China must pay
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - May 6, 2020 - 12:00am

Three weeks before China began containment measures against the coronavirus, Dr. Li Wenliang, a fellow at the Wuhan Central Hospital, alerted his colleagues in the medical community of a new viral outbreak that was highly contagious. A few days later, the Wuhan police sent Dr. Wenliang a letter warning him that he would receive the full consequence of the law if he continued to speak about the viral outbreak.

Chinese authorities appeared to have known about brewing pandemic many weeks before alerting the World Health Organization (WHO). But they kept it under wraps. They even ignored the requests of foreign governments to send experts to Wuhan to find out exactly what was happening. China kept the world in the dark about the contagion due to fear of economic isolation and nationalistic pride, asserted a German newspaper.

US intelligence agencies reported that China deliberately understated the number of people who contracted and died from the virus. Exacerbating matters was how Beijing suppressed news of important developments relating to the contagion including its lethality last December and January. Even today, the Chinese rejects calls for an independent investigation on the origins of the coronavirus. Clearly, China has something to hide.

The governments of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have all expressed doubts about China’s forthrightness. Researchers attest that had China alerted the international community just three weeks before it did, the spread of the virus could have been reduced by at least 50 percent. More than 600,000 people would have been spared from infection and 125,000 deaths would have been avoided.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on China to be more forthcoming about the early days of the outbreak; French Prime Minister Macron said it is naïve to think that China handled the pandemic well. “There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about”; UK Foreign Minister Raab stated, “China will face hard questions about the outbreak” – how it came about and how it could have been stopped earlier. Australian Foreign Minister Payne is demanding international investigation (not by the WHO) on the origins and spread of the virus and full transparency and accountability from China; US President Donald Trump warned that China will face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for unleashing the coronavirus pandemic.

China has reacted by spreading its own conspiracy theories to deflect responsibility for the contagion. Last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a series of tweets suggesting that the virus may have been spread by the US military. They even had the temerity to blame other countries for the high death toll saying that they did not prepare enough for the contagion.

Under pressure of global skepticism, China admitted to “shortcomings and deficiencies” in their response to the corona outbreak. They revised Wuhan’s death toll from 2,579 to 3,869 deaths.

Just as individuals and corporations are held liable for deaths due to dishonesty and suppression of information, so should China be legally and financially liable for the deaths of some 247,000 people, not to mention trillions of dollars in economic loss and the pain and anguish of millions of people displaced by the pandemic.

Theoretically, the United Nations Security Council should be the venue to hear this case. Problem is, China and Russia are both members of the council and can exercise their permanent right to veto the council’s resolution. This renders the Security Council impotent.

The next best option is to sue China before the International Court of Justice. But again, there is a problem. Just as China ignored the decision of the International Tribunal for the Laws of the Seas (ITLOS) that ruled in favor of the Philippines when we sued them for their illegal occupation of the West Philippine Sea, so can they ignore the decision of the International Court of Justice.

Filing a case before the WHO is not an option. China is a huge financial donor to the WHO and this has evidently put the organization under China’s control. Proof? Despite China’s apparent dishonesty, WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, even praised China’s leadership for its “openness to share information.” Mr. Ghebreyesus also followed the Chinese policy on Taiwan by excluding them from membership in WHO and barring it from COVID response meetings.

Without legal options, the international community is finding ways to make China pay for the damage it has wrought to people and economies.

It recommended that western countries ban Chinese students from studying and engaging in scientific research in their universities. The Chinese are the world champions in intellectual property theft and imposing a ban on educational exchanges will curtail this illegal practice, asserts American officials. The second is by imposing economic sanctions on the communist state by barring them from buying microchips that relate to advance technologies like artificial intelligence and biotechnology. The third is by freezing the assets of the members of the communist party abroad and imposing a travel ban on them. Fourth is to seize the assets of Chinese state-owned companies, including infrastructure projects repossessed by China under the One-Belt-One Road initiative.

Nations are angry and have already begun the process of retribution. Japan has recently announced a $2 billion incentive package for companies that repatriate back to Japan. The United Kingdom dropped Huawei as the country’s provider of 5G technology. Samsung is shutting down its mobile phone production in China. 80 percent of American companies and 67 percent of European companies expressed their intent to leave China, according to survey by quality control and supply chain auditor, QIMA.

For us Filipinos, the pandemic caused our economy to lose the high growth momentum we have worked so hard for. It has effectively set us back by five years in as far as poverty alleviation and employment is concerned. It has relegated 1.1 million of our countrymen to unemployment. It has caused the repatriation of half a million OFWs. It has caused bankruptcies for thousands of small businesses, among many others.

For all its abuses, dishonesty and manipulation, Filipinos must stand behind western nations and their demand for a deep dive investigation and just compensation from China. To give China a free pass after all it has done undermines the interest of the Filipino. It is downright unpatriotic and even treasonous.

Indeed, China has a large debt to pay to the Filipino. All these, in addition to grabbing our sovereign territories in the west Philippine Sea.

DR. LI WENLIAN US WHO
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