Coronavirus and the world economic depression of 2020
[The following article, by Dr Ranjeet Brar, has been written as an Appendix to Harpal Brar’s forthcoming book, Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, which will be available via the CPGB-ML website later this year].
In December, 2019, a local outbreak of pneumonia of initially unknown cause was detected in Wuhan (Hubei, China), and was quickly determined to be caused by a novel coronavirus, namely severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The outbreak has since spread to every province of mainland China, and subsequently has been identified throughout the nations of the world. (1)
Identifying the disease – half the battle
Medical and laboratory teams working in Wuhan, after a few weeks of experience, realised that they were dealing with a new disease. On January 9, 2020, the Chinese health authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the discovery of a novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, which was confirmed as the agent responsible for the pneumonia cases.
Over the weekend of January 11-12, the Chinese authorities shared the full sequence of the coronavirus genome, as detected in samples taken from the first patients.
Sylvie van der Werf, Director of the French National Reference Centre (CNR) for Respiratory Viruses at the Institut Pasteur emphasised the importance of this achievement:
"Sequencing the genome of pathogens is crucial for the development of specific diagnostic tests and the identification of potential treatment options," she explained.(2)
This remarkably rapid recognition of a novel pathogen, its identification as the agent causing the 2019 coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and the rapid sequencing of that virus’ genetic code was by any medical or scientific standard, a remarkable achievement.
People’s war on coronavirus
While the initial infectivity and mortality of the novel coronavirus was not clear, the fact that not only patients but also health workers were falling ill and dying of this aggressive viral pneumonia, led the Chinese government to adopt a policy of mass viral RNA testing, contact tracing and isolation of suspected cases.
Many thousands of residents of Wuhan and its surrounding area were thus discovered to have been infected, triggering the rapid adoption of extensive and coordinated public health measures in Wuhan, Hubei, and to a lesser degree throughout China.
Those measures, characterised by Xi Jinping as a “People’s War on coronavirus” proved so successful that they brought the virus under control within a matter of weeks. However some 82,000 Chinese citizens caught the virus before its spread was arrested, and 4,200 Chinese citizens have so far died of the disease.
On the basis of figures from Wuhan, the WHO has used a crude estimate of mortality rate from Covid-19 to be 3.4%, but with improved testing, care and public health measures, that rate fell to 0.7% outside Wuhan. It is widely believed by epidemiologists that the true case fatality rate is between 1 and 2 percent.(3) But this mortality rate has been noted to vary markedly between nations, according to societal conditions, available healthcare facilities and the organisational and public health measures adopted by governments to combat the disease.
If one bears in mind that the world influenza pandemic of 1918-19 had an estimated mortality rate of just 2 percent, yet killed between 50 and 100 million globally, it can be appreciated that this is a serious global health problem. The success of China’s health measures can therefore be judged by the fact that this highly infectious agent was prevented from spreading further; 82,000 citizens represent just 0.005 percent of China’s 1.4 billion population.
Contrast this to Britain, where the laissez-faire approach of so-called ‘herd immunity’ led the Health Minister, Matt Hancock, to announce that the likely scenario was that eighty percent (80%) of Britain’s 66 million population would catch Covid-19.
Moreover China’s rate of mortality is among the lowest of any nation on earth, with just 3 fatalities per million of the population attributable to Covid-19. (Compare this to the USA with 312 or the UK with 558 deaths per million).
This is not the first coronavirus to hit the headlines. Previous severe outbreaks of coronaviridae – the 2002 SARS outbreak and the 2014 MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – were both zoonotic corona viruses, that is, they had origins in animal diseases to which humans proved susceptible.
Both had a much higher propensity to cause this severe viral pneumonia (SARS) and a much higher death rate (10 percent and 34 percent respectively(4)), but their saving grace was the fact that they did not spread easily from person to person as we now know that COVID-19 does, principally in respiratory droplets and to a lesser degree fine aerosol particles.
What is the source of China’s success in tacking Covid-19?
It was not simply advanced technology that enabled this response – so impressive that hostile observers simply refuse to believe it – but the nature of China’s social system, its organisation, the educational level of the population, and their collective spirit. It was the Communist Party of China’s leadership and the social organisation and the culture bequeathed by China’s revolutionary socialist legacy that enabled her to combat this, as other social ills, notwithstanding the degree of market encroachment upon her economy.
This conclusion is underlined by the other nations that have done particularly well in initiating effective public health measures. Vietnam has had no coronavirus deaths despite its proximity and intimate economic and communications links with China.(5) Kerala, the southern state of India, bucks the trend of the third world in general and India in particular, as having initiated a singularly farsighted and proactive public health response, led as it is by the CPI(M), an ideologically communist government.(6)
China was quick, once it understood the nature of the threat it was facing, to contact the world scientific and medical community, and foreign governments, via the World Health Organisation, other scientific institutions and organisations, and via diplomatic channels.(7)
China’s scientific and medical literature and publications regarding the virus were legion, and made widely available to the world in many languages, including the dominant English-medium scientific and popular press.
