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    China’s Response To The COVID Pandemic

    Joseph Albaugh- Citizens Journal

    2020 marked the start of a new decade, the United States Presidential Election race was in full swing, and the global economy continued to skyrocket around the world. Yet what loomed around the corner would effectively devastate millions of people’s lives. An epidemic that started in a bustling town in China would, in a very short period, reach every country in the world. Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a highly transmissible respiratory infection with around a 10% mortality rate. While the disease was able to affect a high amount of people, the international response proved to be more disastrous for the global world order. Every state government had to respond in its own way to provide the best protection for its people and the economy. The origins of COVID-19 originate in the city of Wuhan, China. From there, the Chinese government was subject to the scorn of many on the world stage . Yet records show that they are one of the first countries to essentially eliminate the virus from the country. How they were able to do this was in part due to their well-known grip on their own population and their international investments in African countries. 

                A narrative review of the pandemic in China shows that the first cases to spark a reaction was on December 31st, 2019, when 27 people in Wuhan, China reported atypical pneumonia from a food market within the city of Huanan. The Chinese CDC was able to sanitize the area quickly, but by January 16, 2020, the virus was able to spread throughout the Shenzhen, Guangdong province, thus pushing the immediate area into the highest level of pathogen response. Curfews were instigated and reporting of symptoms was legally mandated. Yet by January 25th, the Spring Festival was starting, a Chinese holiday where millions of people take time off to travel, making it the largest migration of the year. The people of Wuhan, China were able to vacation to every part of the world, bringing COVID-19 with them.  Many researchers, as well as foreign governments, were able to pinpoint the lack of control over the population during the Spring festival as the pain that turned the epidemic into a pandemic. While this problem reflected poorly on the Chinese government, they were ultimately able to grow in the wake of the pandemic.

                China’s impact on the global community can be attributed to its population of over a billion people as well as the second-largest GDP in the world, creeping behind the United States.  China’s economy only started to grow around the 1970s, where the de-emphasization of communist-led policies, in order to facilitate a more internationally market-oriented economy, led to the growth of China’s GDP tremendously. The switch from an agricultural economy to an industrial one opened up financial opportunities for the state, including the appreciation of the Chinese renminbi against the US dollar. However, before the onset of COVID-19, the Chinese economy was facing a multitude of problems. The growth of the middle class and increasing socioeconomic mobility for rural migrants and college students had remained one of the problems on the top of the government’s list. The other problem was for China to eradicate extreme poverty within their country. A study surveying a variety of personnel in many of China’s villages was conducted and found that despite the reduction in poverty in China from 2013 to 2019, about 23% of those that graduated from poverty were to be reduced right back down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The people who were most at risk of falling back into poverty were the workers in the agricultural industry, as there isn’t as much stability in farming as there is in other industries in China . However, by the end of the fiscal year 2020, China was one of the few major economies to grow, with a 2.3% increase in GDP over the past year in large part due to their exports, supply a variety of products to different countries in need. However, experts agree that some of the policies made by China, such as the increase in both public and private debt stocks, may still prove to be a vulnerability for the state’s economy .  

                Politically, China is a communist-led government, where civil liberties are shown to be suppressed for the greater good of the state. At the onset of COVID-19, the government was able to stabilize the city of Wuhan with relative ease and implement control measures for the rest of the country . However, this concept of instant control of a population came at a price. The suppression of free speech was initially implemented to control the fear of the epidemic from getting out on the international stage. Journalists, doctors, and scientists were censored and sometimes arrested by the Chinese government for leaking details of COVID-19. Mass gatherings, while easy spaces for transmission of the disease, could also be easily squashed under the government through the use of technology and surveillance. China’s technology also allowed for the tracking of the disease by gathering mass data on its citizens. Such technology was able to track individual positive cases, hospitals, and fever clinics . While they might have rapidly implemented plans to curb the outbreak of the disease, the cost was the individual human rights of the citizens. China’s plan to curb the pandemic would set the stage for the rest of the globe and would be met with both praise and criticism. 

                While China’s government was scrambling to react, the Chinese media’s censorship was slower than expected. With that, many of the journal articles researching the problem were able to gather as much data and studies as they could before the censorship would silence them. Most notably, Dr. Li Wenliang, who was struggling to control the outbreak in Wuhan, tried to get the message out to the rest of the world about the coming pandemic. Unfortunately, he disappeared, along with many other journalists in the region attempting to bring to light the truth of the outbreak. What followed was the suppression of future journalistic endeavors to spread information about the reality of the Coronavirus, and a subsequent rewriting of history to show that China had the situation under control before the other countries had the chance to.  Censorship of the Chinese people is easy to control. Tencent, the largest tech company in China, is responsible for the creation of the social media app WeChat. WeChat has a monopoly on social media in China in large part being connected tightly to the Communist party. What this means is that the app can easily censor information sent by chats, posts, or subscriptions, making it easy to calm the public about the nature of the coronavirus within the country. 

    Whether or not China’s reaction to the virus was just, blame for the pandemic was put on the country by the world stage. Such stigmatization proved to be damaging to the reputation of the Chinese government and economy. Such examples of anti-Chinese sentiment came from then-president Donald Trump tweeting about the “China Virus” when referring to COVID-19 . The blame has consistently seen the Chinese be backed into a corner, with many countries attempting to file lawsuits in the international court. While the Chinese government did insist that they were able to control the virus much more effectively than other governments, the fact that it was centralized in a city within China, and then spread by vacationing Chinese citizens on their biggest holiday before China could control the disease, hurt their credibility on the world stage

    To subvert the stigmatization, the Chinese government has also done its part to provide relief to the rest of the world. In 2020, China had engaged in humanitarian relief around the world, as well as investing at least $100 million into international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. However, the reasons behind this do not necessarily reflect the liberal international relations theory that they are trying to present. First, the Chinese government is attempting to draw away from the lack of initial control of the virus during its time in Wuhan. Second, the Chinese government was trying to overtake the United States as the perceived responsible global leader. Lastly, it is ensuring that their previous investments in foreign countries are still under control during this pandemic. As evidence of the control over their investments, by April 6th 15 African countries received medical aid from China, all of which had signed an agreement with China under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is an attempt to create a next-generation Silk Road by Chinese investment in infrastructure. This was no coincidence, as the Chinese intentionally wanted to remain in the good graces of countries that they have invested in. The Chinese embrace realist international relations philosophy under the guise of liberal theory. As previously mentioned, the Chinese government wants to remain in the good graces of the international community, but only does so for their own interest. That is why there are no hard numbers for how much foreign aid is given to countries by China

    During the pandemic, it is important to understand that while China’s public image attempts to give off feelings of liberalism and cooperation through one of the hardest times in the 21st Century, its overall goal is to control its own state while seeking to expand the values they believe to be right. While the country leads the world in the number of people getting vaccinated , the execution of control of their citizens and the expansion in economic power provokes increased vigilance by the international community on the true power of the Communist party in times of crisis. The government’s lack of initial control over the epidemic may also set a lesson to the Communist government to retain tighter control over their people before another disease arises. 

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