The most politicized pandemic in modern history

Tom Fowdy
As China battles a resurgence in COVID-19, the West has politicized the pandemic for ideological and political hegemony.
Tom Fowdy

Since COVID-19 became known to the world in early 2020, there have been many voices who have sought to politicize the pandemic since the first day, taking particular aim at China with the goal of scoring points.

While on paper, the outbreak of a virus is a scientific and humanitarian problem that the world ought to work together to contain, it is a sad state of affairs that as Shanghai battles its outbreak, COVID-19 will become the most politicized pandemic in modern history. Never before has an outbreak been so zealous in its pursuit of discrediting a single country and its political system as this one.

The politicization of the pandemic by the West stems from a foreign policy environment that has rendered all things pertaining to China into a zero-sum contest for ideological and political hegemony, an environment that has made it impossible to objectively and impartially assess any matters pertaining to the country. In other words, a Cold War mentality.

In such a context, China's political system and achievements are viewed as threatening to the West's ideological exceptionalism, and therefore, they must be thoroughly discredited as a "model" at all costs. This has created a toxic media environment in which there is an obsession with negative coverage of China, even to the point of erasing facts entirely.

As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic has been grossly politicized against China. In the early days, the outbreak of Wuhan was designated as a failure of China's political system and ideology, drawing upon the assumption that these events could not happen in the "transparent" and "civilized West." Orientalist arguments were also used to blame China's culture and cuisine.

However, once the pandemic became globalized, China was then scapegoated as part of an opportunistic blame game spearheaded by an aggressive US administration, who used it as a means to reset their own and allies' foreign policies toward China.

Contrary to the narrative, however, China's successful zero-COVID policy not only overcame the outbreak in Wuhan but succeeded in creating relative normality throughout the country for two years. This approach not only saved millions of lives but ultimately allowed China's economy to rebound rapidly without resorting to extreme levels of stimulus.

The response of the Western world was to simply deny China any recognition whatsoever. They accused China of lying about their numbers and began even propagating conspiracy theories such as the infamous "laboratory leak," a claim which was as nonsensical as it was offensive. But in no circumstances whatsoever were Western politicians and media prepared to give China credit for their handling of COVID-19, even as their own populations perished in large numbers.

As China created its own vaccines, the West quickly created new narratives falsely asserting that such vaccines were ineffective, publishing misinformation about their efficacy in countries which used them. It goes without saying that at every single stage and event throughout this crisis, there has been a narrative ready to attack China in some way or form. Now it is switching toward the lockdown in Shanghai, China's biggest city. Again, misinformation has been published claiming the city's lockdown is "brutal."

Such interpretations deceptively omit the bigger picture that China has offset the enormous loss of life experienced in the West.

Of course, while that does not mean the situation is perfect or that difficult decisions lie ahead, it must nonetheless be understood that Western commentary and interpretations of China's COVID-19 policy are being made in ludicrous bad faith, with the fundamental goal of attempting to undermine the country's political system and prospects as a whole.

It is true that the Omicron variant is more transmissible and has a lower death toll, which mandates a change in strategy, it is also objectively true that China's zero-COVID policy has been, above all, extremely successful.

As China battles COVID-19, it has also facing a "political pandemic" that believes it can do no right in anything it does.

(The author, a postgraduate student of Chinese studies at Oxford University, is a South Korea-based English analyst on international relations. The views are his own.)

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