All of this is in keeping with the fact that China has become one of the world’s leading scientific nations, as highlighted by the fact that it has recently become the country with the greatest annual output of peer-reviewed scientific research papers.(8)
On 23rd January 2020 (the date is important), Nathan Grubaugh, assistant professor of epidemiology at US ivy-league Yale medical school, appraised China’s achievements in combating coronavirus in the following terms:
“As the world watches – and worries about a new respiratory virus known as nCOV2019 emerging in China, many are praising China’s scientific community for sharing information about the virus as soon as it becomes available…
“Two weeks ago, we didn’t even know what the nCOV2019 virus was. Today, thanks to China’s quick public release of the initial nCOV2019 virus genome, there are now 18 genomes connected to nCOV2019 that are being shared and studied by scientists around the world. By rapidly sharing this data, scientists were able to quickly identify nCOV2019 as a novel coronavirus related to those previously found in bats. It is about 80% similar to SARS coronavirus, but it is distinctly not SARS. More importantly, with this information, the international community has been able to test and validate several diagnostic assays that could help identify patients with the virus more quickly. To go from unknown pathogen to diagnostic tests so quickly is incredible!”(9)
World Health Organisation Appraisal
The World Health Organisation and the European CDC sent a delegation to Wuhan (including US delegates) in February 2020. That delegation reported back contemporaneously and collated a comprehensive report that anyone seeking to understand and comment upon the coronavirus should read. Having witnessed the scale and speed of China’s response, the delegates of the WHO appraised China’s response in the following terms:
“In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history. The strategy that underpinned this containment effort was initially a national approach that promoted universal temperature monitoring, masking, and hand washing. However, as the outbreak evolved, and knowledge was gained, a science and risk-based approach was taken to tailor implementation. Specific containment measures were adjusted to the provincial, county and even community context, the capacity of the setting, and the nature of novel coronavirus transmission there.”
“Achieving China’s exceptional coverage with and adherence to these containment measures has only been possible due to the deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action in the face of this common threat. At a community level this is reflected in the remarkable solidarity of provinces and cities in support of the most vulnerable populations and communities. Despite ongoing outbreaks in their own areas, Governors and Mayors have continued to send thousands of health care workers and tons of vital PPE supplies into Hubei province and Wuhan city.
“China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic. A particularly compelling statistic is that on the first day of the advance team’s work there were 2,478 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in China. Two weeks later, on the final day of this Mission, China reported 409 newly confirmed cases. This decline in COVID-19 cases across China is real.
“By extension, the reduction that has been achieved in the force of COVID-19 infection in China has also played a significant role in protecting the global community and creating a stronger first line of defence against international spread. Containing this outbreak, however, has come at great cost and sacrifice by China and its people, in both human and material terms…”
Summarising the key elements of China’s response that made it so effective, the report continues:
“These include overcoming any obstacles to act immediately on early alerts, to massively scale-up capacity for isolation and care, to optimize the protection of frontline health care workers in all settings, to enhance collaborative action on priority gaps in knowledge and tools, and to more clearly communicate key data and developments internationally.
“China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response.
“This rather unique and unprecedented public health response in China reversed the escalating cases in both Hubei, where there has been widespread community transmission, and in the importation provinces, where family clusters appear to have driven the outbreak” [emphasis added].(10)
As early as 28 January 2020, President Xi Jinping, meeting with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, in Beijing, said China would defeat the “devil” coronavirus that had killed more than 100 people in the country, as moves were made to limit the movement of the population and restrict regional and national travel.
“The epidemic is a devil. We cannot let the devil hide,” were the words of President Xi. Devil is the word used by the Chinese historically to denote the Europeans who brought first trade, then opium, then colonial subjugation to her shores, and there has been some speculation that the talk of people’s war in conjunction with the term ‘devil’ to describe the virus was a coded message that spread from a hostile imperialist source was suspected.
It remains largely speculation, however, as China’s overwhelming message has been one of “global solidarity in the face of a common threat”. At the same meeting In January, Xi Jinping said information would be shared “transparently, responsibly and in a timely way”. He added: “We have complete confidence and ability to win this defensive battle against the epidemic.”
At that meeting, Dr Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation, praised China’s government for its handling of the outbreak…. saying that the response showcased “China’s speed, China’s scale, and China’s efficiency . . . This is the advantage of China’s system, worthy for other countries to learn from.” (11)
Whence the virus?
While this early testimony of the World Health Organisation and ECDC, backed by objective observers from the US and international scientific and medical community pays glowing testimony to China’s efforts to combat the evolving coronavirus epidemic – which has nonetheless evolved into a global pandemic – another narrative has played out in the global media, dominated as it is by the agents of imperialism, with the USA at their head.
President Trump and other US politicians and media sources have been quick to label Covid-19 the “China Virus”, “Wuhan Virus” and even the “Communist Virus” or “CCP Virus” [by which they mean the Chinese Communist Party, or CPC], not only in unofficial tweets, and in the increasingly incoherent daily ramblings of the US President before the tame US and international press, but also from official US state documents and pronouncements and in the all-embracing psychological warfare and social media operations of US and British imperialism, whose nefarious output has increased dramatically in the context of the present crisis.(12)
In the face of this continual provocation, Chinese scientists and officials have let it be known that they are not entirely convinced that the origin of Covid-19 was the wet-market in Wuhan to which they had connected many cases from China’s initial outbreak. Wet-markets, let us note in passing, are essentially fresh-food or farmers’ markets – nothing more nor less – so-called because of the ice used to keep products fresh.
On February 27, Zhong Nashan, a Chinese scientist involved in Beijing’s national response, suggested the following: “Though the COVID-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China.”(13)
This is logically unassailable. And further:
“On 12 March, Lijian Zhao, an official spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took to Twitter to insinuate that ‘it might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.’ Zhao… added that the United States should ‘be transparent’ and ‘make public your date.’ The ‘US owe us an explanation,’ he added”.(14)
The date to which Zhao referred was the date of the first patient (so-called ‘patient zero’) diagnosed with Covid-19 in the USA. Once the disease was decoded and tested for, it proved to be far more widespread in the USA than single point spread from China could easily explain, implying that the Covid-19 infection in the US actually preceded China’s. To date one third of proven world cases have been in the USA, which has rapidly become the world epicentre of the disease, ahead of Europe.
