As the number of COVID-19 cases in India rise, China has offered to share its experience with managing the infection. India was among the 19 countries which took part in a video conference held by Beijing over the weekend, where Chinese experts shared their experience of combating the virus.
Ji Rong, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in India, has said that “Chinese enterprises have started to make donations to India”. China also appreciated India’s assistance to the country last month. India had sent about 40 boxes of medical supplies on 1 February to Wuhan.
While China’s initial handling of the crisis received much criticism, it subsequently succeeded in controlling the infection (though activists have pointed out several human rights abuses). While the infection has begun slowing in China, countries such as the United States and Italy have become the next epicentres of the crisis.
While many Chinese media outlets have been publishing straight news stories on India’s response to the crisis, the state-run Global Times has sometimes displayed a contradictory approach, sharing posts that appear to mock India.
Many Indians have reacted to the outbreak with racist barbs as well, including against their fellow citizens, both on social media and offline.
Pradeep Taneja, who teaches Chinese politics, political economy and international relations at the University of Melbourne, told HuffPost India that the purely official response from the Chinese government is meant to convey a message of solidarity with India in the fight against this virus and to offer its support.
“In return, China wants India to refrain from calling it the ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus’. This is in line with China’s very aggressive strategy to shift the narrative on the origins of the virus away from China. It also does not want the world to dwell on its failure to alert the world promptly once the new coronavirus was detected by local doctors in Wuhan in December. China wants to project itself as a good international citizen by offering assistance to countries like India.”
A Chinese expert quoted in a report by state-run Global Times said that Chinese companies already in India could help by “aiding the locals to build makeshift hospitals like those in Wuhan if asked”.
China built two new hospitals in Wuhan in a matter of days and public places like exhibition centres and gymnasiums were also converted into makeshift hospitals to treat patients with mild symptoms, Hindustan Times said.
Dai Yonghong, director of the Institute of Bay of Bengal Studies under Shenzhen University, told Global Times that India and China should step up cooperation in combating the virus.
Global Times also posted a video by DD News showing an Indian doctor coming back home to applause and appreciation.
However, another video posted by Global Times, shot by the Hindustan Times, shows Indian police officials beating and intimidating people who came out of their homes during the lockdown.
“Under similar circumstances, China using drones to help spread awareness is seen as a better way,” it said in the tweet.
Such coverage, Taneja explained, is indicative of smugness over China’s supposedly superior handling of the crisis (use of drones) as against India’s low-tech attempts (lathi-wielding police) to enforce the lockdown.
“Global Times also wants to be in sync with the Communist Party’s efforts to portray China as a responsible global power. Hence, offers of support to India,” he said.
China’s own response to the coronavirus outbreak has largely been criticised for violating human rights. Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth last month criticised the early suppression of reports of an outbreak by China.
Doctor Li Wenliang, who tried to warn the world about the coronavirus outbreak, was forced by the health authority in Wuhan and the police to sign a statement denouncing his warning as an unfounded rumour. He died in February after contracting the same illness. China later exonerated him and issued a “solemn apology” to his family.
As New York Times put it:
“The government’s initial handling of the epidemic allowed the virus to gain a tenacious hold. At critical moments, officials chose to put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis to avoid public alarm and political embarrassment.”
China used drones to conduct thermal imaging and ensure that people stayed indoors. China has been criticised about its vast surveillance state over the use of drones and other technologies to combat coronavirus, as CNN pointed out.
Business Insider also said that experts fear that this mass data collection could continue after the coronavirus is less of a public-health threat, and become a permanent addition to the Communist Party surveillance’s state mechanism.
China reported its first locally transmitted coronavirus case in three days on Thursday and 54 new imported cases. There are, however, allegations that China has manipulated this number. The Guardian cited a report by RTHK, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, which quoted residents as saying that hospitals in Wuhan had refused to test patients who showed symptoms.
Kyodo News in Japan, The Guardian further said, also reported over the weekend that a local doctor said the number of cases had been manipulated before President Xi Jinping’s visit earlier this month.
While Global Times’s coverage of India’s response to coronavirus has been contradictory, other Chinese state media outlets have carried straightforward copies.
Xinhua appeared to have only straight reports on the lockdown announced in India and the rising number of COVID-19 cases. The recent report is on 17 states earmarking hospitals for treatment of COVID-19 patients.
CGTN, another Chinese state-run media outlet, on Friday carried a video titled ‘Indian police use physical punishment on lockdown breachers’ and said that “baton-wielding police officers have been filmed beating motorcyclists and pedestrians for breaching lockdown rules.”
Other officers, it added, opted for exercise, ordering violators to do squats or push-ups.