"It should act like a good neighbor instead of a bully."
From the moment the novel coronavirus spread from the city of Wuhan, China has had an image problem that has been compounded by Beijing’s aggressive and sometimes belligerent behavior on several fronts.
When Dr. Li Wenliang warned his fellow medics to wear protective clothing to avoid being infected by the new virus in December 2019, the first instinct of the Chinese authorities was to silence him.
Four days after he posted his warning in a chat group, Li was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was told to sign a letter admitting that he had made “false comments" that had "severely disturbed the social order."
Later, when it became apparent that Li—who also died of the disease now called COVID-19—was correct and the public seethed over his silencing and grieved over his death, the national government under President Xi Jinping co-opted the issue by branding the late doctor a hero, and blamed local officials who, if truth be told, were merely acting in accordance with the command and control system of governance under Xi and the Communist Party.
As the Wuhan epidemic transformed into a pandemic, Chinese leaders tried to rehabilitate their country’s image by donating medical equipment and expertise to other countries grappling with the disease. But any goodwill they might have generated was more than offset by its tone-deaf, expansionist behavior in the South China Sea.
As the rest of the world struggled to contain the pandemic, Beijing announced that it had created two new municipal districts to administer disputed regions in the South China Sea that are also claimed by other countries in the region, including the Philippines.
More recently, Chinese leaders tightened the screws on Hong Kong with new legislation that residents say would curtail essential freedoms and silence criticism of the Communist Party.
This week, China also protested Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s claim that the new coronavirus originated from China, saying the issue should be studied “based on science and facts.”
"We resolutely oppose the politicization and stigmatization of the origins of the virus," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters, adding that Abe's assertion is "contrary to opinions" by many medical research institutions and the World Health Organization.
"Political blindness should never override scientific judgment," Zhao said, saying the international community, including China and Japan, should work in tandem to combat the pandemic.
It is difficult to argue against this point—if only China had also behaved accordingly by being forthright about COVID-19, instead of seeking to stifle initial news of its spread—contrary to “science and facts.”
We agree, too, that political blindness should never override scientific judgment—which is why it is important for the World Health Organization process the information that Taiwan has gathered and is willing to share in its successful efforts to contain COVID-19, over the political objections of Beijing.
It is understandable that Chinese leaders want to portray their country in the best light, despite the ongoing pandemic. We believe the best way to achieve that goal is to truly behave like a good neighbor, instead of a bully that says one thing when the cameras are on, then do the exact opposite when no one is looking.