermath of the pandemic and fears that China could emerge from it as a new global superpower. To prevent this from happening, these people believe that other countries should "hold China accountable" for the pandemic and are trying to prepare the ground in public opinion for this demand.

In his 1997 book 'Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism', political scientist Michael Parenti wrote

"In the United States, for over a hundred years, the dominant interests have tirelessly propagated anti-communism among the population until it became a religious orthodoxy rather than a political analysis. During the Cold War, the anti-communist ideological framework was able to turn all knowledge about communist societies into hostile evidence."

The same phenomenon can currently be observed in relation to China - among editorial writers, reporters and politicians alike.

When the Chinese government had not yet imposed a curfew on millions of people, it was because they were more concerned with their image than with fighting a pandemic. When they sealed off the cities, it was not about fighting a pandemic, it was a totalitarian grab for more power.

When China reported hundreds of deaths every day, this was proof of the incompetence of the Chinese Government because the figures were so bad. When the number of deaths fell, it was proof that the Chinese were spreading lies about the figures.

If global health organizations express even slight criticism of China's handling of the pandemic, it is proof that the country should be punished. If they say something positive, it is proof that they were bought by China.

When China did not send aid to other countries, it was described as cruel. When the Chinese sent aid, it was described as a propaganda effort.

When Chinese citizens complain about the government, it is a sign that the whole state is on the verge of collapse. When Chinese citizens praise the government, it is a sign that they are being forced or brainwashed.

COVID-19 does indeed appear to have its origins in China, and so it makes sense to a certain extent that the country should play a role in most discussions about the pandemic. However, this is not the reason why these ideologues focus so much on China. Rather, it is because of the ideological function that their attacks serve.

Those who are in power in the West or are close to the powerful see that their government cannot cope with COVID-19, but they do not want to take responsibility for it.
Instead of criticizing the strategies they pursue or do not pursue, they channel their anger outwards.

For example, on March 21, the Daily Beast reported that they had received a leaked government dispatch that "contained guidelines on how [US] officials should answer questions about coronavirus or how they should speak about coronavirus and the White House response to China. Unsurprisingly, officials were asked to blame China for the pandemic if they made public statements or answered questions from the press.

Those who are not in power, such as right-wing journalists, recognize that their neoliberal ideology is incapable of dealing with the pandemic and is therefore under attack. They will not give up their views, so they must blame a foreign country with an ideology that is different in the right way. The attack on China clearly serves this purpose and offers an opportunity for anti-communism. Hating communism, as Parenti notes, has been inoculated into people for more than a century.

For example, the editor-in-chief of 'Postmedia' Kevin Libin wrote in an article in the 'National Post' on 23 March:

"We will probably get by, but what the world can no longer afford is the threat to all our health and well-being from the Chinese communist regime."

These attacks are unjustified, and I will unravel three popular components of the anti-China narrative in the media to expose the lies or half-truths on which they are based. To explore these components of the narrative, I have reviewed the pages of the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Sun, and Ottawa Citizen, and read all the opinion pieces from January to early April that focused on China and COVID-19.

China has detained a whistleblower

A major component of the anti-China narrative is that the government has arrested or imprisoned a COVID-19 whistleblower.

The story goes that a doctor learned of a new virus, tried to tell the world about it, was arrested and imprisoned, and then died of the virus. Commentators claim that China did this because they wanted to cover up the existence of a deadly virus in the country. As a result, COVID-19 spread faster and farther than it would otherwise have done.

Much of this narrative is false or at least based on half-truths.

Doctor Li Wenliang was an ophthalmologist, not an epidemiologist. He initially mistakenly identified the novel corona virus as evidence of a SARS outbreak. In a WeChat group, he first shared this assertion, along with the patients' medical records, with some colleagues, not with hospitals or public health institutions on 30 December. Li was not arrested or locked up. He was called to a police station on 3 January after a screenshot of his WeChat group was leaked and caused panic. He was reprimanded at the station for falsely claiming that there had been an outbreak of SARS. He was asked to sign a document in which he pledged not to spread the misinformation any further and was allowed to leave. Unfortunately, it is true that Li died of COVID-19 on 7 February. He reportedly contracted the disease by treating one of his infected patients.

This narrative also serves to distract from another series of events.

On 26 December, Zhang Jixian, director of respiratory and intensive care at Hubei Provincial Hospital, noted that four patients came to her department for treatment of suspected pneumonia - an elderly couple, their son and a patient who had come from a fish market. All had similar and unusual CT scans. So Zhang suspected that they were suffering from something else. The next day, Zhang, who played a crucial role in fighting the 2003 SARS outbreak, reported this to the head of her hospital. Within the next two days, the information was passed on to the provincial disease control centers, which then initiated comprehensive hospital investigations.

All this happened before Li shared the screenshots in his WeChat group. Zhang was not punished for their use. Rather, she was awarded by the regional government. I used the ProQuest database to search the entire print editions of the five publications mentioned earlier. Li was mentioned 44 times, Zhang not a single time.

China has not acted fast enough

Another central element of the narrative, which was mentioned in almost all opinion articles, was that China did not react quickly enough to the outbreak due to malicious intent.

Here are quotes from just a few of the many examples I've examined: "Beijing's authoritarian government hid information about the origin, spread and severity of the virus for weeks." "It was not until January 20, 40 days after the discovery of the virus, that Chinese President Xi Jinping first issued instructions to combat the virus, but by then it was too late." "We know that they hid this for at least a month before informing the [World Health Organization]"; "China wrapped the communist cloak of silence around the then unknown virus that was raging in Wuhan and kept it secret until the news spread.

