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Global cooperation called vital

By ANDREW MOODY | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-10 08:56
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China's decisive actions, flow of information and commitment are reassuring, experts say

Countries around the world need to work together in order to defeat the novel coronavirus outbreak, experts say.

Robert Dingwall, a professor at the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and an authority on medical sociology, said China has created the climate for international cooperation by being open with information.

"This is extremely important. A free flow of trustworthy information is the essential foundation of a well-organized international response," he said.

Oliver Stelling, a Dubai-based communications adviser who specializes in emerging markets, the Middle East and Asia, said China's decisive actions, such as the early release of the genetic sequencing of the virus, have been key to the global effort.

"China wasted no time taking decisive action. Thanks to that, we now have epidemiologists all over the world looking at the genetic makeup of that virus and comparing it to their own sequencing. That alone is very reassuring and will encourage more global collaboration."

The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus rose to 37,198 on the Chinese mainland as of Feb 8, including 811 deaths. Hubei province, whose capital, Wuhan, is the epicenter of the outbreak, reported 27,100 confirmed cases as of Feb 8, including 780 deaths, according to the National Health Commission of China.

A report by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, a Chinese think tank, also highlighted the importance of international cooperation.

It said that because China was committed to building "a community of a shared future for mankind", it has been striving to meet its international responsibilities and obligations in countering the epidemic.

Koh King Kee, the president of the Centre for New Inclusive Asia, a think tank based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, agreed with the report and said he believed that China working with the rest of the world is the embodiment of President Xi Jinping's concept of mankind being a community with a shared destiny.

"A contagious virus recognizes no borders. Beating it requires international collective efforts, just as climatic change, in the interest of all mankind," he said.

"All human beings are members of the global village. Once a member has contracted a virus, it will quickly spread to others. In an interconnected world, no country is an island. Mankind shares a common destiny."

The Shanghai-based think tank's report said the Chinese government had given assistance to governments around the world to prevent the epidemic from spreading and also has cooperated with evacuation missions from Wuhan.

China has prioritized full disclosure of information with daily updates in multiple languages in order to prevent the spread of false rumors, according to the report.

The report also said it is important for China to translate and publish preventive guidelines for combating the disease and also called for support from the United States, the European Union and other developed countries in providing medical equipment, supplies and information on their best epidemic control practices.

It also called for countries to "remain calm" about the epidemic and avoid discrimination against Chinese.

Stelling, the communications expert, said there already have been many incidences of xenophobia against Chinese, which can hinder cooperation.

"Several media ran the same story about racism and xenophobia spreading faster than Wuhan virus. And not just in the West but also in Asia, including countries such as the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. There is work to be done in educating the world about modern China," he said.

When Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, declared the virus as a public health emergency on Jan 28, he opposed any trade and travel restrictions on China.

Since then, Australia and the United States have banned foreign citizens who have recently traveled through China from entering their countries. The UK government has advised its 30,000 citizens in China to return home, "if they can". Royal Caribbean International, the cruise operator, announced on Feb 8 that it was banning passengers with Chinese passports from its ships.

Koh, at the Centre for New Inclusive Asia, believes this has created unnecessary alarm.

"By ignoring the WHO's advice not to impose travel restrictions on China, the US has failed to observe the international rule of law it emphatically advocates and often accuses China of flouting. America's travel ban on China set a wave of nervousness that rippled through the world," he said.

He was particularly critical of US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asserting in an interview that the epidemic will "help to accelerate "the return of jobs to America.

"The US lost the moral high-ground with such unkind words. It demonstrated a total lack of civility and humanity," he said.

Pieter Cleppe, the head of the Brussels office of Open Europe, a European think tank, said, however, that the virus poses huge challenges regarding how nations cooperate, and he can understand the actions by the US and other countries.

"People realize today we live in an incredibly globalized world and that is a fantastic thing, but like all good things it has downsides. If people travel more when there is a virus, it will obviously be able to spread more aggressively," he said.

"Countries need to cooperate more, but with problems that go across borders this does not always function optimally."

Dingwall at Nottingham Trent University believes the virus is less a test of international cooperation than of global institutions.

"We have seen similar tests before and international cooperation has greatly improved over the last 30 years or so. This is more a test of the institutions and networks that have been created from the experience of previous epidemics," he said.

Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in the UK, said China's response to the crisis and its willingness to work with other countries have been exemplary.

"I first knew about it within 48 hours of China realizing it had a problem, and in a matter of days we had got the whole genetic sequence," he said

"You cannot criticize the way they have shared information globally. They have done remarkably well and it would be difficult to see any other country be able to act as quickly as that."

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