As coronavirus spreads, anti-China sentiment must give way to a global effort to contain the disease
- China’s president has not only expanded the reach of the Communist Party but ignored Deng Xiaoping’s advice for China to lie low as it grows economically
- Despite Western unease at China’s trajectory, the world must join forces to extend to the country the help it needs at this critical juncture
Blame for the outbreak is being levied almost as quickly as the coronavirus is spreading; China’s many sins, past and present, real and imagined, are now being cited.
Some ideologically anti-communist Americans, who would almost rather die than witness China’s success under continued communist control, are near the “I told you so” point: in the current crisis, they find symbolic confirmation of communism’s diseased nature. This may be a kind of ideological dancing on graves, as it were, but it is almost as sincere as it is cruel.
Neither the envy nor the blame game is new: the sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen, writing 100 years ago about Germany versus England, noted the latter had to bear the burden of “taking the lead’, while Germany was reaping the coy “advantages” of comparative underdevelopment.
That was to change, too: the historic disadvantage ploy is waning as a defence for China’s shortcomings. Having ignored paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s wise dictum that China should keep a low profile as it builds itself up, Xi adopted a much less modest approach to the return to prominence.
Many outside China in Asia – much less so in the West – believe the Xi government is increasingly more competent and less corrupt than its predecessors and does try to offer good governance.
Since 2012, when Xi assumed office as the general secretary of the Communist Party, China has had the benefit of a clear-eyed plan to drive the country to global leadership. But in meeting the needs of 1.4 billion people, the daily problem is to keep the country steady on its feet; utopia can wait.
If as many as one per cent of the people of Hong Kong were to become infected by this virus, that in itself would be a big number (74,000 or so) – but less than for Wuhan, and much less than for somewhere like Shanghai.
When Lee Kuan Yew, modern Singapore’s founder, showed off his achievements to China’s economic reformer, Deng responded: “If I only had Shanghai, I too might be able to change Shanghai as quickly. But I have the whole of China!”
I know I make this point perhaps too often but, China is home to around 1.4 billion people. The sheer enormity of governing a population this size would test any leader – whether Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lee Kuan Yew or Xi; no one is perfect.
Any professor can tell you that students benefit from open discussion, but not those under surveillance. Businesspeople resent having anyone, much less party operatives, looking over their shoulder, second-guessing. Can you blame them?
Now is not the moment for that, of course. We must focus our energy on how to get out of this, rather than how we got into it. The time will come for an overall review, and possible recrimination and reorganisation. Something obviously went tragically amiss in Wuhan but, for now, the emphasis must be on cooperation at all levels.
The West should offer all relevant medical supplies and whatever else is needed in the required abundance and, yes, at no cost. Like it or not, we are of one world, Chinese and Americans alike. We all need to be all in, all the time, and perhaps especially now.
Clinical Professor Tom Plate, distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University, is vice-president of the Pacific Century Institute, also based In Los Angeles. One of his books is Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew