What’s Bugging China?

By William J. Furney

It’s the most difficult challenge of our time, and there’s one question every country on the planet wants an answer to — except one, unless it already knows; and even if it does, it’s almost certain to keep schtum.

More than 4.1 million people around the world have died in the last year and a half from a bug that originated in China and that the Chinese dictatorship tried to hush-up; and the hypersensitive mandarins in Beijing are upset, all over again, that the people of the world want to know the true origin of the novel coronavirus. 

Just when most of us thought we were emerging from the locked-down nightmare, many of us are back, helplessly swirling, in the dystopian vortex. 

The world, via the World Health Organization, whose own standing has also plummeted over its disastrous covid stance, tried to find out how the nasty microorganism managed to infect people, and if the devastating virus did, in fact, leap from a wet-market creature like bats or pangolins to humans. That was earlier this year, when a WHO team was dispatched to China, only to come back with barely any details at all. 

The Chinese leaders, under the helmsmanship of blossoming cult figure Xi Jinping — who this week made his first visit as president to annexed Tibet (photo above), whose spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, remains in exile in Dharamshala, India — are nothing if not masterful at keeping information out of the hands of people.

Attention, first discredited, aimed at a Wuhan lab leak has gained traction, among the White House administration and the WHO, which is seeking more details. This week the WHO said it wanted to probe labs in and around the area where the devastating bug broke out. 

China, however, is not impressed. Beijing responded to the new request, via deputy health minister Zeng Yixin, that such an investigation would demonstrate “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science”. 

When millions are dead and the lives of the living remain severely disrupted, amid historical economic woes and millions having lost their jobs, it’s supreme arrogance to disallow such an essential fact-finding mission, after the first, earlier this year, was effectively stonewalled. 

The US called China’s response “irresponsible” and “dangerous”, as the largely meat-eating world seeks to prevent a future pandemic from erupting and bringing everything to a halt all over again. 

The world’s most populous countries have suffered enormously from covid, due to the undeniable fact that they have more people on their landmasses than smaller nations, and that covid is a highly infectious disease. But, strangely, the one with the largest population, China, with 1.4 billion people, has had relatively few cases of infection and deaths, compared to other giant countries. 

Weigh up China’s almost 105,000 confirmed covid cases and just over 4,848 deaths — according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, at the time of writing — with that of the next most populous country: India, with a nearly similar number of people (1.36 billion) and 31.2 million confirmed covid cases and more than 419,000 fatalities. Or the third-largest country by population, the United States: 328 million people; 34.4 million infections recorded; over 610,000 deaths — the world’s highest covid death toll. 

Could it be that China is more medically advanced than the rest of the world, and was better able to deal with outbreaks and treat patients? What’s believed to be pandemic ground zero — the city of Wuhan in Hubei province — was locked down with steely severity at the start of the pandemic, early last year, and that certainly was a key measure in containing the spread. 

But Chinese authorities clamped down on medics’ initial reports of the emergence of a contagious new disease, silencing one doctor who tried to raise the alarm and who subsequently died of covid. And China has been busy locking up citizen reporters who wrote about the pandemic in the country, kicking foreign reporters out and pulling the plug on foreign news services like the otherwise-trusted BBC

The tiny Republic of Ireland, where I was born, has 4.9 million people and more covid deaths than China — currently at 5,026. So China’s figures don’t add up, whichever way you look at it. 

A totalitarian, dictatorial regime that denies its people the sort of freewheeling information freedom that most of the rest of the world enjoys and takes for granted, cutting off the internet and engaging in rabid acts of censorship, can determine what its facts and figures are without much fear of reprisal, even if it’s ridiculed abroad. It has too many people, and too much global financial clout, to care what outsiders think. 

Which leads us to the question: Is China a member of the international community at all?

  • Title image shows Chinese President Xi Jinping arriving in Tibet on July 21, 2021. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)