Col. (Ret’d.) Siamelie Latu is Secretary General of the Tonga China Friendship Association, a former Tongan Ambassador to China, and former Acting Secretary Foreign Affairs.
By Col. (Ret'd) Siamelie Latu
First, I would like to extend my deepest respect to the Chinese people that are working selflessly to contain and eradicate this non traditional security threat called by WHO as COVID-19 (Corona virus disease - 19). China has always emerged victorious when they work under the strong entrepreneurial, nationalist and humanist spirit that has always characterized its culture, and I am sure that this time is no exception. Moreover, the victory will be accelerated as the world continues to join hands and to understand that it is not a battle for China alone.
I would also like to convey my sincere condolences to those who have lost a loved ones as a result of Corona virus disease - 19. Life is irreplaceable and the pain lasts for the rest of our lives.
It is indeed a challenge for China to have been the original location of this deadly virus known worldwide as Corona Virus. The only way to resolve this non traditional security threat is by cooperating and collaborating as members of the human race. The virus, does not know about political borders, nor does it care for any political ideology. It just knows that to survive, it needs to spread as far as it can, and consequently, to infect as many people as it can. It is from this perspective, that I firmly believe that Corona Virus has neither ethnicity nor nationality or even geographical borders. Thus the WHO Director - General announced the new name for this novel corona virus as COVID-19 to ensure the name does not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, while still being pronounceable and related to the disease.
In addition, I am deeply concerned about how bizarre negative forces are attacking China and Chinese people as it engages a remarkably aggressive front addressing this Corona Virus outbreak which started in Wuhan, Central China on 31 December, 2019. However, this challenge is not only for China to address. It is a worldwide challenge. We are the World. The world is a global village. Therefore, it is only common sense that we the villagers, the potential recipients of Corona Virus put aside our differences and work together to combat the war against Corona Virus. Again, I strongly state herewith that Corona Virus has neither ethnicity nor nationality or even a geographical border.
United States 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu.
The 2009 H1N1 was first detected in the United States in April 2009. This virus was a unique combination of influenza virus genes never previously identified in either animals or people. The virus genes were a combination of genes most closely related to North American swine-lineage H1N1 and Eurasian lineage swine-origin H1N1 influenza viruses.
When the United States 2009 H1N1 swine flu broke out, it eventually infected 60 million and initially killed a minimum of 18,449 cases that year. But the final story of the H1N1 global pandemic was far worse than that, with close to 300,000 deaths, according to the final tallies in 2012 reported by the Central Control Disease and Prevention (CDC).
"The CDC researchers estimated that the H1N1 2009 pandemic virus caused 201,200 respiratory deaths and another 83,300 deaths from cardiovascular disease associated with H1N1 infections." Total: 284,000 deaths. Isn’t it Shocking? The question is: Was there a travel ban for any length of time to and from the United States? Did China, Germany, Japan or any other country close their border to American travelers?
With the outbreak of the Corona Virus in China, the United States, France and Russia are working to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan despite a lockdown on the city. The United Kingdom Embassy just released the same recommendation to subjects of the Kingdom even in Australia and New Zealand.
It took six months for the United States to declare a national emergency of the outbreak of HINI 2009 pandemic virus. Did any government from the onset in April 2009 through to the end of April 2010, including the month of June, when H1N1 was declared an international emergency global pandemic, then send out a notice to its citizens that they should leave the United States? Close their borders to American travelers? No, not at all, not even a warning or a peep.
In 2009, did UK subjects in America get a notice from their government to leave America? No. Did the world major powers suggest that we isolate America? Close the U.S. borders? No. Did Americans get xenophobically attacked and targeted by anti-American sentiments like the Chinese are experiencing now? No.
