By William Jones*
There has been a great outpouring of sympathy for China throughout the world in the wake of the sudden outbreak of the novel coronavirus pneumonia. The heroic efforts of the Chinese medical workers and the determination of the Chinese people amid the epidemic have been a model of courage for the world to admire. And efforts are being made around the world to provide needed supplies and to find a vaccine that could allow for the country to overcome this crisis.
But, at the same time, those forces in the West who have been adamantly opposed to the admission of China into the pantheon of world powers, have seen this catastrophe as an opportunity to throw new obstacles in the path of China’s rise.
The “fake news” in the Western media about a Chinese weapons lab as the source of the novel coronavirus or about how Chinese authorities, learning of the seriousness of the virus, somehow “dawdled” in their response leading to a wider spread of the virus, are all part of the psychological warfare being conducted by Western conservative elements to discredit China.
More recently we have heard people suggest that the coronavirus will be in China for so long that foreign firms will look for alternative supply lines, and that many of the growth industries that have been so vital to China’s development will move elsewhere. Much of this is simply wishful thinking by people who are not happy with China’s rise.
This psychological warfare campaign was also expressed in the February 3 Wall Street Journal article by neo-conservative guru Walter Russell Mead, who moots the possibility of China receding as a major power, either as the result of epidemics or by what he describes as a “brittle” financial system. Such doomsday prophets like Mead are really only “predicting” what they hope will happen. But the reality is quite different.
By now, we don’t know how long this crisis will last. There are some signs that it may be reaching a peak due to the valiant and draconian efforts of the Chinese authorities, but whatever the case may be, it will take a good deal of time to resolve the crisis and repair the subsequent damage. And there will no doubt be losses, such as the loss of life, which will remain with us forever.
Economically, some foreign firms may move elsewhere or try to build new supply chains with other countries and regions, and many entrepreneurs who leave temporarily may not return. But China is now an industrial powerhouse with a very advanced and highly developed technology sector.
That capability has remained in operation throughout the country in spite of the lockdowns, transportation stoppages, and medical emergency. And with a population of 1.4 billion, China remains the world’s largest single market and businesses that know what they’re doing won’t write off China because of a serious viral outbreak.
But China remains, in spite of everything, a developing country. And the outbreak may simply attest to the fact that China still has a long way to go before becoming a fully developed country with a fully developed medical system.
And then there are the Chinese people, who have a long history of overcoming major crises and have proven their resilience time and again by prevailing over them. And it has been this capability and this resilience that more than anything allowed the country to leapfrog from a very poverty-stricken country in the 1960s into the ranks of the world’s primary manufacturing nations over the course of a few decades.
And China has many friends in the world. In particular, through the development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has been a hallmark of the leadership of President Xi Jinping, many countries have begun to work their way out of the poverty and misery that for so long characterized the situation in Africa, in parts of Asia and in Latin America.
The Belt and Road has become the high-speed rail for these countries to emerge from underdevelopment. And the compassion with which China has touched these countries and regions and revived their spirits will not be lost on them by this temporary hiatus.
The Belt and Road has been a watershed event for the world as a whole. The countries along the routes of the BRI will not go back to a world dominated by “shareholder value” and “conditionalities.”
And while the US would be welcome to jump on the bandwagon of the BRI, it will never take the lead in a project that requires empathy with underdeveloped countries, nor will it succeed in replacing the BRI with some watered-down version that provides only more misery and dependency.
And the pettiness of trying to use this biological outbreak as a tool of geopolitics will not go down well with countries which have been led by the nose for too many years with false promises that never materialized.
*The author is the Washington Bureau Chief of Executive Intelligence Review and a non-resident fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies.
This article was reprinted with permission from the author and Global Times.