OPINIONS

Core reality

By TOM HARPER | China Daily Global

14:12, April 20, 2020

MA XUEJING/CHINA DAILY

Pandemic has reinforced importance of engagement with China

The lifting of the 76-day lockdown on Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, has been a rare glimmer of hope in what has been a hard struggle against a pandemic that has taken the world by surprise. It came at a time when the spread of the novel coronavirus accelerating across the United Kingdom, with the infection of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles proving that anyone can fall victim to it, no matter their social status. And having brought its own outbreak under control, China has now become an indispensable part of the UK's, and the wider world's, struggle against the virus.

China's centrality to the UK's prevention and control efforts takes several forms. As the first nation to detect the virus, China possesses the most experience in combating it. This has been reinforced by several Chinese medical teams staffed by doctors from Wuhan who have been sent to advise the UK's National Health Service in its efforts to respond to the disease. In doing so, they have offered their invaluable experience in formulating a more effective British response to the virus.

In addition, China's production capacities have also enabled it to play a greater role as the world's preeminent supplier of medical equipment. Chinese assistance and supplies have already been sent to stricken European nations such as Spain and Italy, who have borne the brunt of the outbreak in Europe.

The UK has also received aid, in the form of 300 ventilators among other medical equipment crucial for its efforts. Without this assistance, the struggle against COVID-19 would likely be much harder than it has been.

While these supplies have been gestures of China's support, they also further demonstrate the resilience of China as a manufacturing powerhouse crucial to the well-being of the global economy, with no other nation being able to produce these supplies on such a scale. This shows up the notion of an economic decoupling from China as an arrogant fantasy, one of several to have been proven false by China's economic resilience.

China's contribution has not only come at the state level but also through the efforts of Chinese communities in the UK. These communities have provided their own assistance, varying from the owner of several Chinese restaurants in the city of Brighton and Hove, who has offered 500 face masks to the local council, to the assistance between British cities and their Chinese sister cities. Through these efforts, Chinese communities have proven that they are here to help and are not the "virus spreaders" that they have often been demonized as.

Likewise the resilience of the Chinese economy has underlined its importance not only to the UK, but also the global economy. This has been demonstrated by predictions from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan that the outbreak will lead to a drop in the GDP of the United States by up to 5 percent over the next quarter. As a result, China will become an essential part of the UK's economic well-being as it faces the dual challenges of the virus and its exit from the European Union.

In doing so, China's importance shows up another common preconception, namely that China owes reparations over the outbreak, a notion that has been promoted by right-wing politicians and think tanks, such as the Henry Jackson Society, which has been denounced by former founding member, Matthew Jamieson, as "corrupt and xenophobic" as well as lacking any deep scholarly experience in the field of China. While such a notion may play well to those seeking to build cheap political capital, it will not further the UK's recovery, indeed it will do quite the opposite.

Looking toward the future, it is possible to envision a world where China plays an even greater role than now. It is this world that the UK will be a part of regardless of what its relations with Europe are after Brexit. As a result, it is more important than ever to be guided by a deeper understanding of China's experiences rather than the xenophobic fantasies promoted by cynical politicians seeking to deflect attention away from their own incompetence. As a result, it is necessary to accept engagement with China as a core reality.

It is this centrality that has been demonstrated through the Chinese response to the virus. The aforementioned Chinese assistance came at a time when few other actors were willing to provide such assistance. This provides a window into China's wider role as well as demonstrating China's willingness to play a role in global leadership. The Chinese response has also been praised by bodies such as the World Health Organization, which has earned the specialized United Nations health agency the ire of the US government, which has been quick to deride it. Yet the US has been unwilling to take on global leadership at a time when the world needs it most. It is this unwillingness that demonstrates the wider shifts in economic and geopolitical power.

What the pandemic has shown is that China is very much a part of the solution not only to defeating the virus but also to continued economic prosperity. In doing so, China has further reinforced its importance to the global economy rather than being marginalized as was being predicted.

The author is an associate professor at Neijiang Normal University in Sichuan province. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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