Fascinating and disturbing to say the least. If you're an expert currently working in China, unless you're in Wuhan, the fact is that you're most likely safer and more peaceful and more stable by simply staying put than by leaving right now. You couldn't be safer than in this country, where almost everyone is staying home and dutifully isolating themselves with awareness. My son and his wife are teaching at Ivy Academy and their 8 year old son goes to the same Academy in Beijing, and are suggesting it’s better for them to stay put and follow instructions of the Chinese government. For me as a father, it is a hard decision whether to evacuate my son and his family. But I trust the Chinese government is doing its best to safeguard everybody whether Chinese or foreigners from this deadly virus Corona. In addition, the Tongan Ambassador resident in China will indeed update the government of Tonga through our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Not to mention that the Chinese government's decision to safeguard the society, the families, the people, is coming at a devastating economic cost in the hundreds of billions.
During the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, I have not found anyone throwing any xenophobic anti-America attacks across the globe. There are hateful vicious attacks on the Chinese government in the social media for their supposed intentional conspiracy to intentionally under report the number of infections, yet that is exactly and always the case with such flu outbreaks no matter what country and the CDC reports illustrate that crystal clear.
Vicious attack on Chinese Government
First is the cartoon published in a Danish newspaper, the Jutland Post, which replaced the five stars on the Chinese national flag with a pictogram of the virus as depicted below:
The cartoon was backed by Danish politicians, who once again retorted with cries of freedom of speech but freedom of speech should not harbor freedom of discrimination based on race, nationality or any other denominator according to Ms. Liu Xin of the China Global Television Network (CGTN).
I agree that bats don't carry passports. Foreigners can catch the virus too. To imply there's a connection between the virus and the Chinese nationality or race is wrong and insensitive, at a time when people are dying, and enormous sacrifice is being made according to CGTN.
In France, a publication ran with the headline "Yellow Alert" alongside a picture of a woman wearing a mask.
This phenomenon is affecting not only citizens of Chinese descent but Asians as a whole. And it's not just happening online but also on public transport and in schools. People are insulted and kicked off public transport because they are Asian. It's not just jokes/hatred on social networks. Discrimination also happens in real life.
On the cover of the latest version of the German magazine Der Spiegel, it reads: “Corona-Virus, Made in China, when globalization becomes a deadly danger.”
We have heard that these societies people are, in general, well educated and respectful towards others. But such headlines really call that into doubt. Yet they all have diplomatic relations with China. Could the publishers have been serious?
Now here comes the champion of all titles: that of a piece published in the Wall Street Journal on February 3rd, 2020, which reads “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia” written by Walter Russel Mead a Distinguised Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship.
Now, the US H1N1 flu pandemic, which broke out in the U.S. in 2009, caused some 18,400 deaths worldwide. The question is: Did anybody write about the Real Sick Man of North America? The title shows a complete lack of sympathy – even humanity – for China, from the writer and whoever decided to put that in print, in what is turning into one of its darkest hours in China's recent history. In the article, the writer took a swipe at the Communist Party of China, claiming "there are signs that Chinese authorities are still trying to conceal the true scale of the problem." We all understood the situation. As explained by Ms. Liu of CGTN: In the beginning, the epidemic was not handled properly and promptly. Local officials have acknowledged that on TV. Efforts quickly caught up, but hospitals were overwhelmed, and possibly still are. Without quick and accurate diagnostics, we simply don't know the true scale of things. Top-level experts have said that on national TV, what they know so far and what they don't!
The article also calls into question the credibility of the government, saying, "the performance to date has shaken confidence in the Chinese Communist Party at home and abroad."
Dr. Li Wenliang's death sparked a level of collective anger and grief, previously unseen on Chinese social media. Dr. Li was hailed as a national hero. At first, he was apprehended by Wuhan police for “spreading rumours” about the Corona Virus outbreak. He warned others about what he believed was the re-emergence of SARS. The Supreme People's Court had published an article suggesting his message should have been tolerated even heeded instead of cast as rumours. Unfortunately, he had already caught the virus and perished days later. Lots of anger and questions poured out on social media. Overnight, the Chinese central government decided to dispatch a team to investigate his case comprehensively.
