The ongoing debate on the coronavirus crisis is bound to include an investigation into the causes of the pandemic and all factors that played a part in its spread. However, are we not driving ourselves into a witch-hunt? After all, Europe is now full of phrases about the spirit of solidarity in the fight against the pandemic and the upcoming economic crisis.
Theories about the origin of the virus have been multiplying and, so far, they include bats, pangolins and shady labs in Wuhan. They all lead to China. Certain politicians went as far as using the term “the Chinese virus.” On a side note, the French helped build the Wuhan laboratories.
It is justified to be suspicious of Beijing. China has been facing widespread accusations of down-playing the scale of the outbreak and hiding its origins. Reports of Chinese misinformation have featured on numerous media platforms. Beijing has even been blamed for taking advantage of the pandemic in order to push its geopolitical agenda by linking it to Chinese aid. China is not without fault when it comes to COVID-19. On the international stage, the Chinese are no angels either. After all, the Middle Kingdom is the world’s second largest economy and as such, it aggressively pursues its national interest. China’s recent history is also full of dark pages. These include the brutal crushing of the Tiananmen protests in 1989, ongoing suppression of Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations and processes and open hostility towards Taiwan.
On the flipside, is the Western World without blame? In recent weeks, a number of politicians agreed we were not prepared for the cataclysm. In recent days, Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell apologized for our mistakes in the European Parliament’s Hemicycle. We have all been beating ourselves up about the lack of means to fight the pandemic and shortages in PPE and basic medicines. Years ago, we decided to deindustrialize and move our production to China. Part of it was considered dirty, the other part – uneconomical. The price we are paying now is the consequence of our own choices.
Even though China’s actions have met justified criticism, are we not taking it too far, especially in comparison to our behaviour towards Russia? The very same Russia that resorted to military means in order to prevent the collapse of the USSR. The very same Russia that violently dealt with Chechnya, invaded Georgia and Ukraine. Yet, we still tend to strive for best possible relations with Moscow, falling just slightly short of downright appeasement. We open up our economies to Russia. The Kremlin is the reason our defence systems are excessively transparent. All this in hope of shaping the Russian Bear into something similar to our Western model. So far, our track record has been mediocre in this regard. In consequence, lack of determination and choosing short-term wins over strategic interests are to blame.
Therefore, are we not creating an artificial and distant rival instead of finding a way to deal with the immediate one? Are we not burying our heads in the sand, pretending that the Russian prob-lem is not there and replacing it with the imagined Chinese threat?
China is a remarkable economy and a nuclear power. Beijing makes its presence known in distant corners of the world by investing in harbours, airports or communication networks. In other words, trading outposts. We have reasons to believe that these outposts may be used to exert political influence, perhaps even military power.
The USSR was an influential superpower too. It used far more aggressive and far bloodier methods to secure its interests, which were motivated ideologically by Communism. However, the West did not go to war with Moscow. The Free World employed a wide range of non-military means and let the Evil Empire implode. As mentioned above, our attempts to pacify Russia’s aggressive tendencies have fallen short of our expectations. We did, however, manage to put a dent in Moscow’s ambitions.
Today, we should embrace the fact that Beijing has not been trying to copy-paste Moscow’s actions towards the West. In consequence, perhaps we should consider rewarding it with a milder approach than our treatment of the USSR?