What is not discussed in these articles are the very particular difficulties of dealing with a novel corona virus, as it takes time to notice that something is going on, to identify what is going on, and to confirm the extent of the danger it poses. These efforts should not be seen as something that China has done for itself, but rather for the whole world. Every country where the pandemic started should have done the same, and a number of steps need to be taken before comprehensive action can be taken.

Here is a timeline of China's efforts from the point mentioned in the previous section.

On December 31, just days after Zhang noticed the strange CT results, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission made the disease public. On the same day, officials informed the WHO. On January 1, officials closed the market where the virus was believed to have spread to humans, and one day later WHO activated its incident management system. By 7 January, China had isolated the new corona virus, or what was then thought to be the virus. All this happened before the first confirmed COVID 19 death on 9 January.

On January 12, China announced the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus that countries around the world can use to create diagnostic kits. The next day, the first case of the novel coronavirus outside China was reported in Thailand.

By 14 January, the WHO was still finding that "there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission", a crucial component in determining how dangerous a virus can be. The first confirmed case of human-to-human transmission came more than a week later. It was only on 30 January that the WHO declared a global health emergency.

So the idea that the disease caused chaos in China and its neighboring countries before the government did anything about it is wrong. This does not mean that China's response was perfect, although it is unclear what perfection would look like.

It is a matter of opinion whether China reacted quickly enough to the outbreak. I am sure that this will be discussed and investigated - including by the Chinese Government - long after the end of the pandemic, when people will be able to see the big picture. But at the moment we can look at what the experts have said about China's performance.

In a statement on 30 January, the emergency committee convened by the Director-General of the WHO wrote

"The Committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of China's highest levels of government, their commitment to transparency and their efforts to investigate and contain the current outbreak. China quickly identified the virus and shared information on its sequence so that other countries could quickly diagnose it and protect themselves. Diagnostic tools could be developed quickly."

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a series of tweets on the same day: "In many ways, #China is indeed setting new standards for outbreak response.

A February WHO report states: "Faced with a previously unknown virus, China has introduced perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment efforts in history. The report added: "The remarkable speed with which Chinese scientists and public health experts isolated the causative virus, provided diagnostic tools and determined key transmission parameters such as the path of spread and incubation time provided the crucial evidence for China's strategy. Valuable time could be gained for the response."

There are many more such examples.
They raise the question: Why do newspaper writers feel more qualified than the WHO to assess China's response? Some would say the WHO is lying, but what is more likely: a successful conspiracy to silence the Global Health Organization, or a columnist who wrote a week ago that the cancellation of cultural events was wrong?

China is responsible for the global crisis

Commentators accusing China of not acting fast enough are probably not doing so out of concern for Chinese citizens. Perhaps that was the case at the beginning. But now that we see that China, with a population of 1.3 billion, has managed to keep the number of deaths to around 3,300, these concerns seem to be motivated by something else.

The reason, which is sometimes stated explicitly and sometimes only hinted at, is that these commentators believe that carnage has occurred in other countries because of China. Here are just a few examples of such headlines or statements: "China's lies made the spread of the coronavirus outbreak possible"; "Now the whole world is paying dearly for Beijing's behavior"; "The virus is not a conspiracy, but just a devastating natural phenomenon that has been tragically mismanaged by the wire-pullers in Beijing".

This is absolutely not the case, and as difficult as it is to accept, the carnage that COVID-19 is causing in our countries is almost entirely the fault of our governments. The clearest example of this is the glaring difference between the way South Korea and the USA deal with COVID-19.

Both countries reported their first confirmed COVID-19 case on January 20. Since then - up to the time of writing this article - South Korea has reported about 10,200 cases and 192 deaths. In the USA, more than 367,000 cases and 10,900 deaths have now been reported. Taking into account the difference in population size between the two countries, the US has reported 5.6 times the number of cases and 9.5 times the number of deaths.

President Donald Trump recently predicted a best-case scenario of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19, although experts who compiled the data on which the projection is based have indicated that they are unsure how he arrived at this figure. South Korea, on the other hand, seems to have fought back with only six new deaths on 7 April.

These marked differences are entirely due to the different approaches of the two countries to COVID-19.

For example, in mid-March South Korea had tested more than 290,000 people for COVID-19, while the USA had only carried out 60,000 tests. Taking population differences into account, South Korea performed 31 times more tests than the United States. According to the US weekly magazine 'The Nation': "Many of the Korean tests were conducted in drive-in centers across the country. There, any citizen who so desired could have a free trial and the results were reported within six to 12 hours by text message or e-mail. “

In addition, the South Koreans were asked to wear masks and they were readily available. People were able to pick up two a week from their pharmacy and distribution was based on the last number of their year of birth. There is a severe shortage of masks in the US, even for health care workers working in the front line. In recent days, they have basically hijacked mask supplies for other countries and have been asking manufacturers to stop sending them to other countries, including Canada.

South Korea is not the only example of a nation that is handling the crisis much better than the United States or Italy, France, Spain and various other countries. In Vietnam, for example, with a population of more than 95 million, no COVID-19 deaths have been reported at all and only around 240 people have been infected. Vietnam's success was due less to testing and more to aggressive tracing measures, enforced quarantine and the recruitment of medical students and retired doctors and nurses to combat the virus due to a lack of resources.

What I mean to say is that China's initial handling of COVID-19 has not condemned other states to the fate we have seen in the West. Instead, as journalist Ajit Singh points out in the Monthly Review, China has bought time for the rest of the world. To that extent, the crisis countries are in this crisis solely because of their own measures. Their governments should be blamed, not China.

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