The World military games had been held in Wuhan, China, in October 2019, and is a putative event which could have introduced Covid-19 to China and spread it further afield. Moreover, as the virus has been identified and testing become available, it is becoming clear that Covid-19 was present in countries far removed from China long before the outbreak was identified in Wuhan.
For example, samples taken from a patient who suffered a life-threatening chest infection in France in November 2019 – before the Wuhan outbreak, in China – have been retested and it has now been confirmed by French medical scientists that the patient was in fact suffering from Covid-19. In other words Covid-19 was present in France before any case had been detected in China, but the disease was not recognised or identified.(15)
Not only does this again demonstrate China’s achievement in identifying a novel viral pathogen so rapidly and comprehensively, but it brings into question the geographical origin of Covid-19, which, while being a natural phenomenon, remains unproven.
Method behind the madness?
Irrespective of the putative geographical origin of coronavirus, and putting aside the accusations that the virus represents a bioweapon – of which there is no compelling evidence – the question is: can one nation be held responsible or accountable for the evolution and spread of a new disease? Is this not the human condition?
Well, yes and no. If we accept that the virus occurred naturally, and is not in itself the ‘fault’ of any one person or nation – and this is not accepted in the imperialist media, as the following quote from Lord Andrew Adonis, British Labour Peer makes abundantly clear – then there is a question also of the governmental and health response of any nation or system, and that is a question of interest and relevance.
Andrew Adonis, EU-phile and despicable Blairite servant of imperialism that he is, penned a provocative article entitled ‘Coronavirus – China’s Chernobyl’. (16)
“This is China’s Chernobyl: the moment a local health crisis became a global pandemic and the secretive, brutal dictatorship which allowed it to happen became the world’s most serious problem state.
“…The global implications are even more serious than Chernobyl. Xi’s dictatorship is on the rise and not in decline, as with Gorbachev’s regime when the catastrophe occurred on April 26, 1986, at the No.4 nuclear reactor. While glasnost and perestroika were defenestrating Stalin’s crumbling Soviet empire, the tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 re-asserted the control of the Chinese Community Party over the world’s most populous nation. [The political and historical depth of analysis here is exemplified by the fact that Lord Adonis holds Stalin, who died in 1953, accountable for a nuclear accident that happened 36 years after his death. But we are reproducing this quote to demonstrate the frenzied and vitriolic nature of British and US imperialist coverage, rather than its truthfulness or logical coherence].
“Thirty years later, Beijing has a new Mao in the calm, methodical, ruthless Xi. After abolishing the 10-year presidential term limits in China’s post-Mao constitution, Xi appears now to be emperor for life.
“We were warned. To an eerie degree – the nature of the respiratory disease as well as the dictatorship and deceit in the Chinese state – Covid-19 is a re-run of the SARS pandemic of 2002-04. Except it is far worse, with a death toll already more than a hundred times larger.
“…Downplaying the scale of the outbreak delayed effective international action, allowing the virus to be exported by plane and ship to the four corners of the world. The spread appears to have been notably helped by Iran, severely affected early on, whose dictatorship also suppressed its extent for fear of destabilising the regime.”
This is at odds with the assessments, quoted above, of the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Control, US and world medical and scientific opinion, who, let us recall, thought that “to go from unknown pathogen to diagnostic tests so quickly is incredible!” (Yale medical school professor), and that “In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history.” The latter quote is from the report of the WHO and ECDC delegation to Wuhan in February 2020, which also stated quite unequivocally that “China has also played a significant role in protecting the global community and creating a stronger first line of defence against international spread.”
But let us get this Lord Adonis quote finished with:
“…The root of the problem with China is its one-party state and dictatorship. Until these are ended, there can be no real safety and security in our relations with Beijing, just as there will be precious little freedom for most of the Chinese people. But there is a difference. Whereas Tiananmen Square was a crime against a nation, coronavirus will probably rank as a crime against humanity.”(17)
We will leave aside the historically inaccurate allusion to Tiananmen Square – which is dealt with elsewhere in this volume. But let us pose a question: by this rationale, if the coronavirus now appears to have originated in France, or the USA, will that mean that the USA or France have committed crimes against humanity in Lord Andrew Adonis’ eyes? Of course not! He is as partisan as his analysis is patently false and he is transparently stupid.
China, however, has met unreason with reason, and published a transparent timeline of its response and sharing of information, which can, in any event, be easily found and verified independently.(18) It is a response that puts most of the capitalist world in the shade.
The American Century?
These words, so typical of the response of British and US politicians are part of a deeper war being waged against China, as a major power that limits the realisation of the ‘American Century’, that dream of unbridled and unchallenged world-wide supremacy of the imperialist powers, under US hegemony, throughout the political, diplomatic, military, economic and cultural fields
That is why when Coronavirus was first being covered by our media as a specifically ‘Chinese’ problem, all discussion centered around the culpability of China’s ‘totalitarian state’, the suffering of her people at the hands of the ‘authoritarian regime’, and that regime’s ‘suppression of information.’ There was daily gloating of the mounting case numbers, even as they were being – most transparently – reported by the Chinese government and media.
China’s warning to the world, that they should prepare, went unheeded by the wealthy but deeply inequitable imperialist nations. Her direct governmental contact and rigorous sharing of medical and scientific information about the virus was in fact studiously ignored by the majority of western and particularly the chief imperialist powers (Britain, the USA and the European Union), until months had passed, and the WHO announced that the global health emergency had become a world pandemic with Europe as its epicentre.
The real crime against humanity is attributable only to capitalism.
