Author: Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay.
China’s crimes and cover-up
China must pay for sure. There is no question about that.
They exported a deadly virus from Wuhan. They downplayed the danger. They silenced the whistleblowers. If China had taken action 3-weeks earlier, infected cases could have been reduced by 95%[i]. Instead they hid the truth about the contagion for weeks and destroyed evidence of their crimes. With over 15 lakhs infected and almost 1 lakh deaths across the globe as on date, the #WuhanCoronavirus has today become one of deadliest exports from China.
China is no stranger to exporting deadly diseases. Earlier also in 2003, the SARS outbreak spread out from China and infected more than 8000 people in 37 countries. The current #Covid19 virus was detected as early as November 2019 in Wuhan in Hubei province, the epicenter of the contagion, but the first lock-down was imposed only in late January. By then an estimated 50 lakh people, many of whom were likely infected, left Wuhan and became carriers of this deadly virus across the world[ii].
By December end, doctors in Wuhan were aware of the highly contagious nature of the outbreak. But China downplayed the dangers of the rapidly spreading disease. Beijing initiated a crackdown against the doctors for talking about the disease and a complete gag-order was placed on them[iii].
The Hubei Provincial Health Commission ordered labs to stop testing the virus and asked them to destroy #coronavirus samples[iv]. During the initial weeks, the WHO toed Beijing’s line and reiterated China’s stance that there was no immediate threat of the new virus, and asked countries not to impose travel restrictions[v].
However soon the virus spread across continents and countries, and the WHO was forced to declare the #ChinaCoronavirus as a “global pandemic”. China in the mean-time embarked on a massive clean-up campaign – of its image as well as evidence of criminal negligence. The wild animal market (“wet market”) from which the virus is supposed to have originated was shut down in early January, and rightly so. However, all the animals on sale which could have been used as potential evidence were destroyed, and the entire area was scrubbed and sanitized. This makes it almost impossible to trace the emergence of the virus[vi].
China is now trying to portray itself a savior of the world during this crisis, and is ostensibly supplying aid to affected countries. Social media is replete with messages of China’s humanitarian help, and such messages are being amplified by Chinese diplomats. However investigations have shown that China has deployed an army of bots to carry out this social media propaganda[vii]. Simultaneously different conspiracy theories were promoted by the Chinese State which suggested that the coronavirus originated anywhere but in China – one theory was that it originated in a US Military lab[viii], while another theory suggests that it began in Italy[ix].
So yes, China had lied to the world. They have used their global economic clout and quasi-colonial control over much of the world to silence critics and push forward their narrative. The communist regime in Beijing initiated a massive cover-up and brazenly lied to the world. And that is to be expected – communist regimes around the world, including in India have a long-track record of lying, spreading misinformation and spearheading propaganda. In fact the erstwhile Soviet Union is said to have had a disinformation ministry known as agitprop.
China has lied. But we have allowed ourselves to be taken for a ride.
There has been an increased clamor, especially from the west, which wants China to pay for its crimes. Crimes against humanity[x] they call it, and they want China to pay in dollars. Let us ponder on the term “crime against humanity”, which the west seems to use a lot. It is ironic that the west is pontificating on human rights when they have an abysmal historical track record when it comes to caring about humanity.
One of the most affected countries today is Spain. During its 300 years of Catholic Spanish inquisition in Spain, and Spanish colonies in north, central and South America, hundreds and thousands of natives were arrested, brutally tortured and killed for “heresy”[xi]. Another affected country is Italy, the head-quarters of the Catholic Church. They seem to have forgotten the crimes committed by the Church worldwide over the centuries, including the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 8 lakhs people were killed. Many victims died at the hands of priests, clergymen and nuns, and also in the churches where they sought refuge[xii]. When America talks about crime against humanity, it must recall the brutal genocide of Native Americans. From ~1 crore in 1492, when Columbus arrived, their numbers came down to less than 2.5 lakhs by late 19th century[xiii].
