The recent surge in Covid-19 cases in China has brought back open geopolitical contestation between the East and the West, with lingering fears that the pandemic could be “weaponised”.
China’s foreign policy stance has bordered on the insistence on international cooperation in the global war on Covid-19. Science, and not politics, should remain the cornerstone of all endeavours aimed at finding solutions to Covid-19, Beijing argues.
And, as the pandemic all but disappears in many parts of the world, China finds itself having to deal with the sudden surge in positive Covid-19 cases.
In early December, China dropped Covid-19 restrictions, and the move resulted in the subsequent discovery of new infections in the populous country.
From January 8, however, China plans to lift quarantine requirements for inbound travellers. This move is intended to restore a semblance of “normality” to life as millions go about their businesses in the world’s biggest emerging economy.
China’s Ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, penned an article in The Guardian last week titled: “In China, Here is What We Want the West to Know about Our Covid Response.”
He explained: “Over the past weeks, Beijing has become the first city to go through the infection peak, and life and work are returning to normal in the capital.” This is the message that China has moved into full gear spreading across the world, allying fears of a pandemic that is certainly not getting out of control, according to the Chinese authorities.
So far, a number of countries have imposed travel restrictions on people travelling from China. The countries include the US – China’s fierce economic and geopolitical competitor. Japan, India and Malaysia are among others to emulate the US.
South Africa, one of China’s biggest trading partners on the continent, has elected to adopt a cautious approach to the situation.
The SA health authorities have resolved not to impose any restrictions on travellers from China. The move is welcome news for Beijing. Subjecting travellers from China to quarantine restrictions on arrival would certainly have devastating economic effects on both countries.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health, Foster Mohale, explained, “We are closely monitoring the situation. We are not imposing restrictions yet. We encourage South Africans to vaccinate, so that, if there is a surge in new cases, they are at least protected.”
Mohale advised that vaccination against Covid-19 remains the best defence against the disease.
China and SA are also BRICS members, an organisation of regional power blocs whose impact on geopolitics has been gradual.
But China’s determination to halt the spiralling positive cases of Covid-19 is well documented. Delivering his 2023 New Year address to the nation, China’s President Xi Jinping appealed for national “perseverance and solidarity”. He appealed to the nation of more than 1 billion people “to put in extra effort” in the war against the pandemic, saying cooperation “means victory”.
President Xi explained: “Since Covid-19 struck, we have put the people first and put life first all along. Following a science-based and targeted approach, we have adapted our COVID response in light of the evolving situation to protect the life and health of the people to the greatest extent possible,” he said.
He praised the general public that has had to endure inescapable lockdowns and extended his appreciation to the medical professionals as well as community workers who are often mobilised through the structures of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). “Through it all,” President Xi said, “they have bravely stuck to their post.”
In a clarion call to the Chinese nation, President Xi said his country has “prevailed over unprecedented difficulties and challenges” through extraordinary efforts.
“It has not been an easy journey for anyone,” he said, recalling the growing exasperation and impatience among some during an extended period of hard lockdowns that has now been lifted.
“Everyone in China,” President Xi said, “is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us,” he said.
World Health Organisation’s Director Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has indicated that the WHO was closely monitoring the efforts of the Chinese authorities in fighting the pandemic.
He said during a recent media briefing: “We remain concerned about the evolving situation, and we continue encouraging China to track the Covid-19 virus and vaccinate the highest-risk people.”
He added: “We continue to offer our support for clinical care and protecting its health system.”