If there was a crime committed against humanity, in connection with Covid-19, it is abundantly clear that the US, British and European governments, are chiefly responsible. In the first instance this is due to the unprecedented levels of inequality in the world today that leave billions of impoverished workers and farmers unable to access even the rudiments of civilisation, let alone access to sophisticated testing, ventilators and ICU care! If creation of poverty was a crime – as it should be – then global imperialism would be the undeniable public enemy number one. Yet this thinking, this obvious and glaring fact, is studiously drilled out of the population by our education and media.
It is clear that China coped with Covid-19 particularly well precisely because of the elements of her government that remain communist, and her ‘people first’ approach.
If China was able to construct new hospitals within 10 days; bring about mass testing and contact tracing; detect, decode and share the genetic structure of Covid-19 within days; rapidly educate her population and enlist the real force of mass cooperation; create facilities to take care of the mildly infected while socially isolating them from the population; selectively shut down the local epicentre in Wuhan while having a graduated approach to movement and detection tailored to the local environment; and at all times safeguard life and the freedom of her 1.4 billion people, that is to the credit of China’s socialist system of government.
Any rational society in the 21st century, with prevailing levels of technology, should be able to say the same. All impartial observers have recognised these facts. China did the hard part. It took the brunt of the onslaught and shared the keys to beating the virus – as a ‘benefit to humanity’.
Herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad
It is equally clear that the capitalist states, operating on a laissez faire free-market fundamentalist approach, with a no-holds-barred fight for global economic and political domination uppermost in their minds, cared not one jot for the wellbeing of their working people, and were interested only in promoting their pre-existing propaganda and economic war against China.
Dominic Cummings, all-powerful mandarin and special advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, outlined the UK Government’s Malthusian position which, according to those present at the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) meeting of Thursday 12 March, as reported in the Sunday Times of 22 March, was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.(19) (20)
NHS overwhelmed owing to privatisation and indebtedness
The UK’s poor response has been conditioned by 40 years of running down and privatising its National Health Service, leaving it indebted and mismanaged, with all manner of profiteers running away with the billions being pumped through the health service into their coffers.
In addition, the bleeding of the NHS by medical-technology, service and drug companies and private capitalist consortia have, under Blair’s PFI schemes, extracted £80 billion in direct capital service charges (interest) from NHS trust operational budgets, and helped in the process to halve the number of hospital beds, such that the NHS now it has only 140,000 acute beds (in 1980 it had more than 300,000) and, under normal circumstances, only 4,000 intensive care beds – these are the lowest rates in Europe, and have meant that in order to cope with the number of Britons hospitalised with Covid, the NHS has had to shut down normal elective activity – with huge knock on effects. Thus when the government announces that the NHS has not been overwhelmed by Covid – this is an absolute falsehood.
In turn, the Covid crisis and emergency legislation pushed through on its back have been used to fuel a further injection of cash into the big four management companies, who remarkably have been the people commissioned to coordinate the building of the Nightingale Hospitals – which treated almost no one – the procurement and manufacturing of ventilators – which never actually happened – and the sourcing and supply of adequate PPE, which was considered even by Tories to have been a national disaster. The terms of these contracts are opaque and unaccountable under Covid Law.
Moreover it transpires that Operation Cygnus, run in 2017 while Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt was Health Secretary – infamous for his campaign against Britain’s junior doctors and the imposition of massive pay-cuts under a new contract – actually revealed that Britain would not be able to cope with the long anticipated pandemic of this sort, and in the event of such an event would “fall over”.
So antithetical were preparations to the direction of travel of his policy under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (overt privatisation and moving towards the US health model of insurance-based healthcare), that this report, considered too toxic to be published, was instead buried.
Yet in January, US and British spokesmen and press had veritably gloated over the Chinese people’s pain, while doing nothing to help China, or prepare and safeguard their own population, despite the warnings of their own and China’s scientists.
The Great Depression of 2020
On March 12, as Covid-19 hit European and US shores – as it inevitably would without any timely and coordinated actions to prevent its influx, detect or limit its spread, or prepare facilities for its treatment and isolation – the WHO declared the virus to be a global pandemic.
Throughout February and March, Global stock markets went into freefall. As of March 2020, global stocks have seen a downturn of at least 25% during the crash, and 30% in most G20 nations. On March 20, Goldman Sachs warned that the US GDP would shrink 29% by the end of the 2nd quarter of 2020, and that unemployment could skyrocket to at least 9%.(21)
The US and British governmental focus switched to bailing out their failing businesses to the tune of trillions of dollars, while continuing to ignore the health of their populations. The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was particularly poor in the US and Britain, precisely because of the philosophical free-market fundamentalist approach of their governments to all questions. Over a million newly unemployed workers, dumped immediately by their employers, signed on within the first week of the lockdown.(22) (23) Unemployment in Britain has soared in the last 6 weeks, with at least 1.5 million newly unemployed adding to the official figures.
In an article entitled ‘Forget “recession”: this is a depression’, David Blanchflower, the US bourgeois professor of economics at Dartmouth College, said unemployment was rising at the fastest rate in living memory.
“ … UK unemployment could rapidly rise to more than 6 million people, around 21% of the entire workforce, based on analysis of US job market figures that suggest unemployment across the Atlantic could reach 52.8 million, around 32% of the workforce.” (24)
Upping the ante: China is to blame!
Thus US and European imperialist nations, particularly the UK, experienced the simultaneous hit of depression and mass infection. Unemployment skyrocketed, US crude oil-prices became negative, and stock-markets collapsed worldwide. Too late adequately to test, trace and isolate the virus from the population, measures of mass quarantine, or ‘lockdown’ were effected in a crude attempt to suppress the rate of infection – however imperfectly. This of course had the effect of further compounding their economic and social problems.
