Friday, March 20, 2020

On China and COVID-19

There is much in the news these days about the coronavirus and its origins in China. It seems to me, beyond dispute, that like several other instances of feared viruses, this one too came out of the Far East. And while it is "possible" that the virus was the result of a weaponized biological program of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), I rate that possibility as "barely measurable to remote". Why?  Because (if you click the link above and do a minor bit of online research) as I said, a lot of viruses have their genesis in China. It's sorta just the way it is.

So, the virus appears to have started in China, near the City of Wuhan. Accelerating its spread was the fact that many of the Chinese diaspora came back for the Chinese New Year celebration. Some contracted the virus and then returned to their adopted countries bringing the virus with them and infecting local populations.

Also apparently true is that when the virus began to show up in China, the Chinese government and public health systems failed. Here is a decent timeline that shows both mistakes and likely coverup.

So--we have a massive and influential government with a serious viral outbreak making poor and corrupt decisions and statements designed to minimize the public reaction to the seriousness of the virus. And we had what China was doing too.

Ok. Some of you are going to read that last paragraph as a swipe at our federal government. That is exactly how I meant it. Take a look at this timeline. While I realize that what the President is saying is not the sum total of what the federal government was doing, the President's statements and his obvious desire to minimize the impact on markets and his re-election, had an impact on how subordinate departments reacted to the growing crisis.

And now we come to what appears to be the thing that really has the attention of the inattentive, and that is whether calling this virus the "China virus" or the "Wuhan virus" is racist. I think not. Many viruses and sicknesses across time have taken on the names of locations where they started or where there were major outbreaks. This is not a racist construct. I prefer "coronavirus" or "COVID-19", but that is me.

The next question is, is it wise to use the location names? This is a good question, and for some it is an open and shut case. These people believe that since so much of our supply chain for medical supplies and devices comes from China, it is unwise to piss them off. Short of that, these folks believe that a truly international response to this crisis is required, and we shouldn't be worried about a childish schoolyard fight when what we should be doing is defeating the threat.

Ordinarily, I would tend to agree with this.

The thing that makes this a lot harder is that elements of the Chinese government have undertaken a program of propaganda designed to blame the virus guessed it....the United States. This is largely for domestic consumption, but it--along with their massive humanitarian response elsewhere--is designed to seed doubt as to the US as a reliable partner. Is this a response to leaders in the US "blaming" China by using location names for the virus? Would this propaganda push be happening anyway (i.e., if the virus had started elsewhere)?

I don't know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that smart diplomacy is needed in addition to energetic response. I'll keep talking and writing about corona or COVID. I urge you to do so also.

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