Xenophobia, ideology and the Western fear for China’s rise are the triple burdens that hinder the fight against the 2019 coronavirus (nCov).
Recently, Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, wrote: “The wider world should show sympathy and express solidarity with the long-suffering Chinese people.
“These are ugly times and the racism implicit (and sometimes explicit) in many responses to Chinese people around the world makes me question just how far we have really come as a human family.”
Rudd’s people-centred global approach in the fight against coronavirus resonates with a well-known African idiom, Inxeba lendoda alihlekwa, used among the Nguni dialects, which simply means: “The wound of a man is not laughed at.”
In reporting on the coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal carried an article by Bard College Professor Walter Russell Mead, titled “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia”.
The professor and newspaper are well aware that the term “sick man of Asia” is a derogatory phrase that emanates from China’s century of humiliation at the hands of Western and Japanese powers.
Xenophobic tendencies against Chinese people have spread globally mainly through social media which constantly portrays the virus as having been caused by Chinese people’s eating habits.
The second frontal attack against the attempts by the Chinese authorities to speedily conquer the virus are cloaked in ideological clothes. There have been numerous opinion pieces in the Western media that are using the virus outbreak to directly attack President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party. The main aim of such attacks are twofold: firstly, to advance the long-held view that liberal democracies handle and manage epidemics and general crises much better than what is considered as an authoritarian regime. The weakness of such an argument lies in the fact it is ahistorical. The US itself is littered with mismanagement of crises confronted by its people.
The Guardian newspaper in the UK carried an article by Emma Graham-Harrison on January 31,which argued: “China soon won international plaudits for a huge mobilisation, including the near impossible feat of building two new hospitals in as many weeks yet as information about the early days of the outbreak has slowly filtered out of China, it has become increasingly clear that the same political system that allowed Beijing to order such a dramatic response, also initially allowed the virus to foster.”
Lastly, the Western media and US officials use the coronavirus as a tool to limit the rise of China.
On January 24, a leading magazine in the US, Foreign Policy, unashamedly carried an article titled “Welcome to the Belt and Road Pandemic”.
Author Laurie Garrett wrote: “By making the Belt and Road Initiative endeavour - a multitrillion-dollar programme to expand Chinese trade and infrastructure around the world - the epicentre of his foreign and economic policy, Xi has made it possible for a local disease to become a global menace.”
At this juncture, there’s a need to build a united front in combating the spread of the disease and finding a cure. Africa has worked tirelessly with China within FOCAC on communicative diseases.
Hence it is important for Africa and China to double their efforts to manage the coronavirus. Africa has responded soberly to the outbreak without causing unnecessary panic on the markets and among its people. More efforts ought to be taken to strengthen Africa’s healthworkers response.
But this can be done showing ubuntu, rejecting the triple burdens in the fight against the disease - xenophobia, ideological differences and the fear of China’s rise.
* Monyae is the director of Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.