Caixin
Mar 30, 2020 08:23 PM
OPINION

Editorial: A Pandemic Is Not the Time for Countries to Bicker

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As the novel coronavirus spreads worldwide, leaders of the Group of 20 (G-20) nations on Thursday convened a special summit online — the highest-level, most influential, and most-anticipated move to rally global cooperation for fighting the pandemic so far.

The G-20 brings together developed nations and the world’s major rising economies. Taken together, they make up more than 80% of global GDP. They also account for over four-fifths of the world’s total confirmed Covid-19 cases.

The summit ended with a consensus on several aspects of disease control, macroeconomic policy coordination, and how to combat trade and supply-chain disruption. We look forward to seeing this consensus translate into concrete action and hope it heralds an opportunity for China and the United States to cease their bickering and recognize that we are all in the same boat. The frontlines of a pandemic are no place for the world’s two superpowers to slug it out over political influence.

Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic is spreading rapidly. In Europe and the U.S., the number of confirmed cases is ballooning, with the figure increasing by more than 10,000 per day in America alone and outstripping China’s total reported infections. In addition, developing countries in Asia and Africa face massive risks from the outbreak spreading further.

That the situation has deteriorated to this point shows not only the ferocity of the previously unknown SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, but also the long neglect of global cooperation and coordination. The tragic facts of the pandemic prove that diseases like Covid-19 don’t respect international borders. As no country can fight it alone, our only choice is to come together.

The uptick in unilateralism and narrow-minded nationalism in recent years has fueled a retreat from globalization. We hope that the pandemic can be a catalyst for a new embrace of globalization, not the acid that corrodes it further. As Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the G-20 summit, at present what the world needs most is to move forward with confidence, mutual assistance, unity, and strengthened cooperation.

The international community has already made several strides toward greater cooperation during the fight against the pandemic. When the outbreak first shook China, 79 countries and 10 international organizations provided aid to the stricken East Asian nation. Now that the center of the pandemic has shifted, China’s government has announced it will provide emergency assistance to more than 80 countries, the World Health Organization, and the African Union.

At the earliest opportunity, China shared the new virus’s genetic sequence with the rest of the world and conducted key research in important areas like medicine, vaccination, and testing. International collaboration at the citizen level was even livelier and in some cases even preceded official actions. But overall, global cooperation is yet to fully dovetail with the need to control the pandemic, and unified coordination at the international level is worryingly thin on the ground.

Moving forward, we must strengthen epidemic-related information sharing, secure the global flow of medical supplies, and provide more targeted aid. Making full use of existing medical supplies is an essential precondition for stemming the spread of Covid-19. In a letter to the G-20, the United National Secretary General António Guterres called on countries to eliminate multinational trade restrictions that affect the deployment of medical equipment, medicines, and other important supplies. In response, the summit’s attendees promised to ensure cross-border flows of important medical items.

However, conditions on the ground still present their own restrictions. American scholars have sensibly suggested that the U.S. should immediately abolish customs duties on all medical equipment entering the country from China. At the G-20 summit, countries also committed to provide technical, material, and humanitarian aid to the world’s developing and least-developed nations. Those regions could well become the next hotspots of Covid-19, making it essential that the aid is delivered rapidly to the countries that need it.

The pandemic not only threatens human life and health, but has also already had a severe impact on the world economy. The UN estimates that by the end of the year Covid-19 will have caused losses running into the trillions of dollars. Reversing the global economic downswing will be our sternest test once the outbreak is effectively brought under control.

Only when each country’s macroeconomic policy aligns with others will we be able to achieve the ideal effects. Product chains, value chains, and supply chains in each of the world’s economies have long grown to interdepend on one another through thick and thin. If each country goes its own way, economic benefits may not extend across borders, while the effects of harmful policies could spill over and affect our neighbors.

In particular, the effects of countries’ fiscal and monetary policies might cancel each other out. Some countries may tend to “hitch a ride” on the backs of others. The top priorities will be slashing customs taxes, eradicating trade barriers, and securing the free flow of trade. The G-20 reiterated that countries will continue to strengthen cooperation in the field of international transportation and trade in order to build a free, fair, discrimination-free, transparent, and predictable trade and investment environment, and that they are committed to upholding free markets. If that truly happens, the pandemic might even spur an unexpected revival of globalization.

Amid the ravages of the pandemic, humanity has truly rallied around an appreciation for our shared destiny. Regrettably, the unnecessary verbal sparring between China and the U.S. has evidently run counter to the spirit of global cooperation. In particular, the deliberate and irresponsible use of the term “Wuhan virus” by some American politicians has fueled a series of racist attacks on people of Chinese heritage in both Europe and the United States. But recently, the relationship between the two powers has warmed slightly as both have sought to check their own prejudices and misconceptions.

It must be stressed that there is still much we don’t know about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and we must remain humble and prudent about how we study it. As the first country to see a major Covid-19 outbreak, China has more experience with the virus than some other countries. Some Chinese officials have said — rightly, in our minds — at recent press conferences that it is still too early to draw systematic conclusions about the country’s experience of fighting the virus.

When the Chinese side shares what we have learned from our epidemic with foreign countries, we must swallow our pride and remember that our lessons have come at the cost of more than 80,000 confirmed infections, around 3,300 deaths, and more than 3,000 infected medical workers, not to mention a massive economic and social cost. Cocking our ears in the hope of hearing international praise for China’s supposed success in containing its outbreak is currently in poor taste.

Faced with a pandemic with little precedent in modern society, countries may choose to band together, while others might shut themselves off in the name of combatting the disease. Only if we overcome our tendency to withdraw and see ourselves as part of a worldwide family can we realize genuine global cooperation during this outbreak. That is something we’re learning at the huge cost of people’s health and lives. We hope that the physical scars left by the pandemic won’t obscure this important spiritual lesson.

Contact translator Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com)

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