New efforts by the United States government to determine the origins of the COVID-19 virus are causing unease in Beijing. China’s foreign ministry has rejected the possibility of a connection between the virus and a virus research laboratory in Wuhan and accused the US of “political manipulation and blame shifting.” Chinese authorities linked the earliest cases of the virus to a seafood market leading the initial scientific theories to center around the idea of COVID-19 first being transmitted from animals to humans.
Growing speculation appears to point in the direction of the virus having escaped from the Wuhan lab. Although the evidence available in the public domain has not changed, media reports from some US outlets in the past week suggest that US intelligence agencies received information that three staff members at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were sick enough to go hospital in November 2019 with symptoms very similar to those of the coronavirus. Days later, the Biden administration ordered the US intelligence community to assess the origins of the virus and whether COVID-19 could’ve leaked from the Wuhan lab.
China is understandably angered by this. Beijing has spent much of the past fifteen months conducting damage control. The government’s actions, and as the case turned out, inactions, in the early days of the pandemic caused alarm and concern in a number of national capitals across the world. Many people believed, and still do, that China is hiding and distorting the facts.
Now that the Biden administration is openly challenging the truth according to China, the Chinese government is moving to counter the US argument and expected blowback. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Washington’s words show that the US “does not care about facts or truth, and has zero interest in a serious science-based study of origins. Their aim is to use the pandemic to pursue stigmatisation, political manipulation and blame shifting. They are being disrespectful to science, irresponsible to people’s lives and counter-productive to the concerted efforts to fight the virus.” Running parallel with China’s clunky public accusations such as this one, will be more clandestine efforts to dampen the effects of the widening US investigation. Media outlets, politicians and businesses with financial ties and relationships with the Chinese government and CCP will be approached, persuaded and in some cases blackmailed or threatened.
We’ve seen it before and the fact that China is responding so fast to the return of COVID-19 suspicions indicates that Beijing might have more to hide than it is letting on.
As India struggles beneath the weight of a major COVID-19 outbreak, promises of assistance are coming from around the world, most notably from Beijing and Washington. Not surprisingly, it is the words and actions of the United States and China that are attracting the lion’s share of attention and commentary from inside of India at the present time. The Indian government has remained silent on China’s offers to provide medical assistance, and with good reason. There is a great deal of suspicion about China’s motivations, both in government circles and in the population at large. The sentiment is that China is not concerned about India and is only looking to use the moment as an opportunity to highlight the Biden administration’s failure to respond swiftly and decisively to India’s latest outbreak. Washington and New Delhi have enjoyed a good relationship over the last five years, in large part due to the importance each nation has placed on countering China. Beijing would love nothing more than to drive a wedge in between the two nations and highlight how the US reluctance to help India has compounded the effects of this latest outbreak for India’s citizenry. In fact, for the past few days the CCP-backed Global Times has criticized the US for dragging its heels in providing aid to India.
This type of criticism is a major reason for New Delhi having not accepted China’s offer of assistance. Public opinion is a powerful weapon and taking Beijing’s offer would’ve painted the US as an unreliable partner. With anti-China sentiment still high and the border dispute unresolved, the Indian government is compelled to consider how its moves will appear both domestically and on the international stage. Needless to say, last thing the Indian government needs is to paint itself into a corner geopolitically.
Fortunately for India, there are a great number of other nations willing to help, the majority of whom are not handicapped by a geopolitical agenda driving its humanitarian aid. Oxygen supplies in many Indian hospitals have been depleted. Great Britain and Singapore are two nations who’ve delivered on their promises, providing oxygen tanks and ventilators. France has sent oxygen production units, while Germany and Canada have also stated their intentions to provide assistance.
2021 could very well be remembered as the year that the People’s Republic of China emerged from its shell, so to speak. Beijing might decide the time has come to discard finesse diplomacy and assertively assume what it views to be its rightful place as the next global superpower. China’s economic, diplomatic, and military power is rivaled only by that of the United States. Yet there appears to be a growing consensus among Chinese elites that the US is a nation in decline and will now move aggressively to impede China’s rise. They point to the actions of the Trump administration over the past four years as proof of this, especially with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to forestall or minimize any US action that might disrupt China’s long term geopolitical ambitions, Beijing could decide to move pre-emptively on one or more fronts at some point in the next twelve months.
