As many nations relocate their industries to newer locations, India should play its cards well and, with alacrity, could be one of the preferred destinations for replacing China, writes Lt Gen Kamal Davar(retd) for South Asia Monitor
Not since a hundred years when the Spanish Flu, after World War I, had ravaged the globe causing a million fatalities, has mankind fought an unequal battle exposing the hollowness of the most modern medical technologies in the face of the current coronavirus pandemic. That, by current estimates, there are over two and a half million people affected with over two lakh dead amply displays the helplessness of the global community to confront hidden and unknown perils from many frontiers. That the world and its officially recognized institutions need to seriously introspect their roles, contingency plans, and availability of resources to combat such mass destruction challenges requires no elaboration.
Though China has officially denied its involvement in the germination of the coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19, yet many glaring facts point otherwise. According to reliable global media reports, the first case of what was later called ‘Wuhan Pneumonia’ had emerged on November 17, 2019 and many cases had been registered by December 2019----attributable to the Wuhan wet animal market in China’s central Hubei province, which slaughters for the Chinese palate animals and birds from bats, cats, dogs, the endangered pangolins to various forms of seafood, etc. However, notwithstanding the sudden and discernible outbreak of this virus by mid-December 2019, China informed the WHO only on December 31, 2019 of the prevalence of an “unusual pneumonia” in Wuhan and some adjoining areas.
Many international scientists have been of the view that this virus “escaped” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) which supposedly has a very high level of biosafety standards. Incidentally, this institution had been established when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS epidemic) virus had broken out in China in 2003. This institute ostensibly looks into various aspects of biowarfare ---something which China usually denies. It is equally a matter of medical history that two separate epidemics of hemorrhagic fever had broken out in the mid-80s which China too had underplayed.
US Senator Tom Cotton had on March 20, 2020 told Fox News that the WIV was involved in Chinese experiments in biowarfare. Subsequently, US President Donald Trump has reiterated many times since then that COVID-19 was a “Chinese Virus”, an allegation to which China has forcefully protested. Both US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien have accused China of engaging in a cover-up. President Trump has declared that the US was investigating the Chinese hand in the outbreak of the pandemic and will take appropriate action at a suitable time.
Meanwhile, some nations like Germany, France, UK, Australia and think tanks across the world have been clamouring for a formal investigation into the origins of the virus with some calling for China to be ostracized and demanded compensation from it. One of UK’s renowned think tanks, The Henry Jackson Society, has said that “China should be sued under international law for trillions of dollars for its initial cover-up of the coronavirus epidemic.” Reportedly, India’s security establishment is also working now to analyse the various nuances of the virus.
Though COVID-19 has by now affected over 200 nations of the world, causing staggering fatalities and unimagined economic-social distress, yet the response of global institutions has been surprisingly fractured, sluggish, and totally inadequate. The World Health Organisation (WHO) took 30 days to issue a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020 and proclaimed it a global pandemic only on March 11, 2020. It issued no strict warnings or advisories of travel to China among other nations enabling the virus to truly spread all over. By all accounts, the WHO has been accused of underplaying this challenge initially on China’s bidding. No wonder Trump has since withdrawn the generous US grants to the WHO. In addition during its rotating presidency till March, China successfully thwarted the Security Council bid for a discussion on this dreaded pandemic at the UN Security Council. However, the UN did manage to have a discussion on the pandemic on April 9.
With the pandemic ravaging the globe and causing untold misery and a growing number of casualties, it is high time that the world community unites to confront the pandemic, China notwithstanding. Firstly, to evolve a suitable vaccine as an antidote for the dreaded virus, the WHO and medical experts will need to be given full information by China as regards the causes and other nuances of the virus. Accordingly, if China has nothing to hide, then it should allow unfettered access to its Wuhan laboratories to global investigating and research teams.
Secondly, the WHO needs to be suitably restructured and given an executive role to meet any future medical emergencies, albeit in consultation with the nation(s) under siege. Its actions and expenditures should be governed by an advisory group and not left entirely to its director who in today’s crisis has earned the opprobrium of the global community, except China. In addition, China notwithstanding its huge investments all across the world will be facing the ire of most nations which will surely be reducing their economic ties with a brash, overly assertive, and inhuman China. As many nations relocate their industries to newer locations, India should play its cards well and, with alacrity, could be one of the preferred destinations for replacing China.
In addition, a restructured and re-energized WHO must draw up concrete contingency plans to confront such threats. Any nation which is found to indulge in similar mischief must be economically ostracized in strong terms by the world community. No economic progress or material comforts can take the place of life. That is why the Indian saying “Jaan he to Jahan Hai” (If you have life, you have the world) has more than a profound meaning as also voiced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The entire world has realized in no uncertain terms its helplessness against such forms of attack, whether natural or man-made. This is perhaps nature’s last providential warning to humanity at large to gear up and synergize its resources and genius to tackle similar global medico-economic emergencies. Let India show the way to the world - we have an opportunity despite our manifold problems - to rise to the occasion.
(The writer is a veteran Indian Army officer and security expert. He served as the first director-general of the Defence Intelligence Agency. The views expressed are personal)