Adding to the many other calumnies, accusations were made that China was culpable for the entire spectacle, both for the pandemic and economic depression – because of not acting fast enough, and for spreading the virus to the world. Hence accusations “raised in the United States — including by prominent lawmakers — that SARS-nCoV-2 might have been bioengineered [by the Chinese] (a proposition for which no evidence exists and one that is also logically unsound).
“The COVID-19 pandemic is just starting, but it’s starting to look as if this will turn into a major sore point between the United States and China. In particular, as China’s national response begins to take effect and the U.S. public health crisis appears to be ramping up…. the effects on U.S.-China relations are unlikely to be positive.” (25)
Films, tweets, social media post and even documentaries circulating on social media are pushing the claim that Covid-19 is a Chinese bioweapon. One such documentary, for example, has been attributed to the Falun Gong religious cult, with links to US intelligence services.(26)
In Britain, the following overtly racist Times editorial is typical:
“If Covid-19 had a passport, it would be registered in Beijing. It is of Chinese origin. And most experts suggest it has something to do with those wet markets and the questionable Chinese predilection for sweet’n’sour stir-fried bat and pangolin balls in a bap.” (27)
The Chinese, you see are “bat-eating, wet-market animal selling, virus-making greedy bastards” (ibid.)
The aim of the USA, and the Trump administration, has been to divert attention from its own abysmal and misanthropic performance, which is really a systemic failure of global monopoly capitalism – both economic and in terms of healthcare – by laying blame for the pandemic on China.
President Trump made it clear that he wishes to seek an ‘international inquiry’, orchestrated and controlled by the USA, under the cover of some international agency if possible (or a ‘coalition of the willing’ if not), with the sole aim of covering up the inadequacy of the capitalist world’s efforts to protect the health of workers, on the one hand, and diverting the mass discontent of their working classes at this and the growing burden of poverty they have been suffering consequent upon the decade of stagnation, compounded by the new economic crisis that hit in March-April 2020, triggered – but not caused – by the Covid-19 pandemic itself.
Trump has openly called for reparations and threatened to cancel the US debt owed to China, which runs to 1.2 trillion dollars.
“The Washington Post reported that high-level meetings were under way in the White House to discuss options, including suing for compensation, which would involve stripping China of ‘sovereign immunity’ or cancelling debt obligations to China.
“The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has repeatedly suggested that the coronavirus could have come from a virology laboratory in Wuhan”. (28)
“Asked about [cancelling the $1.2 trillion debt that the US owes to China] at the end of April, Trump said ‘you start playing those games and that’s tough.’ He said cancelling interest payments to China could undermine the ‘sanctity of the dollar,’ but he added that there were other ways to levy extreme penalties on China, such as raising $1 trillion by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports.”(29)
This China-bashing in place of an adequate response to Covid-19, together with the crisis-ridden workings of the capitalist economy, have cost the world’s people dearly. The 2020 Great Depression has left the imperialist and capitalist world in disarray, with the impoverished globally particularly hard-hit, both in developed imperialist nations, where death rate has been directly related to poverty, and in the third world:
Thus USA and UK have become the worst affected nations to date. By the beginning of June 2020, there were 6 million test-diagnosed cases of Covid-19 world-wide, causing a known 362,629 deaths.
The USA alone accounts for 1,768,608 of these test-proven cases and 103,344 of the proven Covid-19 deaths. The UK, with 269,127 test-proven cases and 37,837 in-hospital deaths, is the worst hit nation in Europe. Moreover the true number killed in the UK is likely to be above 60,000 when calculated by excess mortality.(30)
Coronavirus is now known to be impacting populous nations such as Brazil and India, but the true global toll taken on the poorest inhabitants of the planet will again be attributable to the grossly uneven distribution of wealth under monopoly capitalism – a distribution imposed at gunpoint by the most powerful imperialist nations on earth.
USA withdraws funding from the WHO – the China blame game
On 14 April, US president Donald Trump announced that the USA would withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation in view of what he termed its “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”. He also criticised the organisation’s relationship with China. “’American taxpayers provide between $400m and $500m per year to the WHO; in contrast China contributes roughly $40m a year, even less’, Mr Trump said on Tuesday [14 April]. ‘As the organisation’s leading sponsor, the United States has a duty to insist on full accountability.”(31)
The Financial Times has a duty to paraphrase Trump in order to make him sound coherent. But it is an irrational response to his own government’s ineptitude, and the systemic failings of an economic model that before the virus hit has left 60 million of the poorest US citizens without health insurance, and millions more underinsured and unable to access medical care owing to the prohibitive associated costs.
“Jim Risch, the Republican senator from Idaho who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, said last week that the WHO had become a ‘political puppet of the Chinese government’ and called for an independent investigation into the organisation” (ibid.).
China and Cuba give aid to the world
While China succeeded in bringing to end the period of contagion, and moving instead to a watchful system of monitoring, lifting lockdown in Wuhan itself after 76 days on April 15 (the day after Trump withdrew funding from the WHO, in fact), this was a period when Europe and USA were experiencing exponential growth in coronavirus cases – and deaths.
EU nations witnessed an unseemly scramble for sufficient healthcare materials, including personal protective equipment (PPE), anaesthetic medicines and ventilators with which to treat their populations, having neglected timely testing, tracing and isolation strategies, and failed to prepare almost entirely.
The dominant nations again discriminated against the weak, even within the alleged European ‘community’ or ‘union’, prompting Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić, in face of abandonment by the European Union, and on receiving medical aid and expert help from China, to observe, on 15 March, that:
“European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper. I have sent a special letter to the only ones who can help, and that is China…”
He noted that many Western governments had pressed Serbia to change its tender procedures in order to reduce imports of Chinese goods and import from the EU instead. “But now the same governments do not want to help Serbia even in exchange for money.”(32)
Aid flowed from China, as jumbo-jets laden with medical equipment landed on the tarmac of major cities and capitals around the world – including European nations hit hard by the virus: Athens, Rome, Paris, Madrid and London. China’s donation of 300 ventilators and a great deal of PPI to the UK was the subject of very little fanfare – blink, and you may have missed it.(33)
Rather than thank their “Chinese brothers”, as had the Serbian president, the imperialist governments were so chilled by the spectacle of aid (rather than plunder) moving from East to West, that they treated it almost as an act of war.