Something is not right
I am reading hateful vicious attacks on the Chinese government for their supposed intentional conspiracy to intentionally under report the number of infections, yet that is exactly and always the case with such flu outbreaks no matter what country and the CDC reports illustrate that crystal clear.
It took six months for the United States to declare a national emergency. Did any government from the onset in April 2009 through to the end of April 2010, including the month of June, when H1N1 was declared an international emergency global pandemic, then send out a notice to its citizens that they should leave the United States? Close their borders to American travelers? There was not even a warning or a peep.
The U.S. H1N1 swine flu numbers were vastly underestimated and updated three years later, because that is the nature of such viral outbreaks which don't care from which country they started. There is never enough man power, there are never enough test kits, there is never enough medicine or medical supplies. China is not trying to hide these hardships, they are well known, they are being reported on the news daily in China. There are always people who die, thousands of them whom we'll never know if they actually died because of a particular virus. Those are the facts, not any problem unique to China's healthcare system or government.
Something is not right with the way humanity is responding to what's happening in the People’s Republic of China. As China and the world continue to fight this virus, let us not point fingers, attack our fellow citizens, or spread fear and hate. Let us unite in the face of common adversity, fight the best fight we can, and move forward to a healthier and brighter future.
It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just tragedy
According to the June 27, 2012 research report follow up three years later, it gets much more disturbing when you learn about the CDC's final estimate of the H1N1 virus global death toll. We can all find this at this article at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy website, the CDC's 18,449 total deaths number was "...regarded as WELL BELOW THE TRUE TOTAL, mainly because many people who die of flu-related causes are not tested for the disease." So during the 2009 outbreak, was anyone accusing the American medical and government authorities of hiding the numbers? Were Americans with hidden cameras strolling into the Mayo Clinic to PROVE how many people were really dying? The absurdity of these vicious attacks are that whether or not a person specifically does have the Corona Virus or some other viral bug presenting as pneumonia, the treatment is the same supportive treatment anyway.
The world should be applauding China's unprecedented, broad, aggressive response. (WHO officials and many other government and healthcare officials across the globe are.) My son and his family are on the ground in China, observing and watching with their own eyes and it is quite incredible by any measure, not to mention an enormous economic sacrifice.
Finally, here are some straight up, sensible accurate descriptions of this Corona virus which started in Wuhan, China. Its not called the China virus and neither was H1N1 called the America virus. Whether two weeks or two months from now, this flu season type virus will have passed and the joy of Spring will have arrived and the people will enjoy. Just like every flu season. The extra caution and the remarkable response by the Chinese governments and people together to quell the spread of this virus was warranted because, it is correct that this Corona Virus is nastier than the usual annual flu bug, as was H1N1 in 2009. As of now, what we can confidently note the following regarding this Corona virus: This Corona virus is highly contagious, it spreads quite easily. It binds to lung tissue and so in particular, likes to cause pneumonia, that's what infection of lung tissue is. That's more severe than a respiratory infection which is only in your throat or bronchial tubes.
China identified and shared the Corona Virus genome in record times, in only days and of course, immediately shared it with all international health and disease organizations. Medical researchers are already discovering that certain existing anti-viral medications seem to be effective against this Corona Virus.
This vicious, political, xenophobic racist attacks and smearing of all things China needs to stop. Its really not helping anyone in the political corridors of any country nor is it doing anything to help the man on the street who is just concerned with taking care of his family.
The xenophobia needs to stop now. Whether in a couple of weeks or months later, this nasty flu type Corona Virus will begin declining and the joy of Spring in China will arrive and the people will be back to normal routine and enjoy the Spring holidays. Between now and then if we don't have anything good, anything supportive to say about China or Chinese people, how about we pray for the government of China and its people as well as all foreigners in China.
A period of introspection will take place in due course, and China will find answers in its own way and come out all the stronger for it. Lessons will be learned. The world should have more confidence in China. Unlike chilling titles and words from some, recognition and support from others are like rays of sunshine, warming the hearts of a people in tears. God bless China and its people.