The move to evacuate citizens from Wuhan and issuing of travel advisories has irked China.
On 21 January 2019 while addressing hundreds of senior officials from all provinces and autonomous regions at the Communist Party School in Beijing, President Xi Jinping told them that “We must maintain a high degree of vigilance. We must keep our high alert about any ‘black swan’ incident, and also take steps to prevent any ‘grey rhino’.” A “black swan” incident refers to an unforeseen occurrence that typically has extreme consequences, while a “grey rhino” is an obvious threat that can be ignored. According to the latest figures released by China’s Health Commission on Wednesday, 490 people have died and 24,324 people are known to have been infected, mostly in Wuhan. Given the intensity, lethality and speed of its proliferation, the virus is no more a local problem, rather a global concern requiring global solutions.
There appears to be initial laxity on the part of Wuhan authorities in recognising the gravity of the epidemic when the virus was detected in early December 2019 for obvious reasons of “losing face” to the higher authorities and putting the lid on a “negative news”, however, it’s also a fact that China has demonstrated greater transparency and swiftness compared to what it did during the SARS scare of 2003. Critics fail to appreciate the swiftness with which the Chinese government instantly quarantined 11 million residents of Wuhan and built three new hospitals in 10 days with a capacity of 3,500 beds. Undoubtedly, extreme and stringent quarantine measures coupled with the shortage of protective medical equipment have caused panic and frustration amongst the people, nevertheless, the Chinese army taking control of the delivery of basic essential supplies in Wuhan has restored confidence in the people as well as frontline medical personnel.
Though the World Health Organization has not recommended travel or trade restrictions against China, however, it is also understandable that many bordering countries have sealed their borders; many have cancelled flights and evacuated their citizens from Wuhan and issued travel advisories to its citizens. India too brought back 647 of its citizens by special flight from Wuhan. The fear of the epidemic has also forced India to cancel all visas to Chinese nationals as people have tested positive for the virus in states such as Kerala, Bihar and Delhi. Kerala has declared coronavirus as a state calamity after three returnees from Wuhan were tested positive. According to the Union Ministry of Health, as of now, 2,815 people across India—most of them from Kerala—are under community surveillance.
The move to evacuate citizens from Wuhan and issuing of travel advisories by a few countries has irked China, as it is believed that such measures will escalate an already tense situation. The Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong has revealed that the Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterpart, S. Jaishankar over telephone that “We don’t think it is helpful for a certain country to hype up the situation or even create panic.” Earlier on 31 January 2020, Hua Chunying, the spokeswomen of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the United States of spreading panic instead of offering significant assistance to halt the coronavirus outbreak. Such measures including mass quarantines may offer short-term solutions, but fall short of finding long-term solutions, as dissemination of objective and credible information emanating from Wuhan and other affected areas will not be available to the outside world.
Though China has activated all-round emergency response mechanisms at Central as well as local levels, and has the resilience and economic means to overcome the hard times, but it becomes pertinent for other countries to express their support for and sympathy with the Chinese people for two reasons. Firstly, the moral and material support coming from countries across the globe will boost the morale of the affected people, and common efforts may lead to certain breakthroughs in combating the disease. In this context, governments and civil societies sending teams of medical experts and aid is a welcome step. Secondly, if the epidemic persists for a longer period, the reverberations of China’s economic loss will be felt across the globe. It will not augur well for the global economy, as China contributes over 30% to the global growth. Asia would be affected the worst, as almost 50% of China’s GDP is accounted for by its economic engagement with the region. As for India, the kind of investment we have seen from the Chinese companies in the last couple of years would be a thing of the past, impacting the Digital India and Make in India drives.
India’s connection with the present-day Hubei (the Chu state of ancient times) could be traced back to the 4th Century BC poem of Qu Yuan, where there is a reference to the Sagar Manthan story. Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei is also the place where the Ghadr revolutionaries supported the Chinese revolution and called upon the British Indian government that Indian soldiers must not be used against the Chinese people in the 1920s; it is the same place where Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first ever unofficial meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2018, the place where a consensus was reached that India and China would not let their differences to become disputes. In the 1920s, when China was struggling to fight the warlords and unify the country, Hindustan Seva Dal proposed to send a medical mission to China in 1927 to extend support and sympathy of the Indian people to the Chinese people, but could not muster enough money and supplies until 1938 when a subjugated India managed to dispatch a team of five doctors along with an ambulance and supplies to China. Now when India is in a much better position, can we re-enact Dr Kotnis’ international spirit, the spirit of selfless service and the support and sympathy of the Indian people for the Chinese people by dispatching a team of doctors in this hour of crisis?