Should China pay for Covid-19?

Covid-19 is a zoonosis, a disease in which an infectious agent specific to animals manages to pass to humans. The current virus – like its predecessors that caused SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, 2003), Avian Influenza (2004) and Swine Influenza H1N1 (2009) – originated in a traditional Chinese market, where domestic and wild animals are crowded together, living in terrible hygienic conditions before being slaughtered on the spot after purchase. 

These markets are known as “wet” markets because of the large amount of animal liquids flowing through them. 

Yet as early as 2010, Chinese doctors, including Zhong Nanshan (one of the world’s leading pulmonologists, a hero in the fight against SARS and former President of the Chinese Medical Association), publicly called for the closure of such markets, without being listened to at all.

As this highly contagious disease appeared in Wuhan in November 2019, the Communist Party of China (CCP), putting ideology before science, committed three crimes. 

On January 1, it arrested doctors at the central hospital who were sounding the alarm. Then it told the WHO on January 13, that there was no evidence that the disease was transmissible from person to person. Finally, on 18 January, it authorised a giant patriotic banquet of 40,000 people to be held in Wuhan. 

Those three weeks lost in the initial fight against the virus now weigh heavily. If the disease had been treated as soon as it emerged, there would not be a pandemic today.

But instead of acknowledging its responsibility, the CCP is engaging in a practice well-known to psychologists: accusatory reversal, in which one accuses others of one’s own turpitude. 

On March 13, Zhao Lijian, the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry dared to tweet that “the American army may have brought the epidemic to Wuhan”, through military sports games. Similarly, in a series of truly incredible tweets, the Chinese Embassy in Paris dared to boast that China is better at managing Covid-19 because it has “that sense of community and civility that Western democracies lack. ”  It is like the arsonist who comes to give moral lessons to the burned victims…

In developing his pharaonic New Silk Roads commercial project, President Xi Jinping promised us a win-win scenario. But Chinese-style globalisation is now a global disaster because the CCP has refused to take into account crucial, ancient and well-known sanitary and epidemiological elements.

It would therefore be legitimate for China to grant financial compensation to the states affected by the pandemic. Does this global misfortune not offer a good opportunity to introduce the principle of “international responsibility” into law?

In the same way that companies have had the polluter-pays principle imposed on them, it would not be abnormal for states to also have to pay when, refusing to take account of the warnings they receive, they make mistakes that lead to disasters. The problem is that there is no institution in the world capable of setting the amount of such global compensation and then imposing it on a country as powerful as China.

However, in the United States, senators have already begun to demand that China “pay for the damage” caused by its imperialism. It is easy to imagine what the response of Chinese diplomats will be. They will hold America to account for its catastrophic military invasion of Iraq in March 2003, when it had been solemnly invited to renounce it in a speech to the UN by France’s foreign minister, its oldest ally.

China might also consider that in order to repair its international reputation, it would be in its interest to propose the payment of a global compensation package. Alas, even if it is morally regrettable, China will not pay.

Indeed, paying would mean Beijing’s acknowledgement of its responsibility. Such an admission would be suicidal for the CCP, which seeks to conceal its initial mismanagement of the crisis from its own people.

If making Beijing pay is not in our power, we can, on the other hand, drastically reduce our dependence on China by relocating our strategic production on national and European territory, starting with medicines. Industrial relocation is the real win-win bet of the decade. Westerners would regain economic prosperity and sovereignty.

China, for its part, by refocusing on its domestic market, would be able to take better care of its own population.

This article was first published in Le Figaro.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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