Understanding the global threat of COVID-19

As the death toll approaches two thousand, the coronavirus undoubtedly poses a threat to the wellbeing of individuals worldwide. Individuals are taking precautions against the virus by wearing face masks, limiting personal contact, or restricting travel. Even though the infection has been sensationalized by the media, its economic and political consequences are very real.

As fear spreads and individuals take precautions to avoid infection, both consumer behavior and production is affected, leading to a destabilization of the Chinese economy. Given the interconnectedness of the global economy and China’s role as primary producer, this shift produces consequences for countries worldwide. Additionally, as the virus continues to rapidly spread, Chinese citizens have begun to express frustration with their government’s inability to properly handle the outbreak. This has led to a rising discontent with President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party as a whole.

Both the physical and economic consequences of the coronavirus hold the potential to alter the future of China and the balance of the international system; therefore, they should be monitored closely. 

Within China, the cost of caring for the infected pales in comparison to the economic losses businesses are facing due to reduced consumption. In terms of consumption, healthy individuals within China have greatly altered their behavior to avoid contracting the virus; this mainly includes forgoing shopping and avoiding travel. Multinational corporations such as Ralph Lauren and Adidas have temporarily closed many of their stores within China, leading to sudden unemployment for thousands and a decreased stimulation of the domestic economy.  Similarly, airlines like American, United and Delta have suspended their flights to China, which will result in a massive cut to the revenue of the travel industry within China. 

An even more pressing problem, however, is how the production of multinational corporations will be affected as a result of the virus. Supply chains have already been disrupted. For example, car plants have been shut down, preventing major automakers like Volkswagen, Toyota, General Motors and Hyundai from operating. These closures are expected to decrease China’s automobile production by approximately one million vehicles, as well as decrease the earnings of Volkswagen and BMW by 5% for the first half of 2020. Smartphone production could also be threatened by the virus, as the largest producer of smartphone chips, Qualcomm, is predicted to shut down or limit Chinese production. Lastly, port closures throughout China have greatly impacted the oil trade, as importers are forced to cancel purchases and sellers are forced to look elsewhere. This has already severely affected African countries, specifically the Republic of the Congo and Angola, who heavily depend on China for industrial commodities. 

The political ramifications of the coronavirus are equally concerning. The Chinese public has become increasingly frustrated with their leadership as the virus continues to spread at a rapid pace. Approximately 60 million people remain under quarantine, hospitals are understaffed and overwhelmed, and medical and food supplies are dwindling.

President Xi Jinping has called the fight against the virus a “people’s war” that requires “resolute action,” yet has failed to even visit Wuhan and rarely makes on-camera appearances. His lack of apparent commitment to resolving this crisis has decreased the public’s confidence in him, and could potentially alter the course of his political career. The National People’s Congress has even postponed its annual meeting in the face of growing criticism–the first time the conclave has been moved since 1997.

Additionally, reports of early efforts to suppress whistleblowers have arisen, causing public outrage. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, eight Chinese citizens were arrested at the beginning of the outbreak. One of the early whistleblowers was Doctor Li Wenliang, who warned Chinese citizens of a “SARS-like” virus spreading. He was then targeted by the police and forced to sign a statement admitting to spreading illegal rumors. After it became publicly known Wenliang’s warnings were valid, he was exonerated, but tragically succumbed to  the virus himself.

Posthumously, he has become a symbol of bravery in the face of the Chinese government’s immoral oppression. Many Chinese citizens have begun to equate Xi Jinping’s authoritarian rule with the chaos and disorder which is plaguing China presently. Professor Xu Zhangrun at Beijing’s Tsinghua University addressed the publics’ disillusionment by stating, “the myth surrounding him has shattered.”  

Lastly, the outbreak of the coronavirus has strained Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China. In Hong Kong, anti-Chinese sentiment has been on the rise since the early 2000’s as the two struggled to balance different political systems. Specifically, Hong Kong has felt that the Chinese Communist Party was becoming overly controlling over their politics and culture. The onset of the virus has exacerbated tensions as Hong Kong citizens have urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam to close the border between the two. For now, Lam has refused to do so, but tension between Hong Kong and mainland China will likely continue to grow. 

While the coronavirus continues to be looked at as a primarily medical threat, it is crucial to acknowledge and monitor the ways in which the virus will heavily impact the political and economic sectors of China. The interconnected nature of both the global economy and the infectious nature of political dissent allows the coronavirus to endanger the stability and well-being of countries worldwide. 

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