The global pandemic that has resulted from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) initial coverup of the COVID-19 outbreak should serve as a “wake-up call” for Western governments dealing with the regime, a China expert and rights activist said.
Benedict Rogers, a UK human rights activist and founder of nonprofit Hong Kong Watch, told The Epoch Times that the crisis should prompt countries to review their relations with the Chinese regime, “because we would not have a global pandemic if the Chinese authorities had listened to doctors in Wuhan instead of silencing, repressing, and punishing them.”
“The global coronavirus pandemic should be a wake-up call for the world, and especially Western governments and multilateral organizations such as the WHO [World Health Organization], who have naively kowtowed to the Chinese regime and blindly trusted this regime that is manifestly based on lies and repression,” Rogers said in an email.
The CCP virus, which causes COVID-19, originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. Despite being aware of the severity of the outbreak, Chinese authorities suppressed vital information about the disease and silenced doctors who tried to draw attention to the situation.
As a result of the Chinese regime’s initial coverup, the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, has spread to more than 100 countries, infected more than 100,000 people, and killed thousands outside of China.
In Europe, where the outbreak is most severe outside of China—particularly in Italy, Germany, Spain, and France—countries should reassess their ties with the regime after they deal with the crisis, said Charles Parton, a former British diplomat stationed in China and a senior associate at UK-based think tank Royal United Services Institute.
At that time, it is important that “those making policy are aware of the facts and how the CCP put politics above people in the early stages of its reaction to COVID-19,” Parton said in an email.
He added that the task of European governments would be to “stress that for the sake of the world’s future ability to deal with such threats, the CCP has to allow more transparency and truth to shine forth.”
In the past year, European countries have been weighing a tougher stance toward the regime, driven by Beijing’s unfair trade practices, Chinese acquisitions in critical sectors, and its failure to open its markets to European companies in the same way that Europe has done for Chinese firms.
The executive arm of the EU called Beijing a “strategic rival” in a March 2019 report on EU–China relations. The EU also hopes to reach a deal with the regime to address unfair investment practices, although those efforts appear to be on hold as an EU–China summit scheduled for the end of March has reportedly been postponed due to the pandemic.
Amid this push for a more balanced trade relationship, European countries also found themselves grappling with how not to antagonize their major trading partner.
“In closed-door meetings, member state officials vent their frustration about China, but at the end of the day, short-term opportunism prevails,” Jonathan Holslag, professor of international politics at the Free University of Brussels and special adviser to the first vice president of the European Commission, told The Diplomat in January.
“We are all being pressured by Chinese diplomats to accept [Chinese telecom giant] Huawei, scared that European companies that invested in China could suffer from trade tensions, but we still keep sending delegation after delegation to China to pursue business opportunities.”
These competing interests were exemplified during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to France last March, Holslag said.
“The one day, [French President] Emmanuel Macron calls [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel and the [EU] Commission president to meet President Xi Jinping together in Paris. The next day, he desperately tries to sell Airbus planes [to China],” he said.
The professor noted that the same applied to Germany. “Companies like Volkswagen, BASF, and BMW shape the China agenda much more than long-term strategic concerns or the national interest,” he said.
China is Germany’s largest trading partner. As of 2019, Chinese businesses accounted for 7 percent of German private sector’s total income. Over 5,000 German companies have invested in over 8,000 projects in China, while over 2,000 Chinese companies have invested in Germany.
Other European countries have also welcomed Chinese investments. In 2018, Portugal became the first European country to sign up to Beijing’s infrastructure investment plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road). This was followed by Italy last year, which became the first G-7 nation to join.
BRI, a project aimed to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe through a network of railways, ports, and roads, has been criticized for saddling developing countries with debt burdens they cannot repay. Meanwhile, the United States worries that the plan is also designed to strengthen China’s military influence and spread technologies capable of spying on the West.
The regime has also made inroads into Spain. Chinese firms in 2016 acquired two Spanish engineering firms Aritex and Eptisa, which was part of Beijing’s global drive to dominate high-tech sectors, as dictated by its national industrial plan “Made in China 2025,” which serves as a blueprint for China to become a tech manufacturing powerhouse.
Also, in June 2017, China’s state-owned shipping company COSCO bought majority stakes in Noatum Port Holdings, the operator of two container terminals in the ports of Valencia and Bilbao, illustrating Beijing’s hopes to pull Spain into its BRI paradigm. Noatum is Spain’s largest maritime terminal operator.
Meanwhile, many European countries are in the midst of deciding whether to include Huawei technology in their 5G rollouts. While the United States has warned its European allies that doing so would pose national security risks, Chinese officials have exerted pressure on some countries to accept Huawei or face retaliation.
The UK in January announced that it would allow Huawei in “non-core” parts of its 5G network. According to Reuters, France is poised to make a similar decision. In neighboring Germany, Merkel’s ruling coalition has stopped short of banning Huawei, but favors imposing tougher rules on vendors.
‘Seek Truth From Facts’
Since the virus spread across the world, the Chinese regime has launched significant efforts to portray itself as a global leader in fighting the virus, while deflecting attention away from its mishandling of the outbreak.
“The CCP will be exerting great efforts through its external propaganda machinery to ensure that foreign governments adopt its narrative of success and working on behalf of the world to combat COVID-19,” Parton said.
Beijing has sent teams of medical experts to Italy and Spain, while Chinese state media has lauded Beijing’s provision of medical aid, such as masks and protective gear, to other hard-hit countries. Some of the supplies sent to Italy, however, were not donations, but rather exports of goods for purchase.
Parton said countries should combat such propaganda efforts by proverbially “seeking truth from facts,” and demanding more transparency from the CCP.
“We should talk to the Chinese government about its experience and we should try to work together to draw up lessons for the future for all of us,” he said.
Rogers said European countries ought to “alert the world to the fact that the Chinese regime is to blame for this pandemic.”
“The Chinese regime is the problem, not the solution,” he said.