We are inundated with an avalanche of information on the novel coronavirus infection. Within this avalanche, there is a lot of “news” that is clearly false.
Those responsible for such news can be classified into two categories at least. The first comprises mischief-makers who derive some cheap thrill by generating and disseminating fake news that creates fear and causes panic among the people. The law should deal severely with such individuals.
The second category may have a political agenda of sorts. The purpose may be to cast China in a bad light, to tarnish its image, to project the Chinese government as incompetent and even dishonest. The false information manipulated by this group may be very similar to the one utilised by the first category.
Both categories allege that the government lied about the number of fatalities which they contend run into thousands. They suggest that the authorities were slow in responding to the crisis caused by the virus. Attempts to reveal the “truth” about what was really happening in Wuhan the epicentre of the crisis by some doctors and journalists have been suppressed and the “whistle blowers” punished.
It is not just the Chinese authorities that have refuted these and other allegations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has publicly commended the Chinese government for its “swift action” and its “extraordinary measures” in containing the infection. The government has attempted to be as transparent as possible from the outset and has provided accurate information to the people. It was the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanam Ghebreyesus, who stated emphatically that there was no need for other countries to restrict travel and trade unnecessarily. The coronavirus, he argued, should be combated with “ facts not fear”
And indeed some of the facts are simply amazing. Chinese scientists were incredibly fast in identifying the genome sequence. Together with their Russian counterparts a Russia-China vaccine is in the making. Chinese architects and engineers have also built a state of the art hospital in Wuhan in just 9 days. Designed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, the Huoshenshan Hospital has a thousand beds and medical staff drawn from the armed forces. The Chinese government is building another hospital with 1,500 beds which will begin functioning on the 6th of February.
Facts like these mean nothing to those with a political agenda. The motives that shape their agenda take precedence over everything. There is a primary motive out of which has developed a secondary motive. Discrediting China is part of a larger geo-political drive that seeks to thwart China’s ascendancy. The aim is to ensure that the present hegemon, the United States of America (USA) remains on top at all costs. A host of measures and moves --- some economic, some technological, some related to security and politics, others linked to culture and human rights --- have been adopted by those who are hell-bent on perpetuating their hegemonic power. This is why some of the distortions about the current coronavirus threat should be seen in the light of disinformation about the alleged persecution of the Uighurs in China and the so-called suppression of the people of Hong Kong. The name of the game is the same: it is the targeting of China.
This primary motive has now given rise to a secondary motive. In the course of fighting the coronavirus, groups in certain countries are displaying negative sentiments towards Chinese people as such. This impacts adversely upon inter-community relations both at the global and national level. At a time when China and the Chinese are leaving large footprints all over the planet, a deeper understanding of the civilisation and its citizens is what the world needs. It is not in the interest of inter-civilizational harmony to view a community in its entirety as an adversary and try to isolate it. Similarly, in multi-ethnic societies with Chinese minorities the checking of the spread of a virus should not be used as a justification to stereotype and stigmatize a community.
Seen against this backdrop, Malaysia, China’s neighbour with a significant Chinese minority has done well in managing the post coronavirus situation. It has accorded priority to the health and well-being of its people and at the same time handled this cross-boundary crisis in a calm manner without any hysteria. It has been sensitive to the feelings of China and its people. Once again, Malaysia has demonstrated that it is possible to protect our sovereignty while respecting the dignity and integrity of a dear neighbour whose friendship we cherish.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
4 February 2020.