The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is all set to discuss, albeit informally, on Thursday (April 9) the coronavirus outbreak that has wreaked havoc on human life across the world leading to over 80,000 deaths so far. Around 1.5 million people are infected with the COVID-19 and the number is increasing by the minute.
This discussion, ideally, should have taken place long back in the UNSC but China’s obduracy and fierce opposition did not permit it. China had the presidency of the UNSC for the month of March and Beijing aborted every attempt to initiate even an informal discussion despite repeated appeals from many members of the Security Council. The demand for a discussion on the greatest threat to humanity since the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918 got the green signal only after the Dominican Republic took over the UNSC presidency from China on April 1.
Why was China not in favour of any discussion on COVID-19 pandemic during its presidency of UNSC? Did Beijing fear that it will have to answer many discomforting questions over its dubious handling of the coronavirus outbreak that originated on its soil? Any serious and impartial investigation into China’s role will surely put Xi Jinping and his dispensation under the dock for endangering human life on the following three counts:
1. It was criminal to conceal coronavirus outbreak and its contagious nature
China has aspirations to position itself as the next superpower and Beijing is leveraging its economic might to the hilt for achieving that goal. China is already a manufacturing superpower and commands around 12% share in global trade. The dragon has been ruthlessly spreading its wings to capture markets in every nook and corner of the world.
However, in its zeal to protect its business interests, China suppressed the information on the coronavirus outbreak as Beijing feared it would create panic among the multi-national companies operating from its soil that could hurt its economy. And it was no less than a criminal act.
Local reports from China suggest that the first case of coronavirus emerged in the country as early as November. However, the Chinese authorities not only suppressed the information but punished whistleblowers like Dr Li Wenlian, a physician who later died of COVID-19. Interestingly, the Chinese exonerated Dr Li Wenliang posthumously.
It was only on December 31 that the Chinese officially confirmed the first case of coronavirus but even at that time, they didn’t disclose to the world its contagious nature and the danger of human-to-human transmission. On January 14, even WHO said that there was no human-to-human transmission of the virus. China confirmed human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 on January 21 only and announced a lockdown in Wuhan, the city where the virus is believed to have originated, on January 23.
However, the damage was done by that time. A large number of Chinese and other people from different part of the world visiting Wuhan were infected with COVID-19 and they were moving in different cities across the globe unmindful of the horrible reality that they had become vectors of the novel coronavirus.
Timely disclosure of the coronavirus outbreak and its contagious nature would have alerted the world and numerous lives could have been saved. The UNSC must take China to task for deliberately hiding the information endangering so many innocent lives.
2. Refusal to permanently shut down wet markets
China has the ignominy of being home to two consecutive pandemics- SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) of2002-03 and COVID-19. Interestingly, both these pandemics originated from the wet markets of China. While SARS originated in the wet markets of Guangdong province of southern China in 2002, COVID-19 outbreak has been traced to the wet markets of Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei province.
In these bushmeat markets, wild and exotic animals are slaughtered for human consumption and traditional medicinal usages. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is believed to have jumped from species like bats or pangolins to the ‘Patient Zero’, a 57-year-old female shrimp seller, Wei Guixian, at a Chinese wet market in Wuhan.
Every time, an epidemic erupts, China shuts down these wet markets but opens it after a gap of some time. This is what they did after the SARS outbreak and even this time, they opened these markets on March 27 to celebrate what they called “victory over coronavirus”.
These wet markets are nothing short of powder kegs for epidemics and continuing with them is like keeping the door open for future pandemics. The UNSC must prevail over China to shut down these bushmeat markets to safeguard millions and millions of innocent lives across the world.
3. Manipulating the functioning of WHO
The role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) under the leadership of its Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has come under scanner over its handling(or mishandling, to be more precise) of the coronavirus outbreak. The first case of the novel virus was reportedly diagnosed in China in November itself though Beijing officially acknowledged it on December 31. The WHO, however, failed to ring the alarm bell on time.
Not only that, the WHO, allegedly under pressure from China, announced on January 14 that COVID-19 was not contagious implying there was no threat of human-to-human transmission of the virus. The WHO was proved wrong later on bringing disgrace to the standing and perceived domain expertise of the organisation. The false declaration by the WHO further aggravated the problem as people roamed in and out of Wuhan to different parts of the world believing there was no danger of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
The charges regarding China’s coercion get credence when one recalls how Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected with Beijing’s backing. He had defeated US-backed Dr David Nabarro, who was the candidate of the UK. Though China’s backing to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during elections alone may not be reason enough to doubt the impartiality of the WHO DG, his laidback approach and failure to timely raise the red flag definitely warrants an independent investigation.
During the informal meeting of the UNSC on Thursday, the member states must seek answers to these questions from China so that all the loopholes are plugged timely and we are better prepared to face such health emergencies in future.
Technically, such informal meetings are not of any great significance especially when it involves a permanent member of the UNSC. However, if the UNSC prevails upon China to take corrective measures, it will be a deterrent for other nations in future that would make the world a safer place to live in.
Therefore, the time has come for the UNSC to remind China of its responsibilities as a permanent member of the world’s most powerful body. Beijing should be told in no uncertain terms that it can’t be allowed to put the human life in danger, third time in a row, on account of its erratic and whimsical decisions.