By Tichaona Zindoga
The global Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) has brought along a sad and unfortunate strain of Sinophobia and prejudice against people of Asian extraction.
While this is driven by age-old attitudes, political expediency – as in the case of US President Donald J Trump calling it The Chinese virus – and ignorance as largely seen on social media, the result is that the world is losing more lives while obsessing on unhelpful diversions.
For Africa to be indulging in this kind of behaviour is to ignore history and the present: China has a long history of standing side by side with African people in times of crisis and continue to be a partner in a new growth trajectory.
Last year, for example, China sent thousands of doctors to West and Central Africa to deal with the Ebola virus.
China did not cringe at the continent, and did not call the emergency an “African virus”.
Now, for Africans to take the low road and indulge in prejudice is to give a bad turn to a friendly country.
For Zimbabwe, the situation is as deplorable as it is illustrative.
Yet, a full discussion on the matter of Sinophobia amid Covid-19 requires that we objectively look at key elements of the debate such as the genesis, the crisis and the possible resolution of the situation.
The attacks on and prejudice against China largely stem from dangerous reductionism around where Covid-19 supposedly emanated from.
True, the outbreak of the disease came from the Chinese city of Wuhan, but that does not make it either a creation of the Chinese or a result of their supposed poverty or filth or other practices.
The Chinese are in fact victims of a disease phenomenon that could well have emanated from anywhere to claim lives anywhere, like Covid-19 is currently doing. As a matter of fact, Covid-19 belongs to a family of coronaviruses or respiratory diseases that have been around since an 1890 discovery in cows, at least.
The danger of the ongoing prejudice against the Chinese is that it prevents countries from objectively planning to deal with the global emergency or find an excuse when they are caught ill-prepared.
This has been the case in the US.
“It should be clear that many of those who blame China at this late stage for the spread of Covid-19 are likely seeking to shift blame from their own inadequate responses,” notes one writer in an article on CNN.
“Regardless of where the virus originated, cases have been reported on every continent except for Antarctica. Due to its incubation period, which may be as long as 14 days, everyone we see, including healthy-looking, non-Chinese people, could be a carrier,” says the writer.
The writer then gives a sound argument: “As the global fight against an unprecedented virus drags on, we should be open-minded and accept that good disease-combating measures can come from anywhere, including China. It truly would be a shame if more people had to die because of some age-old prejudice.”
Social media – the crisis
There is a reason why a lot of suggestions to limit usage of social media and to punish those who spread misinformation, have been made.
More strident calls have been made in light of Covid-19 – for a good reason. In Zimbabwe we have seen a number of lies and prejudice against Chinese people and people of Asian origin being circulated wantonly.
The abuse of social media has become an epidemic in itself. This is a sense conveyed in an article on a recent article on This Week in Asia which notes that racist attacks and discrimination against ethnic Chinese people had increased since last December when the novel Coronavirus was first discovered.
According to the publication, anti-Chinese sentiment has become worse than the virus itself and could lead to hate crimes, expulsion and endangering of Chinese people.
In Zimbabwe, there has been widespread circulation of social media messages prejudicial to Chinese and Asian people.
There are reports of Chinese people being denied essential services. An even more poignant video showed a Chinese man being jeered and denied entry into a bus.
When China is the friend you’ve got – towards a resolution
We have noted above that China has not showed away from helping African countries in moments of crisis. Now, as the threat is dissipating in China where the disease is being eliminated, Chinese help and expertise will be handy to the rest of the world.
This has already been seen in Italy – which has recorded the world’s biggest death toll by now – as China has stepped to help with doctors and medicines.
Italy’s allies did not help her, and in the following weeks Western countries are actually going to be more and more saddled by disease burden.
This means that for Africa, especially, the so-called traditional donor countries in the West will not help much, as China steps up it’s global leadership.
In Zimbabwe, we are already benefiting from local Chinese initiatives from the embassy and the Chinese business community to fight the disease.
These include the refurbishment of Wilkins.
Zimbabweans will do better to give the Chinese some more respect. It’s the only friend we got!
Tichaona Zindoga is the Head of Content at Review & Mail