This response, more than any other, demonstrates the true attitudes and values of the capitalist governments, their appreciation of the relationship between world opinion and world power, and their realisation that China’s great act of human solidarity represented a mortal threat to their own anti-social and reactionary grip on the minds of their own people, and world public opinion.
Cuba’s doctors, as ever, have acted heroically in giving generous medical aid to the peoples of the world – and as ever been lambasted by western liberals and imperialist jackals alike.
“In Lombardy … everyone is grateful for their [Cuba’s doctors’] professionalism and their humbleness and availability to a country they hardly know,” said Marco Grimaldi, a politician from north-west Italy who helped to negotiate the arrival of a group of 39 Cuban healthcare workers with diplomats from Havana. “Imagine if Europe could manage to do the same.” (34)
The Guardian, meanwhile, is unmoved, putting forth he same tired anti-communist lies: “Cuba’s communist rulers have been sending medical teams overseas for decades in a bid to save lives and influence people.”
Yes. It’s all an evil plot of the ‘communist rulers’. Far better to influence by sending troops, to murder, occupy and rob other nations.
Tipping the scales: China’s inexorable rise is changing the balance of world power
But it is China’s rise, and the shift in the balance of world economic power that have driven the frenzied attitude of our bourgeois politicians. So large has China’s economic and political influence become that even imperialist satellite nations have considerable economic ties and political interest in maintaining those relations.
“As much as any other single development, China’s rise over the past two decades has remade the landscape of global politics. Beginning with its entry into the World Trade Organization in December 2001, China rapidly transformed its economy from a low-cost ‘factory to the world’ to a global leader in advanced technologies. Along the way, it has transformed global supply chains, but also international diplomacy, leveraging its success to become the primary trading and development partner for emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
“But Beijing’s emergence as a global power has also created tensions. Early expectations that China’s integration into the global economy would lead to liberalization at home and moderation abroad have proven overly optimistic, especially since President Xi Jinping rose to power in 2012. Instead, Xi has overseen a domestic crackdown on dissent, in order to shore up and expand the Chinese Communist Party’s control over every aspect of Chinese society. Needed economic reforms have been put on the backburner, while unfair trade practices, such as forced technology transfers and other restrictions for foreign corporations operating in China, have resulted in a trade war with the US and increasing criticism from Europe.
“Meanwhile, China’s ‘quiet rise’ has given way to more vocal expressions of great power aspirations and a more assertive international posture, particularly with regard to China’s territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Combined with Beijing’s ‘military modernization program’, that has put Asia, as well as the United States, on notice that China’s economic power will have geopolitical implications. Now the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has opened up opportunities for China to expand its influence, even as it has called into question both China’s credibility as a responsible stakeholder and the future of the supply chains that have fuelled its economic success story.”(35)
What is exercising Pentagon and Whitehouse officials is that China has become too large and powerful to push around. In recent military analyses the US imperialists have discovered that they if they are not already incapable of winning a war with China, they soon will be – putting their aggression into context. Are some making the case for an attack on China before it’s too late?
“…defense officials and military analysts [revealed] earlier this year that in war games simulating great-power conflict in which the United States fights Russia and China, the United States ‘gets its ass handed to it.’
“Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum last week, Admiral Philip Davidson, who oversees US military forces in Asia, called China ‘the greatest long-term strategic threat to the United States and the rules-based international order.’ He described China’s rapid military buildup in nearly every domain—air, sea, land, space, and cyber—and said that while China’s capabilities don’t outnumber America’s in the region for now, it’s possible they could overtake the United States’ within the next five years”.
But the sheer number of ships, missiles, planes, and people doesn’t tell the whole story. What already gives the Chinese the advantage is geography:
“The Obama administration’s ill-fated Asia pivot did not prevent the growth of China’s military and economic power in the region, as it built artificial islands, embedded itself in key infrastructure projects, and invested in its military. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has called into question whether the United States would defend its treaty allies in the Pacific, such as Japan, with complaints about the expense.” (36)
The Times of 16 May 2020 carries the same story:
“The United States would be defeated in a sea war with China and would struggle to stop an invasion of Taiwan, according to a series of ‘eye-opening’ war games by the Pentagon.
“American defence sources have told The Times that simulated conflicts conducted by the US concluded that their forces would be overwhelmed. One war game focused on the year 2030, by which time the Chinese navy would operate new attack submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers.
“The analysis also found that Beijing’s accumulation of medium-range ballistic missiles has already made every US base and any American carrier battle group operating in the Indo-Pacific Command region vulnerable to overwhelming strikes. The Pacific island of Guam, a base for American strategic bombers such as the B-2 and B-52, is now considered wholly at risk.
“’China has long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles and hypersonic [more than five times the speed of sound] missiles,’ a US defence source said, meaning that US carrier groups could not oppose their Chinese counterparts ‘without suffering capital losses’.
“The conclusions, described as ‘eye-opening’ by one source, are supported by the most recent analysis provided by America’s leading experts on China.
“’Every simulation that has been conducted looking at the threat from China by 2030 have all ended up with the defeat of the US,’ Bonnie Glaser, director of the China power project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a consultant for the US government on east Asia, said.”(37)
Thus the British state has promised a “deep dive re-evaluation” of our relations with China, including a re-evaluation of the role that Huawei will play in rolling out 5G telecommunications networks across Britain.
“Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, warned that the UK could not maintain ‘business as usual’ with China. ‘We will have to ask the hard questions about how it [Covid-19] came about and how it couldn’t have been stopped earlier,’ he said.
“Hawkish Conservative MPs are calling for Britain to conduct a strategic reset of relations with China. A growing number want Downing Street to review its approval for the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to supply the UK’s 5G infrastructure, amid security concerns. The company denies that it poses a risk.” (38)
China’s response to the imperialist propaganda frenzy
In response to this mounting cacophony, China took the opportunity afforded by the 73rd Session of the World Health Organisation’s World Health Assembly, in Geneva, Switzerland, on 17 May 2020, to reply. Xi Jinping made a measured and coherent speech, demonstrating a level of global solidarity, responsibility and leadership that has been notably absent from the US – that self-styled ‘leader of the free world’!
President Xi took the wind out of Trump’s sails, when he pledged not only to back an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 – so long as that inquiry was undertaken in a transparent and impartial manner and backed the WHO – but pledged to replaced and more than double the now-withdrawn US funding of that organisation, as a donation to the fight against coronavirus:
“In China, after making painstaking efforts and enormous sacrifice, we have turned the tide on the virus and protected the life and health of our people. All along, we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility. We have provided information to WHO and relevant countries in a most timely fashion. We have released the genome sequence at the earliest possible time. We have shared control and treatment experience with the world without reservation. We have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need.
“First, we must do everything we can for COVID-19 control and treatment. This is a most urgent task. We must always put the people first, for nothing in the world is more precious than people’s lives. We need to deploy medical expertise and critical supplies to places where they are needed the most. We need to take strong steps in such key areas as prevention, quarantine, detection, treatment and tracing. We need to move as fast as we can to curb the global spread of the virus and do our best to stem cross-border transmission. We need to step up information sharing, exchange experience and best practice, and pursue international cooperation on testing methods, clinical treatment, and vaccine and medicine research and development. We also need to continue supporting global research by scientists on the source and transmission routes of the virus.
“Second, the World Health Organization should lead the global response. Under the leadership of Dr Tedros, WHO has made a major contribution in leading and advancing the global response to COVID-19. Its good work is applauded by the international community. At this crucial juncture, to support WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle for saving lives as well. China calls on the international community to increase political and financial support for WHO so as to mobilise resources worldwide to defeat the virus.
“China will provide US$2 billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries.
“China will establish a cooperation mechanism for its hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals and accelerate the building of the Africa CDC headquarters to help the continent ramp up its disease preparedness and control capacity.
“COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment in China, when available, will be made a global public good. This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.
“China will work with other G20 members to implement the Debt Service Suspension Initiative for the poorest countries. China is also ready to work with the international community to bolster support for the hardest-hit countries under the greatest strain of debt service, so that they could tide over the current difficulties.”
The Telegraph reported this historic meeting in rather niggardly terms, but was forced to report much of Xi’s message:
“The World Health Organization has backed calls for an independent inquiry into its handling of the pandemic as China pledged $2billion for efforts to contain the coronavirus in developing countries and the US accused the body of presiding over a costly failure.
“Speaking at the World Health Assembly – the decision-making body of the WHO – director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he welcomed a proposal by more than 120 countries – tabled by the European Union and Australia but not China – for a ‘stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation’ of its response to the pandemic.
“Dr Tedros said he would launch “an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment’ ….
“An early report into WHO’s handling of the crisis by its independent oversight body said that the organisation had ‘demonstrated leadership’ and that its performance should be reviewed but not during the ‘heat of the response’.
“The report also said the WHO would need an estimated $1.7 billion to the end of the year, leaving it with a funding gap of $1.3 billion.
“Chinese president Xi Jinping told the assembly he would back a ‘comprehensive review”’ of the pandemic after it had been brought under control.
“Answering critics who said the country covered up the outbreak when it first emerged in Wuhan, central China at the end of last year Mr Xi insisted his country had acted with ‘openness, transparency and responsibility’, providing information to WHO and relevant countries in a ‘timely fashion’.
“He also tried to smooth over criticism by announcing $2 billion to support virus response efforts, calling for continued research into the source of the virus, pledging to make vaccines a global public good when possible, and encouraging information-sharing on best practices”.
The heart of the matter
It is clear then, that the coronavirus is not the fault of China, but a natural phenomenon. However each society’s response to such a situation holds up a mirror in which can be judged the true values of that society – and it is clear that imperialism, monopoly capitalism, has been depicted in all its glaringly inhuman colours.
Coronavirus, then, does not lie at the heart of world conflict, but the entire power relations and economy of global monopoly capitalism are driving inexorably towards conflict, based on the exploitation of labour power by capital, of small and economically under-developed nations by the strong imperialist nations, and by conflict between the imperialist powers.
In the midst of this global chaos and catastrophe, the rise of China is to be welcomed as a stabilising anti-imperialist force. The Chinese people are indeed our brothers, to echo the words of the Serbian prime minister.
But it is our duty also to sound a note of caution: that the degree of market penetration of China’s economy makes her vulnerable to the effects of the capitalist economic chaos that will ensue over the coming years. If world imperialism, under the leadership of the United States, ever manages to launch a coordinated attack on the People’s Republic of China, the Trojan horse of marketisation, as represented by the Chinese billionaire class, is only too likely to play a treacherous role.
As great depression hits, one cannot but look nostalgically to the strong clarion call that drew together the workers’ resistance in the 1920s, and to the Third International in the aftermath of the great socialist October Revolution.
