Why China Might Suffer ‘Global Social Distancing’ In A Post-Covid-19 World 

Why China Might Suffer ‘Global Social Distancing’ In A Post-Covid-19 World 

by Dinny Sasidharan - Wednesday, April 8, 2020 01:55 PM IST
Why China Might Suffer ‘Global Social Distancing’ In A Post-Covid-19 World Chinese President Xi Jingping, right. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
  • It is unlikely that China will drastically lose its economic clout in the near future, but ‘Brand China’ would have definitely lost some of its sheen.

The cause for spread of COVID-19 in China is yet to be fully ascertained.

However, it is now a well-established fact that China could have much earlier, ‘truthfully’ informed the world about the exact nature of the virus and thus helped in saving thousands of precious lives across the globe.

In that context, a tweet which went viral stating, “China lied, people died” makes a statement in itself.

Long after the world settles down after the tragic COVID-19 pandemic, the global geo-political landscape would have changed forever.

The worldwide respect that Chinese passports enjoyed would be one such change.

It is unlikely that China will drastically lose its economic clout in the near future, but ‘Brand China’ would have definitely lost some of its sheen.

Over the past few years, Chinese government, especially under President Xi Jinping, had taken a lot of initiatives to create a positive image of China across the world. They had realised that even though the country had made rapid economic progress, the international image of China was not a favourable one.

It was perceived globally as a Communist-ruled, highly ambitious, rapidly progressing, authoritarian state which cannot be trusted.

Of course, it was also perceived as a state with little or no individual liberties or freedom.

It would also be fair to say that many Western media also played their part to further propagate such an image.

This immensely hurt the Chinese pride for a very long time.

It is in this background that President Xi Jinping had used all his resources to promote the soft power of China and thereby redeem its image.

The citizens of China themselves were involved in this in a big way.

This soft power projection included a large number of Chinese tourists visiting various countries, establishment of Chinese cultural centres across the globe and also Chinese students studying in many foreign universities.

The Chinese diaspora also played a very important role in this image building exercise. Many analysts believe that the much hyped ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, with a plethora of ‘soft loans’, was also packaged with this strategic interest in mind, apart from the economic and geo-political interests.

All such activities were carefully monitored and calibrated by the Chinese government itself.

Post COVID-19, all this is set to change.

After the impact of the virus manifested across the globe, US President Donald Trump clearly blamed China and publicly called the virus as ‘China virus’.

There is a visible global trend of renaming the COVID-19, as the ‘China’ or ‘Wuhan’ virus. In the past few weeks, there have been physical attacks associated with ‘maskophobia’ on Chinese nationals in many COVID-19 affected countries.

Even the Chinese offers for medical aid to some other affected countries were received with sharp criticisms and bitter cynicisms.

There has been a $20 trillion-dollar lawsuit filed against China in Texas for “the creation and release, accidental or otherwise, the COVID-19 as a biological weapon by China”.

These indicate to a certain extent the anger with which the world perceives China today and holds it responsible for this global tragedy of immeasurable proportions.

‘Made in China’ has a whole new meaning now, for the millions of ordinary citizens across the globe.

This ignominy would surely hurt China, where symbolism matters immensely and where the citizens take a lot of pride in their country.

How will the Chinese take it? Whom will they hold accountable for the current mess?

At the peak of this crisis in Wuhan, the brutal handling of the situation by the Chinese state was witnessed by the world. Chinese citizens paid a very heavy price in terms of lives lost and human rights crushed in the fight against the virus.

After the virus spread across the globe, the Chinese now face ‘social distancing’ by the international community.

A country which was perceived as an economic super power in the making is now seen as the ‘epicentre of one of the greatest threats to human kind’.

The perception battle has been lost by the Chinese, at least for the moment.

There are now reports emerging from China which indicate deep frustration amongst the citizens. Young Chinese netizens are skilfully using social media to vent their ire, especially against President Xi Jinping.

Public protests have also emerged in Hubei province.

Despite severe clampdown, complete media censorship and huge propaganda machinery at work, the Chinese government has not been able to change the ‘Facts were hidden’ narrative.

Once the world recovers from the clutches of this virus, the Chinese will have to live with this narrative and the ‘global social distancing’ for a very long time.

Only time will reveal whether this ‘global social distancing’ along with an overwhelming ‘pent-up national frustration’ becomes a watershed moment for drastic changes in the political architecture of China or whether the ‘middle kingdom’ comes out more powerful.

Colonel (retd) Dinny Sasidharan served as an Indian Army Infantry officer for 22 years and was faculty at the Defence Services Staff College, Tamil Nadu.

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