Home / News / World /  Chorus for probe into how covid-19 has become a pandemic

NEW DELHI : As the world counts more than 211,000 deaths in about four months since the novel coronavirus was first detected in China, there is a growing chorus among nations for an international probe into how covid-19 could have developed into the pandemic it has with its economic and human costs.

Australia and the European Union were the latest voices to join the US, France, Germany and Britain in calling for an international enquiry.

Late Monday, US President Donald Trump took his criticism of China one step further by suggesting that he may seek damages from Beijing over covid-19, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan and spread around the world. This comes on the back of recent news reports that Germany had sought $ 140 billion as compensation from China.

“There is unprecedented anger against China in the world today," said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at King’s College, London. “Europe was seen the balancer between extreme opinions against China in the US on one hand and Asia on the other. But now there is palpable anger against the Chinese in Europe. Given this, I expect it will be more difficult for China to assume the global leadership role that it has been aspiring for. Its global leadership claims lie in tatters," Pant said.

The remarks come against the backdrop of media reports citing French President Emmanuel Macron as saying: “Let’s not be so naive as to say it’s been much better at handling this," referring to China’s management of the covid-19 crisis. “We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about," he was quoted as saying.

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab on his part was cited as saying that it could no longer be “business as usual" with China when the coronavirus pandemic is over. “There absolutely needs to be a very, very deep dive after the event and a review of the lessons, including of the outbreak of the virus," Raab was reported as saying.

Fuelling the anger against China has been its response to the charges against it, say analysts. Sample this: Chinese ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye on Monday warned Canberra that its push for an independent inquiry might prompt Chinese people not to buy Australian food or attend Australian universities.

To Trump’s suggestion of seeking payment for damages from Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Tuesday slammed “American politicians" for telling “barefaced lies".

According to Pant, China’s arrogant responses, its inability to empathize and its aggression in the face of criticism was also fuelling public anger against Beijing. In democracies, the support of street perception or public anger helps governments fashion their responses in such situations, he said. In the case of India, the government move to rework its foreign direct investment rules to ensure there was no predatory takeover of Indian firms by Chinese companies was largely welcomed, he pointed out.

To be sure, China has been trying to soften the damage to its reputation by sending medical supplies, testing kits and other materials, besides team of doctors, to countries across the world.

But its efforts were missing the mark especially against the backdrop of charges of racism against African students in China, pointed out Foreign Policy magazine in a recent article titled “Beijing’s propaganda is finding few takers". The article also pointed out that many countries in Africa, to whom China has given cheap loans for infrastructure projects under its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, “the economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus poses a tangible threat to their sovereignty". And many African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Senegal and South Africa are seeking debt relief from China to which Beijing is yet to respond.

Then there has been bad press that China has been receiving substandard medical equipment that it has exported to Europe and Latin America.

Closer home, China has been flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Last week, China renamed dozens of features in the South China Sea, signalling it was establishing sovereignty over parts of the region, deemed illegal by international law. This came days after Chinese ships rammed into and sank a Vietnamese vessel in the disputed waters. There were also news reports of China trying to intimidate Malaysia and Taiwan.

Utpal Bhaskar contributed to this report.

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