China's role in the coronavirus crisis
Today we face a pandemic with a global spread the world has not seen for decades. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 internationally have reached over a million and claimed the lives of more than 60,000 people. These numbers will continue to increase worldwide over the next few months. While we continue to see a rapid spread both at home and abroad, I am encouraged by the actions taken by the administration and state governments in promoting social distancing and ratcheting up test-kit deliveries nationwide to slow infections and protect our most vulnerable populations. We have a long fight ahead in beating this virus, and it will take a coordinated effort from everyone to come out on top.
However, while we still have a long path forward in the fight against coronavirus, it’s worth evaluating how we got from Wuhan to today. There are a few things we can praise about China’s handling of this virus, including strict quarantines of huge populations and limits on domestic and international travel. China should also be recognized as eventually cooperating with some of the international community in allowing teams of experts from the WHO to work directly with scientists in the mainland.
However, China has accepted this bit of praise and decided to take a self-declared “victory lap” on reducing the spread of coronavirus within its borders. At the same time, high-level PRC officials have explicitly promoted conspiracy theories suggesting the virus was manufactured and spread by the United States Army.
This is a mind-boggling move, even for a regime premised on heavy propaganda, considering the initial spread of COVID-19 was made possible by negligence and secrecy on the part of Chinese officials.
Chinese labs identified this new mystery virus back in December 2019, but were immediately silenced, told to stop tests and destroy samples. It wasn’t until almost a month later that the government acknowledged the existence of this strain of novel coronavirus, but by then it was too late. The virus had spread and in that time the government let nearly 5 million people leave Wuhan without screening them.
Had China decided not to keep COVID-19 a state secret for the first month of its spread, the world might be in a different place today. Even still, China continues to slow-walk the release of information relevant to the origin of COVID-19, including biological samples from Wuhan. It’s especially telling that Dr. Li Wenliang, the doctor who discovered this new strain of coronavirus, was threatened by public security officials for making false statements and disturbing the social order through his research. Wenliang was later killed by the same viral strain he discovered.
Further, China’s quarantine procedures have not received universally positive responses. In Xinjiang, many residents, much of whom are Uyghurs, are starving due to lack of food and suffering from a rise in coronavirus and tuberculosis cases due to a lack of medical professionals and supplies. The situation is even more dire for those still confined to tight living quarters in labor factories and so-called “re-education camps.” Can we really say that China’s coronavirus response in this region is anything close to adequate?
Policymakers must also take into account our continuing reliance on Chinese production in our medical supply chain. An astounding 85 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients found in our prescription drugs are manufactured in mainland China, combined with their dominance in global face mask production and medical device manufacturing. Our medical preparedness against global diseases has a huge China-sized blind spot, and it’s finally come back to bite us.
COVID-19 has arrived on our shores and spread in our local communities. Businesses have been shuttered, schools have been closed, and the stock market has experienced some of the sharpest declines ever recorded. This virus has caused our nation damage already, and it will continue to ravage our community unless we continue to take aggressive measures in stemming further person-to-person transmission. But our nation has seen much worse, and I’m confident our people can weather this storm.
The same cannot be said for our relationship with the Chinese government after their catastrophic mishandling of this global pandemic. Moving forward, policymakers and private industry must reconsider their relationship with the People’s Republic of China. We cannot continue to maintain such a high level of dependence on a world power that demonstrates constant disregard for human life and the international community at large. The time has come for all nations to reevaluate their relationship with China.
Rep. Ted S. Yoho is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific, and Non-Proliferation.