Is China using the pandemic?

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Chinese personnel observe cargo – Sipa

  • Bold statements from Beijing, accusations from the United States, anger from Europe… Since the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus has been used for political purposes that are increasingly assumed and defined.
  • How can a virus become so politicized, and above all, what interest do states have in getting hold of such a hot topic?
  • Between soft power and promotion of political systems, overview of the instrumentalization of the coronavirus.

In an era when half of humanity is immobilized at home, geopolitical lines continue to move. The world’s population is looking for culprits and solutions to the coronavirus, and each country naturally wants to be successful. What’s surprising? It is hard to imagine that a virus disrupting the world order, canceling growth and challenging capitalism could escape the political prisms of the Nations.

The more the Covid-19 spreads around the world, the more it becomes politicized. For the benefit of a political regime, the greatness of a state or the questioning of a foreign nation.
China, in particular, has been particularly vocal since the epidemic hit, according to him, left his soil: lessons in western democracies, over-media coverage of his mask mailings, tweets very special from the Embassy in France …

A strategy that annoys, Paris having openly reminded Beijing, Sunday, March 29, that “solidarity is not instrumentalized”.

Attention Monopoly

“That China is trying to take advantage of this crisis is” normal “. Any power would try to do so, “first tempers Sophie Boisseau du Rocher, Doctor of Political Science and co-author of China and the World: Essay on Sino-Globalization (ed. Odile Jacob). Before putting my finger on what seems to irritate Beijing’s attitude: its omnipresence “in the global media bandwidth. »Faced with the promotion from China in managing the epidemic, the Korean and Taiwanese experiences, which seem to be successful, are notably overlooked. “Their crisis management is remarkable; if we hear them much less, it is because they do not have the means and resources available to Beijing, “said the expert. Who has few illusions about a possible geopolitical benefit for Tapei or
Seoul: as positive as their response to the epidemic may be, it is very unlikely – if not impossible – that it will give them geopolitical credit which they will be able to use in the future, a fortiori in a post-containment world.

Beyond the volume, there is the choice of words – and numbers. More and more doubts are emerging on China’s real record against the coronavirus, at a time when Europe and the United States are counting deaths by the thousands. Antoine Bondaz, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), specialist in international relations in Asia, details the double objective of a possible falsification: “Internally, seek to re-legitimize the regime after initial errors in crisis management . Externally, seek to discredit democracies by presenting them as incapable of coping. “

Figures and doubts

If it turns out, such a lie would nonetheless be risky. “Certainly, in the short term, this bet can be a winner, especially with those who have little knowledge of international realities and lack of critical thinking,” acknowledges the doctor of political science. But in the long term, the question arises, when a possible manipulation of Chinese figures is increasingly denounced, and even erected as responsible for the impact of the pandemic. “Will Chinese credibility pass the test of international confidence? I am not sure and the debate which begins on the real amount of victims could be fierce for Beijing. “

To the point that China is already starting to change its tune and review its accounts and balance sheet. “Beijing will, in the coming days, seek to convince abroad of its transparency, by increasing the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 by integrating positive but asymptotic cases, in order to silence legitimate concerns on the real figures, including deaths, ”prophesies Antoine Bondaz.

Help not trivial

In addition to this communication, there is a highlight when sending materials to Europe. Who, there too, has a hard time passing: “Beijing ignores the aid of Europe at the height of the crisis, as rightly recalled [le Haut représentant de l’Union européenne pour les affaires étrangères] to focus only on his outstretched hand. No, all the same, it is an elevator referral, “says Sophie Boisseau du Rocher.

But beyond making forget its own requests, the mediatization of this aid would also serve in Beijing to consolidate its position vis-a-vis another giant. By presenting itself as the country coming to the aid of the rest of the world, China seeks to seize a throne of world leader belonging to the United States, analyzes Antoine Bondaz, “which fits more widely into structural competition Chinese-American. “

The American case

The United States is coming. In economic and political war with China for a long time, Washington irritates Beijing by calling covid-19 “the Chinese virus”. Replica on the other side of the globe, where the Asian giant questions about “strange pandemics” that occurred several months ago in the United States or Italy. Understand, the virus would not come from Wuhan, but from the West. In this war of origins, everyone finds its interest, according to the researcher: “Washington seeks to give the initial responsibility to the Chinese Communist Party in the initial management of the crisis which has, among other things, led to this pandemic. Beijing seeks to sow doubt through disinformation to reject its responsibilities. “

The opportunity for Beijing, too, to promote its political regime, internationally criticized. ATAntoine Bondaz does not fail to alert. “We have to make sure that democratic systems are not tempted to implement measures specific to authoritarian systems. To do this, we must notably offer alternatives, show that it is possible to associate democratic values, including transparency, and efficiency in crisis management. “

We come back to South Korea and Taiwan, who have shown that democratic rule and limiting the epidemic are not mutually exclusive. But whose voice carries little. The coronavirus does not change the rules of major geopolitical games: what matters is often the one who speaks the loudest, not necessarily the best arguments.


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