Or then again, maybe not. In either case, 2021 promises to be a year where China is largely regarded as a challenge to the geopolitical status quo.
China led the world into the COVID-19 pandemic and then positioned itself to lead the world out of it, whether by design or default. The virus came to light in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is largely regarded as the epicenter of the pandemic. China endured the first wave by essentially locking down the entire nation as the seriousness of the virus became known. Unfortunately, Beijing did not put similar safeguards in place to ensure COVID-19 did not spread beyond China’s borders. This recklessly oversight is directly responsible for bringing on the initial, rapid worldwide spread of the virus from late February through to early April, 2020.
Events after that point are fresh in our collective memories. Outside of the growing pressure on national healthcare systems from Spain to Iran, economies strained, and political systems buckled. And when all was said and done, it was the People’s Republic of China that benefitted most from the pandemic fallout.
Countless questions loom about China’s in 2021. Will Beijing soften its tone and absorb some responsibility for COVID-19? Can the United States and other democracies continue to push back against China even if it decelerates the recovery of national economies? What shape and directions will Sino-US relations go in under a Biden administration?
In the coming weeks and months, these questions, as well as many others, will find answers. China is going to be a regular topic of discussion here on the blog as we try to provide some answers.
With COVID-19 infections rising considerably, the Spanish government has declared a national state of emergency and is moving to impose a nighttime curfew. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said the curfew will run from 11:00 PM until 6:00 AM every night, and will start on Sunday evening. The emergency measures also coming into effect will include travel restrictions between districts and regions should regional leaders deem them to be necessary. Private and public gatherings will be limited to six people. These measures will be applied to all national region in Spain with the exception of the Canary Islands. This state of emergency, and the measures included in it are nearly identical to the one introduced during the first wave of the pandemic in April.
Meanwhile in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has insisted there will not be a new nationwide lockdown even though COVID cases are rising significantly in his country. The government is adopting stricter measures. All bars and restaurants must close by 6 PM. Gyms, movie theaters, and swimming pools will close down and Conti urged Italians not to leave their immediate area unless for work, school, or health reasons.
Italy and Spain were hit hard by COVID-19 in the spring. The other day it appeared both countries, as well as others on the continent are moving towards stricter restrictions as the number of cases is rising. Over the past 24 hours the pace of those restrictions taking effect has sped up in Southern Europe, leaving one to wonder how long it will be until other parts of Europe follow suit.
Europe is facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases continue to surge in many nations across the continent. Outbreaks are being reported in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and areas of Spain and Italy among others. Governments have been deliberately selective with placing restrictions, and lockdowns on the general public, but the time may be nearing when more immoderate measures are put into play. Ireland is the only EU nation to reimpose a six-week long nationwide lockdown starting Thursday. Nonessential retail businesses will close, and residents are expected to stay within three miles of their homes, except for work and other essential activities. Police will set up road checkpoints to deter unnecessary travel.
On the continent, select regions in Spain and Italy are returning to lockdown conditions. A two week lockdown begins in the Spanish region of Navarre on Thursday. The measures being imposed on Navarre are more restrictive than those which have been placed on Madrid by Spain’s central government. In Italy, the southern region of Campania will be conducting an 11 PM- 5 AM curfew similar to one currently in place in the north. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that this time around, unlike the March lockdown, he is giving towns and regions more freedom to decide what measures to put into place. In effect, Conte is giving towns and regions across Italy the ability to decide their own fate.
With a second wave of the pandemic now ramping up, travel restrictions which had been relaxed over the summer are starting to be reintroduced in some cases. Denmark has closed its borders again to a number of European nations that it considers to be high-risk. France is suggesting voluntary quarantines for people arriving from Britain and Spain. In the Netherlands and Belgium, the governments are trying to discourage non-essential travel across the shared border of the two nations.
All of these measures are relatively fair, and cannot be considered extreme. If case numbers do start to surge dramatically though, restrictions will become tighter and for the second time in a year the European Union could see its member-states closing its borders to essentially the rest of the continent.