Be that as it may, it remains abundantly clear today, however, that the only way to escape capitalist crisis and the drumroll of imperialist war is a Bolshevik struggle and a Bolshevik revolution, to build a new society based upon a rational and planned economy, in which the working people control global wealth, wresting it from the clutches of the billionaire elite, and usher in an era of planned production, peace and prosperity. Only then will it be possible to meet the needs of the masses in a balanced and sustainable manner, safeguard the environment and the health and wellbeing of the people of the world.
(1) Ensheng Dong, Hongru Du and Lauren Gardner, ‘An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time’, The Lancet, 19 February 2020.
(2) Institut Pasteur, ‘Whole genome of novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, sequenced’, Science Daily, 31 January 2020.
(3) Joseph T. Wu, et al., ‘Estimating clinical severity of COVID-19 from the transmission dynamics in Wuhan, China’, Naturemedicine, 19 March 2020.
(4) Elisabeth Mahase, ‘Coronavirus: covid-19 has killed more people than SARS and MERS combined, despite lower case fatality rate’, BMJ, 18 February 2020.
(5) Anna Jones, Coronavirus: How ‘overreaction’ made Vietnam a virus success’, BBC News, 15 May 2020. ‘
(6) Laura Spinney, ‘The coronavirus slayer! How Kerala’s rock star health minister helped save it from Covid-19’, The Guardian, 14 May 2020.
(7) Ensheng Dong, Hongru Du and Lauren Gardner, ‘An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time’, The Lancet, 19 February 2020
(8) ‘China Overtakes U.S. With The Highest Number of Scientific Publications’, Enago Academy, 13 June 2018.
(9) Nathan Grubaugh, ‘Rapid Data Sharing and Genomics Vital to China Virus Response’, Yale School of Medicine. January 23, 2020
(10) WHO, Report on China –joint mission on Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
(11) See Don Weinland, Yuan Yang, Tom Hancock and Alice Woodhouse, ‘China’s Xi Jinping pledges to overcome ‘devil’ coronavirus’, Financial Times, 28 January 2020.
(12) RiversTown.net – New York State reader’s letter from Joy Zhao, 8 April 2020, ‘Let’s call it the CCP virus’.
(13) Ankit Panda, ‘Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Implies US Military Brought Coronavirus to Wuhan’, The Diplomat, 13 March 2020.
(15) Ross Cullen, ‘Was there COVID-19 in France last November?’, CGTN, 11 May 2020.
(16) Andrew Adonis, ‘I have seen China’s deadly obfuscation at first hand’, The New European, 16 April 2020.
(18) ‘China publishes timeline on COVID-19 information sharing, int’l cooperation’, Xinhuanet, 6 April 2020.
(19) Stephen Paton, ‘Cummings: Protect the economy and if some pensioners die, “too bad”’, The National, 22 March 2020.
(20) Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler, ‘Coronavirus: ten days that shook Britain — and changed the nation for ever’, The Sunday Times, 22 March 2020.
(21) Carmen Reinicke, ‘Goldman Sachs now says US GDP will shrink 24% next quarter amid the coronavirus pandemic – which would be 2.5 times bigger than any decline in history’, Business Insider, 20 March 2020.
(22) Ministry of Housing, ‘Government support available for landlords and renters reflecting the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’, www.gov.uk
(23) Richard Adams and Heather Stewart, ‘UK schools to be closed indefinitely and exams cancelled’, The Guardian, 18 March 2020.
(24) Richard Partington, ‘Unemployment in US and UK ‘may be worse than in Great Depression’, The Guardian, 3 April 2020.
(25) Ankit Panda, ‘Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Implies US Military Brought Coronavirus to Wuhan’, The Diplomat, 13 March 2020.
(26) ‘Coronavirus: BCG rumours and other stories fact-checked’, BBC News, 18 April 2020.
(27) Rod Liddle, ‘We all know how nasty China can be, but it bungs us another panda and all is forgiven’, The Sunday Times, 17 May 2020.
(28) Patrick Wintour, ‘US intelligence agencies under pressure to link coronavirus to Chinese labs’, The Guardian, 30 April 2020.
(29) Jeff Stein, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Gerry Shih ‘U.S. officials crafting retaliatory actions against China over coronavirus as President Trump fumes’. Washington Post, 30 April 2020.
(30) John Burn-Murdoch and Chris Giles, ‘UK suffers second-highest death rate from coronavirus’, Financial Times, 28 May 2020.
(31) Lauren Fedor and Katrina Manson, ‘Trump suspends funding to World Health Organization’, Financial Times, 15 April 2020.
(32) Julija Simić, ‘Serbia turns to China due to ‘lack of EU solidarity’ on coronavirus’, Euractiv, 18 March 2020.
(33) Sophie Tanno and Katie Weston, ‘UK receives 300 ventilators from China to fight coronavirus…’, Mailonline, 4 April 2020.
(34) Tom Phillips and Angela Giuffrida, ‘”Doctor diplomacy”: Cuba seeks to make its mark in Europe amid Covid-19 crisis’, The Guardian, 6 May 2020.
(35) The Editors, ‘How a rising China has remade global politics’, World Politics Review, 1 April 2020.
(36) Kathy Gilsinan, ‘How the US could lose a war With China’, The Atlantic, 25 July 2019.
(37) Michael Evans, ‘US ‘would lose any war’ fought in the Pacific with China’, The Times, 16 May 2020.
(38) Lucy Fisher, ‘Britons want China to face inquiry over coronavirus outbreak’, The Times, 20 April 2020.
(39) Sophia Yan, Nicola Smith, Sarah Newey and Anne Gulland, ‘WHO chief promises to investigate virus response at “appropriate” time as China gives $2bn to relief effort’, Daily Telegraph, 18 May 2020.