The news of 22,000 Americans dying from the coronavirus over the Easter weekend has given way to a crescendo of international criticism against the “Chinese virus”. But only days before, China announced it was going to exclude dogs from its list of animals that could be consumed because “dogs have changed from (being) domestic animals to companion animals.”
According to the Chinese Communist Party’s English news website Global Times, China’s ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published a document on 8 April, seeking feedback on its draft National Catalogue of Livestock and Poultry Genetic Resources. The draft suggests removing dogs from the official livestock and poultry management list of 31 animals, which also includes chicken, buffalo and cows.
The ministry cited the “progress of human civilisation” and “prevention of disease transmission from animals to humans” as reasons for its rethink. Perhaps the global attack, led by US president Donald Trump, seems to have somewhat shaken China’s composure.
As far back as February, as the novel coronavirus spread across the world, China’s National People’s Congress banned the trade of wild terrestrial animals. It, however, refused to ban the trade in exotic animals, like the endangered pangolins, which are reported to have played a key role in the virus jumping species.
With Wuhan reopening after 76 days of lockdown last week, concerns are that its infamous wet markets, like the ones in Baishazhou and Huanan, will once again become the breeding ground of unknown diseases. So far the Huanan wet market, where Patient Zero is believed to have contracted the virus from, remains shut.
China’s growing criticism
US comedian Bill Maher in in his take-no-prisoners video, which went viral over the Easter weekend, asked why it was impolite to describe the virus as the “Chinese” virus, as it had originated from the wet markets of Wuhan. He also questioned why the all-powerful Communist Party couldn’t ban the country’s wet markets, considering China’s taste of eating exotic meats had ravaged large parts of the world.
As the rest of the world watches the US and China trade barbs, battle-lines are being drawn. Traditional US allies like Australia, who had stacked up large economic relationships with China are looking askance, wondering if a weakened US will leave them at China’s mercy in the Indo-Pacific.
Sometimes the Australians are using humour to prove the point about the democratic imperative, like this point-by-point rebuttal in the The Daily Telegraph of the Chinese consul-general’s criticism over the paper’s coverage of the epidemic. The article is one of the most-read pieces in recent times in Australia and elsewhere.
Australia is not alone. Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun published a piece from its Beijing bureau, saying China should be held responsible for the Covid-19 epidemic, and “parties which refused to apologise will shoot themselves in the foot.” China’s Global Times was quick to respond.
And as Guangzhou allegedly orders that people of “African” origin not be served in restaurants amid coronavirus fears, chairperson of the African Union (AU) Moussa Faki Mahamat summoned the Chinese ambassador to the AU Liu Yuxi to express “extreme concern.”
Certainly, seismic changes are already taking place in the global landscape in the struggle for supremacy in a post-Covid world.
Japan, noted the geopolitical watchdog, The Spectator Index, noted in early April, was planning to spend $2 billion to help its companies move out of China. Considering the China-Japan economic relationship is only second to the US-China relationship, Japan’s rethink definitely seems influenced by what Trump has been doing.
Not that China is holding back its fire. China’ ambassador to the US Ciu Tiankai rejected claims that China was hiding its death toll from the pandemic. China’s ambassador to India Sun Weidong retweeted a Xinhua video on How China fights Covid. The Global Times has led from the front, with articles like ‘Post-pandemic may be a more enlightened era’ and ‘Anti virus work won’t disrupt China Africa friendship’.
Delhi going slow
But India has kept very quiet, refusing to be drawn into the global furore. External Affairs minister S. Jaishankar has spoken to his counterparts in the US, in Australia and the UK, notably all allies of the US. For some balance, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla spoke to his counterpart in Russia.
But Delhi has let right-wing publications like ‘Swarajya,’ widely believed to reflect the Narendra Modi government and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s point of view, to do the talking. The magazine recently put Chinese President Xi Jinping on its cover with the title ‘Super Spreader’ under his picture.
It provoked the Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong into comment: “It is regrettable some Indian media published articles referring to Covid-19 again as “Wuhan Virus,” “Chinese virus”… Such stigmatisation is unacceptable.”
Her remarks were greeted by a revealing silence in Delhi. Certainly, no one wants to be distracted from the ongoing war against the pandemic. Moreover, there are too many issues for India to take a more assertive stand. At least for the moment, Delhi seems happy to let the rest of the world continue with its argument against China.
Views are personal.