Chairman Xi and the Chinese Communist Party ought to have presented all important information in the battle against the pandemic. They did not.
By US Ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands
Taiwan reacted swiftly and responsibly in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 to the rest of the world. Taiwan’s outstanding response took place in spite of the fact that the Chinese Communist Party excluded the country from meetings with the World Health Organization (WHO).
This pattern of concealing the truth with false information and diversions is how authoritarian regimes seek to maintain their power. The Chinese Communist Party implemented this method in January while the Chinese Ambassador to Denmark, at the same time, demanded an apology from Jyllands-Posten for its political satirical cartoon.
Now, the United States has become the target of a dangerous misinformation campaign orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party, along with Russia’s and Iran’s help, to divert attention and deflect blame from its harmful actions that contributed to the spread of the pandemic.
This narrative began earlier in the month when a spokesman for the People’s Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs leveled false accusations against the United States related to the COVID-19 virus. It is a fact that the outbreak originated in Wuhan, in the Hubei province – and that the Chinese government was the first to know about it. The virus has, according to accounts from the Chinese government likely circulated in Wuhan since December or earlier.
When COVID-19 began to spread, the first doctors desperately attempted to treat the first patients even as they notified provincial authorities and the People’s Republic about this new “SARS-like” virus. Yet the People’s Republic initially moved slowly in trying to save Chinese lives, hid valuable information and destroyed virus samples that would have helped the rest of the world in the fight against COVID-19.
Chairman Xi and the Chinese Communist Party had a responsibility to be fully transparent. They were not. The authorities of the People’s Republic actively censored and punished the brave Chinese people who tried to tell the truth. Among others, Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who later contracted the disease and died from it, was questioned by provincial authorities and forced to sign a confession that he spread “false rumors.”
While precious time passed and the seriousness of the outbreak became apparent, officials from the People’s Republic made extensive preparations to protect their own population, but the information they shared with the outside world was selective, such as genetic sequence data, and they continued to stonewall international health authorities who were offering their assistance, requesting access, and seeking more information.
Had these same authorities done the right thing, had they done what Taiwan in fact did, and sounded the alarm about this new disease, the Chinese people – and indeed the rest of the world, including Danes and Americans – might have been spared the violent health and economic impact on our populations.
The Chinese people know their government is to blame for this pandemic. When the full picture began to emerge and news of Dr. Li’s death became known, the local reaction was dramatic. Even China’s heavily-censored social media platform, Weibo, was flooded with posts such as “Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology,” and “We want freedom of speech.” These conversations drew millions of views before the government of the People’s Republic authorities deleted them.
‘So, what do we do now? COVID-19 does not care about national boundaries. We must cooperate and share factual information about this disease rapidly and transparently. China must be open and honest about the virus, now and in the future, to save lives. It’s really that simple. It is fantastic that the People’s Republic of China is giving aid to Europe, as it should.
The People’s Republic, if any country, should be the one to work to alleviate the suffering from a global pandemic for which it is responsible. Many countries around the world are doing what they can. Here’s what the United States is doing. We are making available nearly $274 million in emergency health and humanitarian funding for the world’s most at-risk countries and populations, as well as funds to support the UN High Commissioner on Refugees.
Our response includes facilitating the delivery of medical supplies internationally, including more than 17 tons of medical supplies delivered to China in early February. Highlighted quote: “When we defeat COVID-19, we should examine the costs of this breakdown in international collaboration.” We are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic because of genuine human kindness and compassion, and not for geopolitical gain or self-glorification.
When we defeat COVID-19, we should examine the costs of this breakdown in international collaboration. We should assess how misinformation campaigns and concealing vital information hindered the world’s ability to combat COVID-19. We do not need to re-litigate the past, but we should make sure that it never happens again.
The true heroes of this story are the doctors and nurses, many of whom are in China, who put their lives on the line to halt this terrible disease and warn the world of its dangers. Factual information must move freely throughout the world – especially during crises.
A government’s highest duty is to save lives, not save face.