Beggar-thy-neighbor practices don’t help with global epidemic control

By Zhong Sheng
After the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly advised against travel or trade restrictions and called on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and convincing.
However, there are still certain countries that didn’t follow the WHO’s authoritative advice and took excessive restrictions. Such beggar-thy-neighbor and selfish practices didn’t help with epidemic prevention and control, but created fear and panic, disturbed normal international personnel exchange and cooperation, and exerted negative impact on the order of the international aviation market and the development of the global economy, causing rising anxieties among the public.
In front of the epidemic, any impulsive, irrational or unwise behavior could bring about secondary challenges. When the WHO declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) according to the International Health Regulations (IHR), it did not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade.
Thanks to China’s decisive and effective prevention and control measures, the number of confirmed cases reported overseas only accounts for less than 1 percent of the total number worldwide.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) noted that adopting measures that go beyond the recommendations of the WHO and the ICAO without a proper risk assessment may result in unnecessary negative effects.
“Responses that are anchored in fear, misinformation, racism and xenophobia will not save us from outbreaks like COVID-19.” That’s from a joint statement made by 16 health law scholars from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Switzerland, Chile and Italy in a commentary published on The Lancet.
They called on countries to start by rolling back illegal travel restrictions that have already been implemented and by supporting WHO and each other in implementing the IHR.
Such voice show respect for the international laws and are conducive to safeguarding global common interests.
Scientific research and practices indicated that taking extreme restrictions such as halting flights cannot really reduce the risk of virus spread.
Canceling flights, cruises and locking down borders when it’s not advised by international agencies will be not only an act of economic self-harm but also a wasted opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past, said an article published by American media.
In the era of globalization, the world needs to conform to the trend of the times and jointly shoulder responsibilities and cope with challenges. Since the outbreak of the epidemic, national leaders of Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Canada have made it clear that they won’t ban entry of Chinese nationals.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that France respects the professional guidelines proposed by the WHO in responding to the COVID-19 epidemic, and its response to the outbreak is generally objective, adding that the French Consulate General in Wuhan is still operating.
Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu believes that it lacks basis and is unreasonable to ban entry of Chinese nationals. Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said imposing a travel ban on Chinese citizens won’t help the government’s fight against coronavirus.
Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen visited Beijing amid the raging epidemic, showing support from the Cambodian government and the Cambodian people. Kang Seung Seok, the new consul general of the Republic of Korea (ROK) in Wuhan, arrived in the city amid the epidemic on Feb. 20.
These facts prove that the strong and resilient relations between China and these countries are unbreakable and cannot be destroyed by certain countries.
In the era of globalization, the interests and destinies of countries are intertwined. To respond to the epidemic is by no means to stop all socio-economic activities. The right choice is to try to ensure normal economic activities on the premise of strengthening health and safety protection.
However, excessive or even extreme restrictive measures adopted by some countries, such as cancelling flights, will only lead to more negative impacts of the epidemic, causing lose-lose results and casting a shadow on world economic growth.
According to U.S. media reports, Washington’s comprehensive restrictions will severely hurt U.S. companies that rely on Chinese products or target Chinese customers. Goldman Sachs recently released a report anticipating a 0.4 percentage point slowdown of U.S. annualized growth in the first quarter due to the coronavirus outbreak, as the U.S. restrictions will reduce the number of Chinese tourists by 28 percent and their spending by $5.8 billion.
When speaking with U.S. President Donald Trump over phone, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that it takes joint efforts from all countries to bring the epidemics under control. He also said China hopes that the U.S. will assess the epidemic in a calm manner, and adopt and adjust its response.
In response to public health emergencies, panic, chaos, and excessive restrictions are not suggested. In the era of globalization, adopting beggar-thy-neighbor and selfish practices is not able to keep oneself unharmed. The right practice is to strengthen international cooperation and work together to cope with challenges in a scientific, rational and responsible manner.
Those who treat their neighbors as threats and plunder a burning house will hurt not only the interests of the world, but also those of their own.
(Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by People’s Daily to express its views on foreign policy.)