Tag: China

The world agreed to a coronavirus inquiry. Just when and how, though, are still in dispute

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By Adam Kamradt-Scott*

Only once before has the World Health Organisation held its annual World Health Assembly during a pandemic. The last time it happened, in 2009, the influenza pandemic was only in its first weeks – with far fewer deaths than the world has seen this year.

And never before has the meeting of world leaders, health diplomats, and public health experts been held entirely virtually over a condensed two days instead of the normal eight-to-nine-day affair.

As expected, the assembly proved to be a high stakes game of bare-knuckled diplomacy – with a victory (of sorts) for the western countries that had been advocating for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

China had pushed back hard against such an inquiry, first proposed by Australia last month, but eventually agreed after other countries signed on.

Even though the resolution was adopted, there are still many unanswered questions about what happens next, specifically, when and how an investigation will actually occur.

Harsh critiques from the US

While country after country praised the WHO for its efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus, US Health Secretary Alex Azar predictably accused the global health body of mishandling the crisis.

In a Trumpian-esque attempt at re-writing history, Azar even went so far as to suggest the WHO failed to alert countries early enough to the COVID-19 threat, despite the fact the organization issued its first warnings on January 4.

China, meanwhile, quickly sensed it had lost the diplomatic battle to prevent an inquiry into the origins of the virus after more than 100 countries supported a draft resolution put forth by Australia and its European and African allies.

President Xi Jinping agreed China would support a WHO-led investigation, but there were two major stipulations – that it happens after the pandemic was over and would focus on more than just looking at China’s actions.

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Chinese President Xi addressing the World Health Assembly in Geneva. Photo: WHO Live

Concerns were also voiced during the gathering about the need for ensuring any COVID-19 vaccine would be made available freely and widely, as opposed to suggested scenarios in which Western countries might gain priority access.

World leaders from UN Secretary-General António Guterres to French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the need for any vaccine to be made widely available as a global public good, and health ministers outlined various efforts to support vital research and development into a vaccine.

So what happens now?

China made it clear it will only support an investigation into the origins of the virus after the pandemic has ended. That could be years away, and the longer it takes, the less likely it will be the source will be accurately identified.

China has also insisted the investigation must be led by the WHO. It could be conducted under the auspices of WHO, but if it is led by WHO staff, this is unlikely to sit well with other governments such as Australia and the United States. Both have argued for an independent inquiry.

Investigations into what went wrong during health crises have occurred before.

In 2009, three independent probes were conducted after the WHO was accused of being unduly influenced by an advisory committee into declaring H1N1 “swine flu” a pandemic. And a series of investigations was also launched after the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak, during which the WHO was criticized for being too slow to declare an emergency.

In each instance, the members of the investigation teams were appointed by WHO after being recommended by governments and were made up of prominent, independent public health experts and former WHO staff. Notably, these inquiries were also launched before the crises had abated.

These previous investigations focused exclusively on the WHO’s role in responding to the crises and the functioning of the International Health Regulations – a framework that was significantly revised in 2005 to guide government and WHO behavior during disease outbreaks.

China has insisted, however, the COVID-19 investigation be “comprehensive”, which has been interpreted to mean it must look not only at China’s actions but also how other governments responded to the WHO’s warnings.

This is unlikely to be well received by a number of governments, such as the US, which traditionally view such matters as internal and sovereign.

Ultimately though, an investigation will require China’s cooperation, so it’s likely to hold some sway over how, when, and who conducts the probe.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus thus faces a difficult task ahead in trying to reconcile the geopolitical tensions between the world’s two superpowers, China and the United States.

Immediate next steps

While the details of an investigation are being finalized, the focus must return to containing COVID-19.

To date, countries have understandably prioritized halting the spread of the coronavirus within their borders to save the lives of their citizens. But as Guterres said at the WHA, the virus will continue to pose a threat to every country unless the international community stands together.

For that to occur, more attention has to be given to supporting low-income countries to contain the virus.

And resources need to be mobilized and deployed. Now.

Research on a vaccine, diagnostics, and treatments must also continue. Realizing the call to ensure the vaccine is freely available to everyone will be critical to ending the pandemic.

While scientific research is underway, governments must also increase their manufacturing capacity and address the legal issues around indemnity and liability, which unhelpfully delayed deployment of the H1N1 influenza pandemic vaccine throughout 2009 and 2010.

For this to occur, we have to heal, or at least put aside, the harmful politics that have prevented effective multilateral cooperation to date. It will be a challenge, but one we must overcome.

*Adam Kamradt-Scott receives funding from the Australian Research Council to investigate military assistance during health emergencies, and from the Canadian Institute for Health Research on the travel and trade restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a director of the Global Health Security Network, and co-convenor of the Global Health Security conferences.

Source: The Conversation, Under Creative Commons Licence.May 20, 2020.

