By Sidra Tariq Jamil and Nancy Snow
Islamabad, May 5 (Daily Times): At this writing, nearly 4 million people in the world are victims of the novel coronavirus pandemic and soon over 250,000 will have lost the battle for their lives.
The pandemic has not only drawn blood, but it has also hollowed-out global economies. The only country that has, so far, successfully come out of this nightmare is China, which has garnered both praise and condemnation. China surmounted the barrier even before the virus became a global pandemic while many “global giants” are facing a demoralizing defeat at its hands. Several Asian countries learned from the Chinese example and executed the same strict protocols.
Out of all the global economic mainstays, the United States of America is truly under the pump. Confirmed cases will, in a short time, grab global headlines as the number crests over one million mark. Over 25,000 people have died in the Big Apple, New York City alone, while adjacent counties are hot zones of infection, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Altogether, over 70,000 Americans have lost their lives, one quarter of the global death toll. Meanwhile, testing remains sporadic and growing pockets of the country are protesting gubernatorial lockdown measures or crying out for “back to work” economic normalcy.
These numbers are astonishing. The United States is known for its exceptional categories, from institutions of higher education and advanced medical facilities to the best-trained fighting forces, just to name a few. But now we see the world’s sole superpower on its knees fighting an invisible enemy. Washington was initially overconfident about its “counter-striking” medical capacities. What went wrong? “The true mark of greatness is not stridency but magnanimity,” Senator J. William Fulbright wrote in The Arrogance of Power.
Countries should put their differences aside and work together to fight this catastrophe. Nothing is above saving humanity from this viral enemy
China-US relations have not been good, especially during the presidency of Donald J. Trump. The trade war and the increasingly antagonistic, contentious, and competitive relationship between two economic goliaths made things more difficult at the beginning of the pandemic. Finger pointing and blame shifting continue today.
For his part, President Trump has denied the fact that he was warned about a virus that could become a pandemic and shake the U.S. economy so severely. Assistant to the President Peter Navarro, Trump’s National Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, sent a memo to the White House on January 29 in which he warned that the virus could cost the U.S. millions of lives and unimaginable economic loss. He sent another memo on February 23rd warning the government about the severity of the threat. But Trump said in an April news conference that he came to know about those memos only recently. This negligence recalls the August 6, 2001 memo, “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US,” the title of the President’s Daily Brief prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency for President George W. Bush. No action was taken and the warning was kept classified. Thirty six days later terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001.
The United States has shown a chaotic diplomatic approach at this crucial time of global pandemic. President Trump was once seen hailing the Chinese President Xi Jinping for his excellent and timely action regarding the eradication of the corona pandemic. Over two months ago, on February 7, 2020, Trump praised Xi Jinping for being focused, sharp and strong in wiping out COVID-19 from his country. On the same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, announced that the United States would send financial aid of up to 100 million dollars to China to fight the virus. “This commitment – along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector – demonstrates strong U.S. leadership in response to the outbreak.”
One day later, in a speech to the National Governors Association, Pompeo said: “The competition with Beijing is threatening basic freedoms that every one of us values.” He added: “U.S. accusations against China are lies and not based on facts.” The Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, depicted this switch in tone as the United States’ confused diplomatic approach towards China.
We Need to Build Goodwill
This is not the right time for countries to start accusing each other. World leaders need to keep their political differences aside as things have already gone south. Politicizing a public health crisis between the top two economies will make battling the real threat more compromised.
There are lessons to be learned from China and South Korea. South Korea confirmed its first case on January 20, 2020. South Korea didn’t opt for a complete lockdown like China, but it instituted widespread testing to isolate those infected and curtail community spread. The tally rose, but due to quick and efficient measures plus lessons learned from MERS and SARS outbreaks in South Korea, the curve began to fall in February, and by the end of that month, South Korea had almost wiped out the virus.
The critical factor in South Korea’s triumph was the quality of the government’s communication with its citizenry. Regular and detailed communications reinforced trust and built credibility across sectors, including medical professionals, government officials, and an obliging public. People were encouraged to maintain social distance, provided convenient drive-thru testing centers, and were given quality medical service.
China continues to make a remarkable turnaround. It started with desperate urgency in Hubei province where the city of Wuhan, the epicenter, was located. China built new hospitals within days, marshaled all medical resources for the fight, provided free kits for initial screening, and closely monitored the sealed off city of 11 million. The cooperation of the public, who were in the middle of the Chinese New Year celebration period, with the largest public health lockdown in China’s history, was a significant factor in stemming the virus. China has gone on to help other countries financially and materially, including aid to Spain, Italy, the United States, Cambodia, Pakistan, and other European and African countries. As media scholars, we are not unaware of China’s journalism restrictions and as as media scholars we support the free flow of information in fighting this pandemic.
Pakistan: Another Unsung Victor?
Despite having a relatively weak public health system and lesser medical facilities, Pakistan’s efforts must also be mentioned. The first case of the corona pandemic was recorded on February 26 when a student in Karachi tested positive after returning from Iran. Today, nearly two months later, just over 20,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, with 25 percent recovered, and over 500 deaths. Pakistan followed in the footsteps of its close ally China by intercepting the threat early. The Prime Minister of Pakistan opted for a lockdown in March and public health messages have instructed changes in behavior, including social distancing and sheltering in place. Strategically, that has proved to be vital for a country that is not notable for its advanced medical facilities.
In Unity Lies Strength
Ignoring advance warnings was a strategic folly committed by many countries. Countless lives have been lost. Having differences on the diplomatic front has only made matters worse. This is not the time for putting clashing egos above human lives. Countries should put their differences aside and work together to fight this catastrophe. Nothing is above saving humanity from this viral enemy. It’s high time that we call upon our higher selves and work toward a common good in partnership and collaboration.
(Sidra Tariq Jamil is a Ph.D. Scholar in the School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China and on the faculty of University of Management and Technology, Lahore, Pakistan. Reach her at [email protected]. Nancy Snow (Ph.D., International Relations) is Walt Disney Chair in Global Media, Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University. She is on semester leave from her special appointment as Pax Mundi (“Distinguished”) Professor of Public Diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Japan. She has published thirteen books in seven languages, including Information War, The Arrogance of American Power, and Propaganda, Inc. Reach her at [email protected])