And of course we are all aware of British colonization of India – the systematic and brutal persecution of Indians, economic exploitations, the engineering of famines, driving people to poverty, the systematic destruction of Indian values, traditions and customs, and so on. Nothing has changed in modern times – these nations continue to interfere politically, economically or through church in the matters of other nations, whether it is the middle-eastern crisis or separatist movement in India and Sri Lanka. There are hundreds of such examples.
The point is, for the west, humanity means “us”, and a crime becomes a crime against humanity only when it impacts them directly. As I have mentioned earlier, the Wuhan Coronavirus infection became a global crisis the moment the West got infected. Western culture is a synthetic unity of Judeo-Christianity and Greek tradition[xiv] and thus the notion of “chosen people” and others is an integral part of their culture. So long as the “others” were impacted, it did not matter –but now that the chosen people are getting affected, the issue has become a humanitarian crisis, and China has become the western world’s favorite punching bag.
China is doing nothing that the west has already not done before, and so the west blaming China is akin to the pot calling the kettle black.
India’s Fake Moral High Ground
But if the west and China have to be blamed, India is not blameless either. We have systematically ceded our control to China, whether through ignorance, or lack of strategic insight, or absence of political will – our escapism masquerading as some sort of moral superiority. We stayed silent during the 1950 invasion of Tibet by China. Jawaharlal Nehru decided to not accept a UNSC permanent seat and instead gifted it to China. We had no views on China’s takeover of either Taiwan or Hong Kong. For decades China used its growing economic clout to encircle us on all sides by entering into strategic relationships with our neighbors but the political dispensation had no vocal response. China has built roads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. They have annexed territories in Ladakh called Aksai Chin, which they see as part of their Xinjiang and Tibet autonomous regions. China still continues to issue stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh, which it considers as part of Southern Tibet, and objects to visit by Indian Prime Minister, Home Minister and Defense Minister to this state.
Despite such blatant disrespect of India’s territorial sovereignty, we have yet to see any comprehensible vocal public position by the Indian state regarding China’s transgressions – message given out in a language which people actually understand. Instead our MEA gives responses in indecipherable English – for example the Doklam stand-off resolution was described by MEA as: “expeditious disengagement of border personnel of India and China at the face-off site at Doklam was ongoing”[xv]. Consequently our strategic offensives as well as military victories like the Doklam Standoff are often presented as some sort of diplomatic resolution[xvi] and also at times as losses.
On the economic front we have a huge trade deficit with China – we import much more than we export, and this number keeps on increasing. Numerous indigenous craftsmen have lost their vocation to Chinese manufactured cheap products. Different industry lobbies and groups, often with the full support of state have systematically outsourced manufacturing to China, often at the cost of India’s own manufacturing. Environmental groups, activists and NGOs, perhaps some with Chinese links, have also significantly contributed to this exodus of manufacturing work. Today we are heavily dependent on China on almost everything. As an example, example almost 70% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients for medicines produced by Indian pharma companies come from China[xvii]. We can blame China all we want, but the fact remains that for decades the Indian state has been complicit in this mass forcing out of industries from India to China, by making import lucrative and by dis-incentivizing local businesses.
A clash of universalisms
China today is a behemoth or a monster – depending on one’s point of view. They have become rich beyond imagination, and this is something the west simply cannot accept. Coronavirus is just the flashpoint for this fight between Western Universalism and Chinese Universalism, which has been brewing for a while now. We should not take sides in this West versus China fight.
The West is not so much angry at China because of the loss of lives – rather it is the economic loss which is the cause of west’s anger, and hence their demand for trillions of dollars of compensation. This attitude can be seen in the initial reaction of UK and US. Rather than going for an immediate lockdown like India, UK initially followed the policy of allowing people to get mildly affected so that “herd immunity” could develop and stop the disease progress[xviii].
