Pandemic calls for global unity, not lies about China
The ugly and often hysterical racist campaign blaming China for the origin and spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is clearly meant as a slur on the nation that has in fact suffered badly from the virus and done the most to get it under control and conquer it.
The intention behind the slur, driven by the US government and conservative politicians within the United States, is clear and many of the more outspoken and less skillful propagandists trying to spread this parallel slander and lies have been very open about it: They gloat that the pandemic will tarnish China's reputation as a far more successful model for economic and social development than the United States.
In fact, the opposite is happening: The campaign of slander is already backfiring badly on its perpetrators. Worse yet, it is further dividing and poisoning the international community when global cooperation is absolutely essential for controlling and then eliminating the virus epidemic, as the government of China is rightly pointing out.
Just over a century ago, the great influenza pandemic of 1918 proved to be one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to hit the human race. Lessons drawn from it and compared to the global situation today are deeply instructive.
The 1918-1920 pandemic hit 500 million people and killed 50 million of them (including a 19-year-old uncle of mine in Northern Ireland). It started in the United States at a US Army camp outside Kansas city. But nobody ever called it "The American Epidemic" or "American Influenza."
On the contrary, in a classic case of misdirection, the flu was labeled in the US and other Western media, and to this day remains remembered as "The Spanish Flu," largely because the US government was angered at the temerity of the government of Spain, a neutral country in World War I, to take its own measures to try and keep the virus out.
The United States then as now was waging major wars around the world. President Woodrow Wilson was advised to stop the flow of troop ships taking hundreds of thousands of US soldiers to Europe to fight Germany in World War I. He proclaimed that waging the war had to come first.
Wilson never took the great pandemic seriously and notoriously hummed popular nursery rhymes about it in the White House. No federal lockdown was proclaimed. Most of the major cities of the United States including New York did not even try to impose quarantines or close places of public entertainment, at least until it was too late.
Today too, we see, cheap, complacent holier-than-thou American judgmental xenophobes scapegoating China and other nations rather than seeking to cooperate constructively with them and learn vital lessons.
China in the early stages of the pandemic was routinely criticized by US politicians and pundits alike for supposedly cracking down too hard and energetically on the spread of the virus.
In fact this was precisely the right thing to do. Far from trying to sit on and suppress the facts, the Chinese authorities reacted with great energy and effectiveness as fast as they could.
As a result, China today is the only nation in the world where the curve of transmission of the outbreak is not just slowing down but has actually flattened out. Far from imposing a new totalitarian nightmare out of George Orwell's 1984 on the Chinese people, the Beijing government's actions were exactly what were needed to protect them.
Instead of condemning Beijing for a reaction that clearly has already saved hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of lives, Washington and other Western governments should be reaching out first to emulate those policies and second to cooperate far more closely in implementing them.
The accusation that China tried to keep the outbreak a secret and prevented crucial initial warnings reaching the West in time is also an unfounded and easily exposed lie.
Writing in the British newspaper The Guardian on March 18, Richard Horton, editor of the globally respected medical weekly The Lancet documents how a group of Chinese doctors sent a full warning to the West about the nature of the virus and the threat it presented in mid-January,
Horton said, "Under immense pressure, as the epidemic exploded around them, they took time to write up their findings in a foreign language and seek publication in a medical journal thousands of miles away. Their rapid and rigorous work was an urgent warning to the world. We owe those scientists enormous thanks."
The White House, the State Department and leading United States senators still do not express thanks.
This pandemic crisis is a potentially epochal moment when the human race can and should come together against a common menace to all decent peoples and civilizations. To paraphrase the legendary US founding father Benjamin Franklin, We all either hang together or hang separately.
The author is a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow. The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.