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US Trade War against China Takes a Coronaviral Turn

The anti-China fake news campaign using COVID-19 pandemic, fits into the larger war that the US is waging against China. It taps into the deep reservoir of xenophobia and racism in the US and elsewhere.
US Trade War against China Takes a Coronaviral Turn

The Trump administration has expanded its trade war against China to include the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than a million already infected in the US and about 60,000 dead, Trump’s assertions in February that this is just a small flu and will disappear has now been replaced by China did it, even talking about making China pay reparations. A part of this is Trump’s dire need to scapegoat someone, or some country, for the US’s total incompetence in handling the COVID-19 epidemic. 

But that is not all. The anti-China campaign fits into the larger war that the US was already waging against China. The US hegemony as the sole super power, is being challenged – economically by China with its manufacturing strength, and strategically by Russia, with its re-emergence as a global player. In the US domestic politics and its presidential election cycle, Russia is rapidly being replaced by China as the new arch villain. 

As always happens, the US mainstream media loyally follows suit, whether it is the fiction of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, Syria’s use of chemical weapons, or Russia hacking the 2016 US elections. The recurring theme emerging from the US media, helped by suitable “leaks” from the US intelligence agencies, is that China did it, or hid it, and that is why the virus got away infecting the world. Trump’s China virus narrative is also tapping into the deep reservoir of xenophobia and racism, that is why its potency. 

Let us look at the facts as we know them. This is from scientific studies that are emerging worldwide, and not from social media, or planted stories; or the ravings of Trump on prime time TV. The timeline of how the epidemic unfolded in Wuhan and what we know about it, is given below:

  • The Nextstrain computational biology team’s collection of 4,115 genomes sampled between December 2019 and April 2020 show that in their record, an ancestor with the first mutation would have emerged probably in mid-December 2019.

  • Zhang Jixian, director of the Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine Department, Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, on December 27 was the first to detect SARS-CoV-2 symptoms in three patients of the same family. Alarm bells rang when the blood tests showed a viral infection but not a flu virus. This meant a possible novel virus, and was immediately communicated to Wuhan and Hubei authorities. 

  • On December 30, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission sent out an urgent notification to medical institutions under its jurisdiction about an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown cause in the city. 

  • The National Health Commission (NHC) dispatched a working group and an expert team in the wee hours of December 31 to Wuhan to guide epidemic response and conduct on-site investigations.

  • On the same day, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released its first briefing about the outbreak of pneumonia of unknown cause on its website, in which it confirmed 27 cases, told the public not to go to enclosed public places or gather in numbers, and also wear masks when going out. 

Also read: Why Did the World Health Organization Wait Until March to Declare a Global Pandemic?

  • On December 31, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organisation about a new coronavirus outbreak.

  • On January 1, they closed down the Wuhan seafood market, which had reported a number of cases. It was later found that a number of infections originated outside the market, as reported in Lancet, so this was not the likely origin of infection, but an amplifying source. 

  • Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, the apex body in the US responsible for handling all such epidemics, was briefed about the severity of the virus by his Chinese counterparts around New Year’s Day. In one grim conversation with Dr. Redfield about the virus, Dr. George F. Gao, the Director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, burst into tears.

  • On January 7, China identified the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)

  • On January 10, Chinese authorities reported the genetic sequence of the virus, and uploaded it on Virology and Genebank public databases by January 11-12. 

  • The first known death from COVID-19 was December 11.

  • On January 10, the Wuhan Institute of Virology releases its first test kit for detection of the virus.

  • A few days later on January 17, the German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF) at Charité University of Medicine, Berlin, the leading centre for medicine in Germany, used the genetic data to create a test kit for the virus, which WHO adopted and made available to all countries. 

  • On January 23, Wuhan imposed complete lockdown of the city of 11 million people when officially only 400 cases had been identified through testing. Clearly, they were signalling the world that this disease was highly infectious and dangerous.

  • Next day, another 15 cities were shut down in Hubei province.

  • On January 30, WHO declared a global health emergency of international concern, the highest level of alert that WHO can issue.

Speaking to Rolling Stones, a well-known US publication, Dr. Kristian Andersen commented, “In scientific terms, this is lightning speed.” Dr. Andersen is the director of Infectious Disease Genomics at Scripps Research Transnational Institute in California and the lead author of an influential paper in Nature on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. He continued, “This is difficult stuff. We have to remember that all of this happened during flu season, so a lot of people would have had symptoms that looked like COVID-19. But because of flu, discovering a novel coronavirus this fast against that backdrop is simply unprecedented. Andersen also pointed out, “The Zika circulated in Brazil for a year and a half before anyone realised they had an epidemic and Ebola took three months to diagnose. Importantly, these are known pathogens and not a novel pathogen like SARS-CoV-2.” 

The western media has made a lot of noise about Dr. Li Wenliang, a young ophthalmologist, who was reprimanded on January 3 by the Wuhan police authorities, and later died fighting the disease. He was not directly dealing with the disease, nor did he submit a report to the authorities that was suppressed as the western media is reporting. Dr. Li shared some information on the infections in his hospital on social media for which the Wuhan police authorities reprimanded him for “spreading rumours in social media”. It was a bureaucratic knee-jerk reaction by the authorities to control social media reports in the early stages of the epidemic. Later, Chinese authorities accepted that this was a mistake, and commended Dr. Li on his work and bravery in combating the epidemic. But this incident – the official reprimand of Dr. Wenliang – took place on January 3, by which time China had already informed the WHO and the US CDC. It had no bearing on the course of the epidemic in China or anywhere else in the world.

Also read: Secret of China’s Success -- Clear Goals, Granular Planning

Have bureaucracies in other countries performed better? Lets look at the way the CDC in the US and the Trump administration dealt with the testing fiasco, the Indian scenario where we do not know who or based on what, our policies are being framed. In the UK, there are periodic talk of models, as also in India, but these models that the governments are using are shrouded in mystery! Or the directive that has been issued by the Indian government that only information issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare or the Indian Council of Medical Research can be reported by the media

The question to answer is, did this affect the information that was shared with the world? China shared all the information it had on the nature of the infections, the genome sequence of the virus, and that it was seeing not only human to human transmission, but this transmission was high enough needing a total lockdown of a city of 11 million, and another 15 shortly after. This at a time when Wuhan, the epicentre of the disease had only 400 known infections! Action speaks louder than words, and if global leaders were not listening, that is something they have to explain to their people. Instead of China bashing.

The pandemic is only uncovering the deeper fissures that are already existing, and widening existing fault lines in the world. The US has got away with brazenly stealing Iran and Venezuela’s wealth, a significant part of which was either within the US banking system, or under the financial control of the US. Can they do this with China? For instance, refusing to pay back the $1.09 trillion that the US owes China as debt? Or will any such overreach finally sink the dollar as countries realise the risk in making dollar the de-facto global reserve currency? 

Also read: If Trump Sues China, Iraq Should Demand Compensation for Unjust War

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