West pays heavy price for demonising China over virus

Populous country held up as template for successful containment while West struggles

Venom directed at China from western states over its handling of the coronavirus crisis reached an all-out crescendo on February 6th when whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang died from the virus about which he had tried to warn the authorities.

For raising the alarm about the outbreak in Wuhan he found himself reprimanded, censored and isolated. The incident fed every western stereotype about China's regime: paranoid, authoritarian, brutal.

Amnesty International issued a report which noted that "censorship, harassment and punishment for speaking out are hindering the fight against the coronavirus outbreak". While the Washington Post proclaimed the "outbreak shows the vulnerability of the Chinese Model.' "

How the tables have turned. As western countries buckle beneath the strain of coronavirus and scepticism about their containment measures grows, China is being held up as the template for how to successfully contain the disease. On Wednesday, Beijing reported no new coronavirus cases in Hubei Province, which includes the city of Wuhan.


The International Monetary Fund said China's experience so far shows that the right policies make a difference in fighting the disease and mitigating its impact. Beijing's redemptive arc was further enhanced this week when it sent 300 intensive-care doctors to Italy to help fight the virus, an initiative that Italians contrasted with weak contributions from neighbouring European countries. "You see your true friends in the time of need," said the Chinese embassy in Rome.

‘The Chinese virus?’

At the same time US president Donald Trump, whose sense of denial about what was happening has been bigger and more long-lasting than anything China could muster, continues to call coronavirus "the Chinese virus" and stoke ire by acting unilaterally, a reflection of the West's increasingly fractured community. All of this is not to say that China didn't make mistakes, or didn't suppress voices that tried to raise the alarm, or that it isn't, at its core, an authoritarian dictatorship. Just that the West, for all its righteous condemnation, got what was happening in China wrong, or at least failed to take on board the risk, and is paying a heavy price.