At the start of the pandemic, I wrote about my experience with China’s wet markets when I lived in Shanghai in the mid-2000s. Conventional wisdom at that time – and for much of the past 14 months – was that ‘they were zero point for COVID-19. It made sense: those markets had probably given rise to SARS and bird flu, and scientists had said for years that they were unique vectors of disease.
But the other COVID-19 origin story – which she leaked from a virology lab in Wuhan – has recently gained more credibility.
Respected voices as Bernard Roizman, a virologist at the University of Chicago, added credit to the idea that careless work in a research lab triggered the virus. Once it reached the public in Wuhan, the genie was out of its bottle, so to speak. And that’s when things get really murky, as China immediately shut down the investigation into the origins of the virus, arresting doctors who have spoken out and blocking access to people and places that could. help alert and aid global scientists.
The fear of losing face is real in China
The Chinese concept of the face remains incredibly important, and the Chinese would have lost face if they had recognized a deadly pandemic spreading from one of their labs due to their incompetence. But China has repeatedly faced leaks, such as a 2019 vaccine factory leak in Gansu province that has infected more than 10,000 people.
Instead of allowing a serious investigation, Beijing says COVID-19 originated outside of China and was brought there via imported goods, despite no supporting evidence.
Since the initial cover-up, a number of things have happened that have helped the Chinese obscure the origins of COVID-19.
The first was simply reacting to a raging pandemic that threatened to turn the world upside down. As countries locked down and citizens began to succumb to the new virus by the thousands, the world was in triage mode. Resources were focused on improving suffering and finding a vaccine, not on empowering China.
The second was a US government led by Donald Trump, an unstable president focused on securing a second term. When he wasn’t talking about how “unfair” it was that COVID-19 was hurting the economy and subsequently his chances of re-election, Trump was throwing racist red meat at his base about the “China plague”Or“ kung flu ”. All of this has led to shameful attacks on Asian Americans and dampened any accountability for China’s role in causing and effectively suppressing a disease that has killed millions of people across the country. the world.
At the same time, China has succeeded in diverting the world from its responsibility as the initiator of the pandemic. the Australians demanded an investigation via the World Health Organization to find out the origin of COVID-19. The Chinese backlash was intense and led to customs duties on Australian goods – a threat against any other nation that dares to hold it responsible.
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China has also used its growing diplomatic weight to sidestep its responsibilities. The head of WHO has been criticized several times for being too close to China and not pushing hard enough to demand that the Chinese be more transparent. China managed to effectively maneuver a team of visiting scientists from WHO to get just enough information to say it was useful, but not enough to say anything particularly significant about the origin of the virus.
Despite concerns over the reluctance to vaccinate, the United States is gradually pulling out of the worst of the pandemic. We also have again in place a competent and professional government that understands that the greatest international challenge facing the nation, in addition to climate change, is the great power competition in which it is engaged with China.
Spotlight on cover-ups and repression
This is the start of this struggle, which will likely take decades to unfold, but the Chinese have been getting ahead in recent years. The Chinese model of authoritarianism mixed with commercialism has resulted in rapid economic growth and growing global influence. Conversely, the American democratic system has made a black eye by electing an ignorant demagogue who has divided the country and questioned the viability of democracy itself.
These problems are not mutually exclusive. A request to hold China accountable is one way of presenting the different aspects of the two systems as well. Shedding light on the Chinese cover-up, demanding unfettered access to people and information at the center of the virus’s early days, and demanding global reparations for China’s role in massive losses and economic dislocation is one way to highlight the many shortcomings of its system. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to be a burden around China’s neck that it is forced to carry for many years as it tries to assert itself as a global giant.
Regulate wet markets: China and its wet markets for exotic animals are incubators for human diseases like the coronavirus
As we head into what will hopefully be a summer filled with things we love and have been on hold for too long, we must demand that China fully and transparently report on the origins of COVID. -19. We need to insist that its wet markets – whether they are causing COVID-19 or not – are much more regulated. We need to understand the safeguards China has in place when it experiments with dangerous viruses, and we need to be reassured that steps have been taken to never let another disease spread from its labs.
It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also a way to remind the world that an American system that promotes democracy and transparency, despite our shortcomings, is superior to the authoritarian Chinese model of cover-up and repression. .
Jeremy Hurewitz is a former journalist and security consultant based in Prague, Shanghai and New York for two decades. He is currently National Security Policy Advisor for The Joseph Rainey Center and the curatorial director of NationSwell.