By Jerome-Mario Utomi
From the volume and value of news reports, commentaries, and opinion articles about the actual source of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), currently ravaging humanity, it is obvious that the world is indeed troubled. More disturbing is the raging anger, accusation and counter accusation between two world powers-the United States of America (USA) and the Peoples Republic of China.
Adding context to this discourse, while President Donald Trump of the United States of America(USA), had earlier told the world that COVID-19 is a China virus, the Chinese government’s view is that, although the flu virus may have started in Wuhan, this doesn’t mean it was “made in China.” This was then excalated by a surprisingly undiplomatic claim from within the Chinese foreign ministry that the virus was created by the U.S. Army. But in contrast, it was reported that some very brave scientists at the South China University of Technology claimed it escaped from a disease research laboratory in Wuhan city after one of the workers got infected.
Also fueling controversy is the issue of figures released by China.
China according to a rolling tracker by John Hopkins University has publicly reported 82,394 confirmed cases and 3,316 deaths. But again, the White House is of the views that China’s reporting has been intentionally incomplete, with some intelligence officials describing Beijing numbers as fake. “They lied to the world about the human-to-human transmission of the virus, silenced doctors and journalists who tried to report the truth, and are now apparently hiding the accurate number of people impacted by this disease,” Michael McCaul, top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated recently’. Also in his response, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying didn’t directly address it on Trump’s comments, but said that “to slander, to discredit, to blame others or to shift responsibility cannot make up the time that has been lost.”
As the debate rages, one could argue that the problem here was caused by American government’s lack of effective communication and inter personal skills needed for constructive conflict management. But one can also make just a strong case that the problem was further amplified by Chinese government’s lack of common understanding and purpose, objectivity, active listening, inability to giving benefits of the doubt and lack of capacity to recognize the interest of other stakeholders.
However, a dive into historical science will reveal that what is happening is neither an accident nor the beginning of something new, but another half of a reoccurring circle.
And China in my opinion needs prove to the world that they are not shifting reason(s) over a long horizon with a particular objective that has to do with age-long animosity against the United States and other western world. Or what Kurt M. Campbell and Jake Sullivan referred to in their piece as ‘Competition without Catastrophe’.
Of course, there are historical accounts that support China’s time-honoured animosity against the United States, western world or whoever that is in harmony with them. The most concrete that easily come to mind is the account documented over three decades ago by Lee Kuan Yew, a former Minister of Singapore,and was titled; China; a dragon with long tail.
Aside from stating that no foreign country other than Britain has had a ‘greater influence’ on Singapore’s political development, the report recalled how Lee Kuan Yew’s closeness to the United States and other Western world got him attacked in 1968 by Radio Beijing- calling him a “running dog of U.S. and British imperialism’. Adding that, China, a country liberated from poverty, degradation, disease and hunger but not from ignorance and backwardness, felt absolute confidence that there will be a seat for them (Chinese) at the top tables once they have put themselves right.
From independence on the 9th August 1965, till 1970, there was no diplomatic contact with the PRC- because Beijing did not recognize the existence of an independent Singapore. PRC broadcasts and publication were in the habit of referring to Singapore as “a par of Malaya’. Again, not only did China continue to undermine the independent Singapore, it did develop ways of sending agents to Singapore to build up a communist movement.
As an illustration, in 1968, when Cultural Revolution in China was at its height, the government of Singapore used to confiscate large quantities of Chinese stamps bearing “Thoughts of Mao” imported by some Chinese-language Bookshops, and also thousands of copies of Mao’s little red book brought in by Chinese seamen who wanted to distribute them. Even the Singapore branch of the Bank of China joined in this madness and gave out Cultural Revolution propaganda pamphlets to customers at their counters. ‘We arrested and prosecuted our own citizens who indulged in the frenzy, but left Chinese nationals alone to keep open the trade with China’.
Suprisingly, in the late 1970, Beijing against all known logic quietly changed its stance towards the country. Singapore’s heads of missions were invited to China’s national day reception. In 1971, China stopped public attacks on the Singapore government. That year, the Bank of China’s branch in Singapore hosted the Singapore’s national flag on their national day. Something it had not done before.
However, the real intention behind the sudden change of attitude was later discovered.
China’s priority, the report observed, then was to get as much government as possible to close ranks against the Soviet Union and check the expansion of its influence into Southern Asia. The Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and border clashes between Chinese and Russian forces across the Amur River in 1969 had rendered China’s revolutionary antics dangerous. They were weakening China’s capacity to resist Soviet aggression.
The account finally submitted that ‘Singapore is much like the Chinese in physical appearance, cultural values, in attitudes and relationships but they are so different in their view of the world’.
Call it what you like-vision, focus, drive, patriotism or diplomacy- the truth is that China may be leading the nation economically, but any nation with attitudes narrated above cannot be trusted. And China of today is not different from that of the old.
The facts are glaring.
Foremost, is a 2017, report where XI Jinping, during a speech claimed that Beijing is ‘blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization and offers a new option for other countries and nations who wants to speed up their development while preserving their independence. He noted that Western talk about democracy is simply a pretext for robbing poor countries of their sovereignty and economic potentials.
Let’s assume XI Jinping’s claim on development was true. There are some ingrain concerns. China, apart from being ruled, ‘increasingly dictatorially by an unelected communist party that puts people in prison for their convictions and limits all forms of free expressions and associations’, undermine human rights, rules and standards, how can a nation abandon democratic ethos, for a form of government that feels reluctant to appreciate development plans and reform programs from a rights-based perspective?
To end this China-USA controversy, and catalyze the process of finding thorough solution to the challenge posed by Corona virus, returning to basics and challenging common sense can provide the vital clue that will lead to the real solution. As a general rule, the two countries must recognize that the world has a problem on its hands. This should be the time for carefully planned and structured intervention that involves candid conversations meant to untangle the unhealthy dynamics that characterized the search for solution to COVID-19 pandemic.
Jerome-Mario Utomi (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a Lagos-based media Consultant.