Washington, DC – Global Strat View, a freshly minted virtual think-tank here hosted its debut event at the National Press Club, to look at the origin and rapid spread across the globe of the deadly COVID-19, the Coronavirus, since its outbreak in Wuhan, China, last December,
The question, “Is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China making it harder to contain COVID-19?,” was examined by a panel of experts as they looked at the relationship between China’s model of international development and economic statecraft with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak which has spread to more than 100 countries and infected more than 150,000 people worldwide in just a few months.
The panelists were Jennifer Huang Bouey, MD, PhD ,Senior Policy Researcher, Tang Chair in China Policy Studies, RAND Corporation; Daniel Kliman, Senior Fellow and Director, Asia-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security (CNAS); and Paris Huang, White House Correspondent, Voice Of America, Chinese Branch. Nico Pandi, Jiji News Media of Japan, moderated the hour long discussion.
With 70 nations in its fold and $80 billion budget, BRI aims to connect continents and thus influenced the spread of COVID-19, said Bouey, adding, “Due to lack of a vaccine or antidote to COVID-19, Bouey said the only way out is social distancing.”
Echoing Bouey’s opinion, other experts have blamed Chinese regime’s BRI project as not only facilitating the spread through various ways but also making it difficult for those financially indebted (to China) nations to contain the spread of the virus.
Kliman, another panelist, blamed the BRI project for undermining governance in BRI partner countries, especially in developing countries. Without mincing words, Kliman said, “Chinese practices sometimes weaken governance, especially in the developing world, where you see potential for corruption, co-optation of local elites, a loss of kind of transparency.”
“Better governance, more transparency tends to help countries and governments combat epidemics, and so to the extent that you see a weakening of governance where China is operating in developing countries this may make it harder not only to detect but also to combat coronavirus going forward,” elaborated Kliman.
“China’s economic statecraft promotes putting some countries on the horns of a dilemma in terms of how they deal with this virus,” said Kliman, as those nations don’t want to antagonize the Chinese regime to whom they owe loans and find themselves in this loop of “debt trap.”
Citing the example of South Korea, one of the largest trading partners of China, Kliman said, “The South Korean government has really struggled to both address coronavirus domestically while not trying to antagonize China out of fear of economic retribution,” adding, “And this has caused political blowback against the current administration in South Korea.”
South Korea is witnessing wide-spread criticism of President Moon Jae-in over not closing its border with China in time to rein in the spread of the deadly virus.
Highlighting the influence of geopolitical equations on the international organizations, Kliman pinpointed “real-world impact of China’s co-optation of international organizations, that the World Health Organization, which China heavily influences, was fairly slow to address coronavirus.”
Criticizing the policies of the Chinese regime as the world reeled under the onslaught of a killer virus, Kliman said, “Initially, I would say, it played down the scope and need for a forceful response.” “My own take would be that there is some kind of political calculation in it, that the WHO has been slow to kind of label at a pandemic—and part out of concerns Chinese Communist Party in Beijing would see this as detrimental to China’s image.”
On the offer from the US for early cooperation to help contain the virus, Kliman said, “China was unable to cooperate with the US to combat this virus, refusing CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) help.”
“China first avoided taking responsibility, then went on offensive on the source of the virus,” said Kliman, noting that all these factors “show limitations on China’s leadership qualities for the century.”
Huang, White House Correspondent for the VOA, Chinese Branch chronologically listed the mention of COVID-19 from the White House especially President Donald Trump.
“In his State of the Union address (on February 4), President Trump did mention the COVID-19 fight in China,” noted Huang, while more recently, the Trump administration has been quite vocal and working to reign in the spread.
Huang also agreed with Kliman that under the BRI, “Chinese bring their own labor, locals are scared about the virus spreading,” while in most of the countries, “BRI brings in corruption.”
The event was moderated by Nico Pandi of Jiji media (Japan) and was attended by journalists while it was also live-streamed on Facebook.