International narrative on China's COVID-19 response might be shifting

CGTN| 2020-03-17 14:25:31|Editor: Wang Xiaoyu
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Editor's note: CGTN's First Voice provides instant commentary on breaking stories. The daily column clarifies emerging issues and better defines the news agenda, offering a Chinese perspective on the latest global events.

Ian Johnson, a Beijing-based writer, wrote in his opinion piece published on March 13 in the New York Times the following: "some seem to fall prey, still, to a perception of China as the eternal 'other,' whose experience couldn't possibly be relevant to us, much less provide any lessons - other than in what not to do."

At a time when accusations against China's responses to COVID-19 intensifies, the piece really does seem odd among all the diversions and blame games. In the past few weeks, there has been an increasing effort by senior U.S. officials attempting to brand the pandemic as China's fault. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly used the phrase "Wuhan virus" during his public remarks. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, was firm in his statement that the U.S.' botched response to its domestic outbreak was the result of China not being forthcoming. So, it isn't surprising that the article is met with some harsh critics. Ian Bremmer, the founder of a geopolitical risk firm Eurasia Group, argued that "China bought the West time" by limiting the freedom of expression.

However, there are two other articles published on March 13 that go against the current. Alexander Nazaryan, the National Correspondent for Yahoo News, used the leader of the WHO team that visited Wuhan Dr. Bruce Aylward's public remark to explain that China's responses are better than people think. Jonathan Chait, a writer for the New York Magazine, wrote an analysis of the conservatives' obsession with placing the blame on China. Observing that "what's so strange about the right's China obsession is that it lacks any policy implications," Chait finds the tactic to be giving them the chance to obfuscate their government's response to the crisis.

Do these articles represent a shift in the attitude towards China's COVID-19 response? Hard to say. It's going to take a few days before the trend becomes clear. However, given the latest global development of the pandemic, it is within the realm of possibility.

A screenshot of Mr. Ian Johnson's article on the New York Times' website. The article is provking a mixture of strong reactions among readers.

The global effect of COVID-19 seems to be spiraling uncontrollably. Over 60,000 cases have been confirmed outside China, with more than 2,000 fatalities. National Emergency was declared in the United States. Italy cancelled all public gatherings and put the country under lockdown. Over 10,000 cases have been confirmed in Iran, where numerous senior officials contracted or succumbed to the virus. And the week of stock market roller-coasting is sure to be one for the history books.

As it's turning out, criticizing is much easier than to actually manage the outbreak. The United States have bungled its early testings, with numerous reports and anecdotes from doctors saying that they simply cannot get their patients tested. Despite the initial lockdown in Italy, the virus is still quickly spreading throughout the country. And U.S.' decision to shutdown all travels between itself and mainland European countries without prior notification to the EU is causing political problems between the supposedly close allies.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to manage a public health crisis of this scale without making mistakes or creating dissatisfaction. A March 13 article published on CNN stated that the U.S. government "has some quick and uncomfortable choices to make." "Individual freedoms that many Americans hold onto so dearly will need to be compromised. Freedom of movement, to assemble and protest, and the right to privacy could be among liberties first to go in the battle to control the virus," the article said.

"Freedom" has been constantly used to criticize China's responses. But now, it looks like people in the U.S. are coming to terms with the fact that some measures might be warranted under extraordinary circumstances; That life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness sometimes simply can't coexist, and to preserve some necessities sacrifices from others. And it is up to the government and the people to make this tough choice. (Script writer: Huang Jiyuan)