This policy failed miserably and many people died, and the British Prime Minister himself got infected. The US also initially dilly-dallied and denied any cause of concern – and businesses were allowed to function normally for a long time, and social distancing was not followed. Today US has among the highest number of infected and deaths.
If China allowed the virus to spread from China, the West allowed it to spread in their own countries driven as they were by economic considerations rather than the potential health hazards.
For a quarter of a century, the west has outsourced its grunt work, industry and pollution to China. So did we, and at the cost of our own native industries, craftsmen and informal workers. China has continued to pollute the world, and economically colonize countries, but we did not complain as long as we were getting our latest mobile phones, jewelry, toys, and apps. We have allowed adharma to happen in front of our eyes and turned a blind eye to it. Consumerist way of life and its associated pleasures has become the new amrit (elixir). We literally cannot live without our mobiles, tabs, electronic gadgets, and foreign brands, most of which are made in China. For decades now China has been consuming our hard-earned money to constantly supply us objects of sukha (sensory pleasure). However, nature has an innate sense of equilibrium and along with sukha, it also gives us visha (poison). Coronavirus is one such visha from China which is fast consuming the world. And we are all paying the price for our combined sins – some more so than others. It is still not too late to introspect and course-correct, and adopt a model based on moderation and self-reliance, and grounded in dharma.
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay is a civilization studies researcher with a background in data science. His writings on culture, philosophy and economics have appeared in various newspapers, online platforms and academic journals. He has authored two monographs titled “The Complete Hindu’s Guide to Islam” and “Ashoka the Ungreat“, and is a recipient of the Foundation for Indian Civilization Studies award for 2017.
[i] Early and combined interventions crucial in tackling Covid-19 spread in China https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2020/03/covid-19-china.page
[iii] Coronavirus | Wuhan initially downplayed crisis, says China expert Dali Yang https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/coronavirus-wuhan-initially-downplayed-crisis-says-china-expert-dali-yang/article31240608.ece
[iv] Timeline: The early days of China’s coronavirus outbreak and cover-up https://www.axios.com/timeline-the-early-days-of-chinas-coronavirus-outbreak-and-cover-up-ee65211a-afb6-4641-97b8-353718a5faab.html
[v] The World Health Organization Draws Flak for Coronavirus Response When the World Health Organization declared a global public-health emergency at the end of last month, it praised China’s “extraordinary” efforts to combat the coronavirus epidemic and urged other countries not to restrict travel.
[vi] Coronavirus origin: Few leads, many theories in hunt for source https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/coronavirus-spreads-leads-theories-origin-200407073509327.html
[viii] A conspiracy theory linking the US army to the coronavirus now has official Chinese endorsement https://qz.com/1817736/china-fuels-coronavirus-conspiracy-theory-blaming-us-army/
[ix] An Italian doctor is now key to China’s efforts to sow confusion over the coronavirus’s origins https://qz.com/1823417/italy-now-key-to-china-coronavirus-origin-propaganda-efforts/
[x] Corona: The case for taking China to ICJ https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/corona-the-case-for-taking-china-to-icj-64096/
[xii] Rwanda genocide: Catholic church sorry for role of priests and nuns in killings https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/21/rwanda-genocide-catholic-church-sorry-for-role-of-priests-and-nuns-in-killings
[xiii] When Native Americans Were Slaughtered in the Name of ‘Civilization’ https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-united-states
[xv] India, China almost complete troop disengagement at Doklam: MEA https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/indian-army-begins-disengagement-process-in-doklam/articleshow/60258669.cms?from=mdr
[xvi] The Doklam crisis ends: A diplomatic victory for India https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-doklam-crisis-ends-a-diplomatic-victory-for-india/
[xvii] Coronavirus: World pharma supplier India restricts export of some ingredients, drugs https://www.indiatoday.in/business/story/coronavirus-india-pharma-ingredients-drugs-export-1652009-2020-03-03
[xviii] The U.K.’s Coronavirus ‘Herd Immunity’ Debacle https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-herd-immunity-uk-boris-johnson/608065/