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Epidemic exposes West's colonial mentality

By David Monyae | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-18 07:21


Xenophobia, ideological bias and the West's fear of China's rise are the triple burdens that hinder the fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak in China. Recently, Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, wrote, and I quote: "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".

Indeed, Rudd's take on the need for a people-centered global approach in the fight against the epidemic resonate with a well-known African idiom commonly used among the Nguni dialects which says, Inxeba lendoda alihlekwa. It simply means that, "The wound of a man is not laughed at".

In reporting on the new 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 learned professor and the newspaper in question are quite 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. It was commonly used by foreign forces that conquered China to justify their inhuman treatment of Chinese people.

This colonial language was also common in Africa when colonial masters considered their religion, culture and general lifestyles to be superior to those of the ingenious people whom they perceived to be disease-ridden and unclean.

There have also been attacks against the attempts by the Chinese authorities to speedily control the outbreak that are cloaked in ideological clothes. There have been numerous opinion pieces across the Western media that are using the breakout of this disease to directly attack the Chinese system.

The main aim of such attacks is to advance the long-held view that liberal democracies handle and manage epidemics and general crises much better than what is considered an authoritarian regime in China. The weakness of such an argument lies in the fact it is ahistorical. The United States itself is littered with endless mismanagement of epidemics and general crises confronted by its people. A recent example is Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. The George W Bush administration failed dismally to respond to the crisis that affected almost 80 percent of the city's mainly black population.

The British Guardian newspaper carried an article by Emma Graham-Harrison on Jan 31, in which she said that,"China soon won international plaudits for a huge mobilization, including the near impossible feat of building two new hospitals in as many weeks, even as Wuhan became an international byword for a new epidemic". She further settled for ideological point-scoring:"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."

Also, some elements in the Western media and US officials are using the epidemic as a tool in their bid to limit the rise of China. On Jan 24, Foreign Policy magazine unashamedly carried an article titled, "Welcome to the Belt and Road Pandemic".

And US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross responding to the epidemic in China was quoted as saying:"I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to America."

At this critical juncture of the fight against the novel coronavirus, there is a need to build a united front in combating the spread of the disease as well as finding a cure. The African continent in particular has worked tirelessly with China within the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation on managing communicative diseases. Africa can assist China in its efforts to manage the virus. Africa has responded soberly to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China without causing unnecessary panic. But more efforts ought to be taken to strengthen Africa health workers' ability to respond to the novel coronavirus should it spread to the continent. Africa should also reject the triple Western diseases of xenophobia, ideological bias and the fear of China's rise.

The author is the director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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