Coronavirus: Why China’s strategy to contain the virus might work

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Wuhan City has a population of over 11 million. Credit: Tauno Tõhk/CC by 2.0

By Fei Chen

Jan 30, 2020 (IPS) – On January 23, the authorities of Wuhan City, China, sealed off the motorways and shut down all public transport to stop the coronavirus outbreak from spreading. Shortly afterward, at least ten other cities in China were under quarantine orders, most of them located in the areas surrounding Wuhan.

It sounds unbelievable to quarantine a city of 11 million people, but it may work because movement within and between cities in China relies heavily on public transport infrastructure. Major cities in China are well connected by airports, express railways, motorways, and long-distance buses. Once the entry points of these transport routes are controlled and patrolled, people cannot easily get out.

The transport infrastructure is built by the state and over 90% funded by public money, so control remains in the hands of the authorities. The one-party government in China also helps to effectively implement such a strategy.

Another reason this containment strategy may work is that major Chinese cities are large and dense. Wuhan has an urban area of 1,528km2, which makes it extremely difficult for people to walk out of the city if they are not able to take public transport or travel on the motorways using private cars.

People who live on the periphery of the city may still be able to get out through small local road networks that mainly lead to villages or the countryside. As long as the major roads are closed off, they are not able to reach other major cities with a large, concentrated population and the quarantine remains effective.

Megacity regions

The urbanization process facilitated by the Chinese state results in big cities surrounded by smaller cities, towns, and counties. This form of city cluster, known as megacity regions, is a recent phenomenon in China and their development
has been driven by both political and economic factors. The Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta are the most well-known megacity regions, holding enormous economic power and attracting laborers regionally and nationally.

Wuhan and its surrounding cities, towns, and counties hold similar status in central China thanks to its strategic location on the Yangtze River and national railway network. The local authority’s Great Wuhan Economic Region plan is intended to promote Wuhan in efforts to become comparable to the aforementioned megacity regions.

Megacity regions are connected by transport routes and mostly developed around transport nodes, at both the regional and neighborhood scales. This so-called transit-oriented development means that if the entry points of public transport are closed off in cities of the whole region, to a large extent, people are controlled in the region.

Chinese New Year

For more than three decades, Chinese urbanization has seen large scale domestic migration. People from the countryside and smaller cities and towns move to big cities for more work opportunities and better education and healthcare. Chinese New Year is the most important occasion when people return to their home towns to celebrate the festival with their families.

The coronavirus containment measures coincided with the national movement for the New Year celebration. This massive movement of people, if not controlled, would be a serious threat to containing the virus. People were advised against long-distance travel and the New Year holiday has been extended into February. These measures are to make sure movement within the country is restricted as much as possible. Workers will stay in their home cities as their returns are suspended.

The containment measures in Wuhan and other cities are likely to continue until further studies of the virus suggest other effective solutions. At the current moment, international travelers from China have all been checked at airports and some flights have been canceled.

Cities nowadays rely on complex systems to operate. The concentration of labor and resources may enable efficiency but leaves them vulnerable to attacks. The outbreak put enormous pressure on Wuhan’s healthcare system as people can only seek treatment in the city. A few high-ranked hospitals in Wuhan possess the best resources, but they cannot cope with the healthcare demand from large groups at the same time. Two new hospitals are being built in Wuhan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. They are expected to be completed on February 3rd and 5th respectively and provide 2,300 beds in total.

In the foreseeable future, digital technologies and smart city measures may also play a role in dealing with pressure on health infrastructure by, for instance, reporting cases and coordinating the allocation of resources. Wuhan has a reputation for the active integration of smart technologies in urban management.

Although effective, sealing off an entire city or region should always be a last resort. It will surely have a negative social impact and damage the economy. The Conversation
Fei Chen is a senior lecturer of architecture, University of Liverpool

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

BRICS power drivers – India and China

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Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi with the President of Brazil, Ms. Dilma Rousseff, the President of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Xi Jinping, the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vladimir Putin and the President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Jacob Zuma, during BRICS official photo, at the Sixth BRICS Summit, at Ceara Events Centre, in Fortaleza, Brazil on July 15, 2014.Photo: PIB.

Analysis By Shastri Ramachandaran

NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS) – The Sixth BRICS Summit which ended Wednesday in Fortaleza, Brazil, attracted more attention than any other such gathering in the alliance’s short history, and not just from its own members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Two external groups defined by divergent interests closely watched proceedings: on the one hand, emerging economies and developing countries, and on the other, a group comprising the United States, Japan and other Western countries thriving on the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

The first group wanted BRICS to succeed in taking its first big steps towards a more democratic global order where international institutions can be reshaped to become more equitable and representative of the world’s majority. The second group has routinely inspired obituaries of BRICS and gambled on the hope that India-China rivalry would stall the BRICS alliance from turning words into deeds.

