The breathtaking negligence of Communist Party officials for over a month after the COVID-19 outbreak led directly to the pandemic now rampaging across the world.
From ordering Chinese scientists to destroy evidence of the virus, to suppressing physician warnings, to turning around ships loaded with vital supplies and threatening to block critical pharmaceuticals so that America might experience “the hell of a novel coronavirus epidemic,” there can be no question that when the dust clears, a day of reckoning will be at hand for China.
“China’s actions are going to come back to bite them when this virus is over,” said Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the National Interest, in an interview with TAC. “I think we’re in a whole new world after this. The way people think about the world, globalism—this pandemic is going to have an effect that’s maybe even greater than 9/11. ”
Chinese laboratory technicians had identified a highly infectious new pathogen as early as December 2019. But they were ordered to stop tests, destroy samples, and suppress the news, Chinese media outlet Caixin Global revealed a month ago.
“A lot fewer people would have died” if the Chinese government had acted sooner, said Wei Guixian, patient zero at the Wuhan wet market where the outbreak is believed to have originated, in February. Chinese authorities prevented the doctors that treated Wei from sounding the alarm publicly.
One of the first doctors who alerted authorities to the virus was told to stop “spreading rumors” and another doctor had to write a public self-criticism letter about the “negative impact” his warnings had. A doctor in Wuhan, 34-year-old Li Wenliang, was hauled into custody on December 30 for sending text messages to other colleagues warning of the spread and severity of the virus. He died of COVID-19 complications on February 2.
China’s internet censors struggled to contain the deluge of warnings as news of the virus spread like wildfire. “A wide breadth of content,” including neutral keyword combinations like “Wuhan seafood market” and “Sars variation,” were censored on WeChat and other platforms in late December. The Chinese government censored, detained and disappeared doctors, whistleblowers, and citizen journalists who attempted to sound the alarm about what was to come.
Despite doctors’ warnings that the virus was transmissible between humans, authorities held a massive a Chinese Lunar New Year banquet for tens of thousands of Wuhan families.
By the time the government issued a lockdown in Wuhan on January 23, the virus had been on the march for seven weeks. At that point, more than five million people had already left Wuhan, according to mayor Zhou Xianwang.
China also ignored advice from its own experts that an epidemic like this was just around the corner.
It was “highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China,” Chinese experts wrote in a 2019 article. “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb,” scientists wrote in a 2007 journal article. “The possibility of the reemergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.”
Even after the COVID-19 outbreak forced officials to ban the trade and consumption of live wild animals for food, the Chinese government is still recommending the use of Tan Re Qing, an injection containing bear bile, to treat severe and critical COVID-19 cases, reports National Geographic.
Globalization has only accelerated the devastating consequences of the Communist Party’s terrible decisions.
Epidemiologists rely on global statistical models to predict at what rate a virus like COVID-19 will spread in populations. Yet reliance on suspect Chinese data has significantly hampered the global response to the virus.
Now, China says they have defeated the coronavirus and have had only one new case over the last five days. But can we believe them?
Wuhan residents say hospitals are refusing to test patients who show symptoms, Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reported Monday. A local doctor said the number of cases has been manipulated and that hospitals have begun “a mass release of infected patients.” While China claims to have had 81,897 cases of the virus, the number of Chinese cellphone users has dropped by 21 million over the past three months, according to an announcement by Beijing authorities on March 19.
In addition to all the steps the Chinese government has taken that hurt its own people, it has also been waging an aggressive public relations campaign, hitting back at critics.
A prominent Chinese diplomat has been promoting a conspiracy theory that the U.S. military brought COVID-19 to Wuhan during October’s international military games.
“CDC was caught on the spot,” tweeted Lijian Zhao, a top official at the “Information Department” of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”
“The Chinese political system believes it needs an enemy and they have chosen the United States,” said China expert Gordon Chang in an interview with TAC. He added, “China is waging a deliberate misinformation campaign and a lot of Americans are parroting Communist party narratives” when they say that calling the sickness the Chinese or Wuhan virus is “racist.”
“We have to understand we have a common enemy that means us harm,” said Chang. “This is an existential fight; this is a time when we could lose everything. We should not have become so reliant on a hostile regime that apparently abhors us.”
That reliance is easily weaponized by China, as was seen recently in the disruptions to pharmaceutical and medical supply lines. China nationalized an American factory that makes N95 masks and forced ships full of gloves, masks, and other medical supplies purchased by New York hospitals to turn around.
“Industrial safety masks have been banned from export from China,” according to Jonathan Bass, the owner of Los Angeles-based PTM Images. “China has shown us that they will ban the export of masks for the protection of their own people over the protection of all people. This shows us that America is extremely vulnerable to China’s whim of cutting exports for health-and-safety-related products. What’s next? Pharmaceuticals to save lives? Rare earth metals? Shoes?”
To add insult to injury, China sold €4,320,000,000 worth of medical supplies from the U.S. factory it nationalized to Spain. That’s 550 million masks, 5.5 million test kits, 950 ventilators, and 11 million pairs of gloves.
China accounts for 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91 percent of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of acetaminophen, 40 to 45 percent of penicillin, and 40 percent of heparin, according to Commerce Department data. In all, “80 percent of the U.S. supply of antibiotics are made” in China, warned Senator Chuck Grassley in an August 2019 letter to HHS and FDA officials. Grassley said that inspections on drugs imported from other countries needed to be stepped up.
“It was a blunder of epic proportions that we allowed the manufacture of penicillin to leave our shores,” said Rosemary Gibson, author of the 2018 book China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine. “Right now, we have virtually no capacity in the United States to make even basic drugs for treating coronavirus, or antibiotics for infections that may come with it, including bronchitis or pneumonia.”
“I think nations are going to question their dependence on one another through the global supply chain, and I think people are going to rethink whether it’s a good idea to be so reliant on a totalitarian China that blames everyone else in the world for their problems, and is not a responsible stakeholder or honest broker. One outcome of this is that the perception of China as a bad actor is going to be crystallized,” said Kazianis.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a sort of Cold War-like containment strategy towards China after this. I think that’s where Trump was going with trade before this happened, but I think now you’ll see a lot of other countries rethinking their reliance on China as well,” Kazianis added.
That’s especially true as the flow of bad news out of China continues unabated. We now know that the majority of rapid test coronavirus test kits supplied by China to Spain and the Czech Republic were faulty, and that if the Chinese government had been honest and supplied reliable data, there could have been 95 percent fewer coronavirus cases around the world. That’s the difference between a viral outbreak and a global pandemic.
By suppressing critical information about the virus in those early days, then doing very little to contain the virus by permitting public gatherings like the New Years celebration, the government of China has allowed the coronavirus to menace not just its own people but the entire world. Once COVID-19 is contained, they must face a reckoning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barbara Boland is TAC’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Previously, she worked as an editor for the Washington Examiner and for CNS News. She is the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General George Patton in World War II, and her work has appeared on Fox News, The Hill, UK Spectator, and elsewhere. Boland is a graduate from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.