China: Will it be our Saviour?

By Kate Ritchie

We’ve been fielding calls in the last fortnight from well-heeled and struggling Chinese businesspeople in Australia who are wanting to help Australia fight the coronavirus, whether it be to manufacture or import protective equipment or to set up community aid organisations. These individuals have been the beneficiaries of migration to Australia, and now they are stepping up to show their support for their adopted country.

It was only a month ago that governments, organisations and individuals in Australia were frantically sourcing supplies to send to China to help it combat the shocking coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. The Australian Embassy proudly announced its despatch of a plane load of medical supplies to Beijing and there was a mass outpouring of support to our most important partner, even our leading orchestras played symphonies to Chinese audiences.  China got through the worst of its crisis.

The Australian government donated about 2.7 million yuan worth of medical supplies to the Hubei Charity Federation, including medical masks, protective clothing, goggles, gloves, hand sanitizer, thermometers and blood pressure monitoring equipment, to help fight the novel coronavirus epidemic in the first line. In this challenging moment, Australia and China stand together! # fight the epidemic # # Go China Go Wuhan

The wheel has turned and we are now facing this surging epidemic on home shores, yet we are seeing a different side of China (and the West). Fingers are being pointed and it seems to be every man for himself. Whether in ignoring social distancing imperatives or whether casting blame and coming up with fanciful stories about the origins of the virus, none of this is helping.

An article on 26 March in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Chinese-backed company’s mission to source Australian medical supplies” by Kate McClymont misled readers. The article references a Chinese Australian company Greenland sourcing emergency supplies to send to China to help with the control of the epidemic; indeed it does mention the project taking place in January, but with its headline catching eyeballs this week during Australia’s epidemic surge, it conveys to readers that China is busy procuring urgent medical supplies that Australia and the rest of the world now need.

Donations by over 80 countries around the world, have, no doubt, helped China combat the spread of the virus and treat the thousands of victims saving many lives. But China now is helping the rest of the world and pledging humanitarian help in the form of donations and medical expertise. China appears to be assuming the role of a leader in the world during this crisis.

Philanthropy that was once the domain of the West now sees Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba leading the charge.  “The pandemic we face today can no longer be resolved by any individual country … We can’t beat this virus unless we eliminate boundaries to resources and share our know-how and hard-earned lessons.”

But in fact many western countries have been keeping supplies to themselves (like the hoarding of toilet paper on a global scale), China is now one of few countries lending support and much-needed supplies to those in need.

The Peter Doherty Institute, which has been in the news for its work on the virus, has been awarded A$3.2 million by the Jack Ma Foundation to expedite the creation of a vaccine against coronavirus. Ma has also helped Japan, South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Spain and has also started to donate test kits, masks and protective suits to each of the 54 African states, according to the South China Morning Post.

In contrast to the European approach to refuse to help, China has been despatching aid and personnel to deal with the pandemic.  However no matter what China does, it is attacked for being evil by the United States.  Sections of Australia’s media are echoing Trump’s calls and we have seen the growth in racism as a result. We need to call out this behaviour loudly.

China is, in fact, filling a leadership vacuum using its experience and deep pockets to build partnerships around the world – with those who welcome it. “This could be the first major global crisis in decades without meaningful US leadership and with significant Chinese leadership,” said Rush Doshi, director of the China Strategy Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The coronavirus pandemic may also see far-reaching changes to the world order. China has been Australia’s lifeline in the past with our economic boom lasting 27 years, could it be our saviour again?


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