In the event, the outcome of the three-day BRICS Summit must be a disappointment to the latter group. First, the obituaries were belied as being premature, if not unwarranted. Second, as its more sophisticated opponents have been “advising”, BRICS did not stick to an economic agenda; instead, there emerged a ringing political declaration that would resonate in the world’s trouble spots from Gaza and Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Third, and importantly, far from so-called Indian-China rivalry stalling decisions on the New Development Bank (NDB) and the emergency fund, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), the Asian giants grasped the nettle to add a strategic dimension to BRICS.

With a shift in the global economic balance of power towards Asia, the failure of the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins in spite of conditionalities, structural adjustment programmes and “reforms”, financial meltdown and the collapse of leading banks and financial institutions in the West, there had been an urgent need for new thinking and new instruments for the building of a new order.

Despite the felt need and multilateral meetings that involved developing countries, including China and India which bucked the financial downturn, there had been no sign of alternatives being formed.

It is against this backdrop – of the compelling case for firm and feasible steps towards a new global architecture of financial institutions – that BRICS, after much deliberation, succeeded in agreeing on a bank and an emergency fund.

From India’s viewpoint, this summit of BRICS – which represents one-quarter of the world’s land mass across four continents and 40 percent of the world population with a combined GDP of 24 trillion dollars – was an unqualified success. The success is sweeter for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because the BRICS summit was new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first multilateral engagement.

For a debutant, Modi acquitted himself creditably by steering clear of pitfalls in the multilateral forum as well as in bilateral exchanges – particularly in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jiping, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – and by delivering a strong political statement calling for reform of the U.N. Security Council and the IMF.

In fact, the intensification and scaling up of India-China relations by their respective powerful leaders is an important outcome of the meeting in Brazil, even though the dialogue between the Asian giants was on the summit’s side-lines. Nevertheless, Modi and Xi spoke in almost in one voice on global politics and conflict, and on the case for reform of international institutions.

The new leaders of India and China, with the power of their recently-acquired mandates, sent out an unmistakable signal that they have more interests in common that unite them than differences that separate them.

Against this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s outing was significant for other reasons, not least because of the rapport he was able to strike up, in his first meeting, with Chinese President Xi. The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

As it happened, Modi and Xi hit it off, much to the consternation of both the United States and Japan. They spoke of shared interests and common concerns, their resolve to press ahead with the agenda of BRICS and the two went so far as to agree on the need for an early resolution of their boundary issue. They invited each other for a state visit, and Xi went one better by inviting Modi to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in China in November and asking India to deepen its involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Modi’s “fruitful” 80-minute meeting with Xi highlights that the two are inclined to seize the opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships towards larger economic, political and strategic objectives. This meeting has set the tone for Xi’s visit to India in September.

Although strengthening India-China relationship, opening up new tracks and widening and deepening engagement had been one of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s biggest achievements in 10 years of government (2004-2014), after a certain point there was no new trigger or momentum to the ties. Now Xi and Modi are investing effort to infuse new vitality into the relationship which will have an impact in the region and beyond.

As is the wont when it comes to foreign affairs and national security, Modi’s new government has not deviated from the path charted out by the previous government. BRICS as a foreign policy priority represents both continuity and consistency. Even so, the BJP deserves full marks because it did not treat BRICS and the Brazil summit as something it had to go through with for the sake of form or as a chore handed down by the previous government of Manmohan Singh.

Before leaving for Brazil, Modi stressed the “high importance” he attached to BRICS and left no one in doubt that global politics would be high on its agenda.

He pointed attention to the political dimension of the BRICS Summit as a highly political event taking place “at a time of political turmoil, conflict and humanitarian crises in several parts of the world.”

“I look at the BRICS Summit as an opportunity to discuss with my BRICS partners how we can contribute to international efforts to address regional crises, address security threats and restore a climate of peace and stability in the world,” Modi had said on eve of the summit.

Having struck the right notes that would endear him to the Chinese leadership, Modi hailed Russia as “India’s greatest friend” after he met President Vladimir Putin on the side-lines of the summit.

India belongs to BRICS, and if BRICS is the way to move forward in the world, then BRICS can look to India, along with China, for leading the way, regardless of political change at home. That would appear to be the point made by Modi in his first multilateral appearance.

Brumby launches Westpac language program for India and China

By our business reporter

Melbourne, 4 August: Victoria’s Premier John Brumby here today launched the Westpac Group’s new Cultural and language Learning Program for China and India.

Mr. Brumby said the program was an exciting new way to help staff and clients better engage markets in China and India.
“China and India are two Victoria’s most important partners, and so it is vital that we continue to enrich and deepen our engagement with these dynamic and rapidly transforming economies”, he said.

Alice Wong, Westpac’s Head of Asia and Migrant Markets said, “This initiative will help our customers who wish to engage in trade flow between Australia and Asian nations”.

Chairman of Asialink, Mr. Sid Myer said “the ‘Asian century’ means different things to different people, but what it does not mean is business as usual. Asialink is honoured to partner and The Westpac Group in its creative response to the challenge of doing business differently – providing new tools for the new century.