It will take more than just a vaccine to fight coronavirus

The world is in a frantic race to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, but it also needs to do some serious soul-searching as to whether a vaccine is the be-all and end-all to combat this devastating pandemic.
Just as finding a medical solution is crucial, so is the need for solidarity and cooperation instead of finger pointing and gloating over others’ suffering. And this need has become critical for whatever meaningful joint efforts can be made by China and the US against a common enemy.
If the two governments can’t disengage from their worst diplomatic war in decades during such a global emergency, then it’s time for the peoples of the two countries to stand side by side.
Whether by coincidence or not, it’s happening to some extent: 100 Chinese scholars have jointly appealed to both governments to set aside the political blame game and work together; and 100 American academics and former officials, including ex-secretary of state Madeleine Albright, have released an open statement acknowledging that “no effort against the coronavirus … will be successful without some degree of cooperation between the US and China”.
It remains to be seen whether Beijing and Washington can call a temporary truce, with US President Donald Trump warning his country faces its “toughest” week ahead.
But while Trump has dropped his “China virus” rhetoric, it does not seem to have helped much in easing tensions yet, since quite a few American politicians and critics still blame China for the pandemic.
Even the conciliatory statement from the American academics and former officials made it a point to remind China to “answer” for its cover-ups, lack of transparency, and blatant propaganda campaign to shift the blame to the US.
Anger among many Chinese is only expected, and it raises some issues. No matter how pressing the need for a united front against the pandemic, it will be far from easy to end the finger pointing.
In addition to the conspiracy theories from both sides about the origins of the coronavirus, some Chinese nationalists have been expressing “finally it’s your turn” sentiments on social media, suggesting the US has only itself to blame for its delayed response.
But even as some Chinese have been following the row between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Trump over coronavirus control like a television reality show, they are frustrated to see the US president’s support rating getting a boost instead of a battering.
There’s also the great debate on what is good or bad about each other’s culture – just as the Chinese tradition of putting game meat on the dining table is seen by the West as a repulsive and deplorable habit that breeds diseases, Westerners’ reluctance to wear masks is seen by the Chinese as cultural arrogance.
The latest comparison debate pits Chinese authorities’ reprimand of the late whistle-blower Dr Li Wenliang against the US Navy’s dismissal of Captain Brett Crozier of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt.
To be factual, neither China nor the US has done an ideal or perfect job, but arguing over which side has done worse is counterproductive.
The same applies to Hong Kong, a city deeply divided by conflicting political ideologies. Opposing camps have been debating whether the local government was trying to please Beijing in not shutting down all the city’s cross-border checkpoints fast enough, or failed to block arrivals from overseas early enough out of fear of Western pressure.
At this extremely difficult time, amplifying the other side’s wrongdoings does not make one side a saint or solve any problem. At the end of the day, science will prove that this is mankind’s virus, rather than China’s.
When selfishness, arrogance and lack of empathy are dominating the narrative, it’s not just about developing a vaccine, it’s time for true self-reflection.
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP) , the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app , follow us on Twitter , and like us on Facebook .
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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