02 April 2020, The Tablet

Cardinal Bo insists Beijing culpable over Covid-19

Cardinal Bo insists Beijing culpable over Covid-19

Residents exercise by a river in Hankou District of Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, April 1, 2020.
Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, whose country, Myanmar, borders China, has made a dramatic intervention in the international debate about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that Beijing and the Communist Party of China are morally culpable for the global spread of the coronavirus.

To date, according to the World Health Organisation, the virus has infected nearly a million people and 46,000 have died.

Writing on UCA News the cardinal laments the threat the virus poses to his own country.

He describes Myanmar’s vulnerability in this way: “Bordering China, where Covid-19 first began, we are a poor nation without the health and social care resources that more developed nations have. Hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar are displaced by conflict, living in camps in the country or on our borders without adequate sanitation, medicines or care. In such overcrowded camps the social distancing measures implemented by many countries are impossible to apply. The healthcare systems in the most advanced countries in the world are overwhelmed, so imagine the dangers in a poor and conflict-ridden country like Myanmar.”

He goes on to pose a question that, in the midst of the efforts by all countries to contain the spread of the virus, is often put on the backburner: “As we survey the damage done to lives around the world, we must ask who is responsible?”

While he acknowledges that every governmental authority has fallen short in some way in its handling of the emergency, he points out that responsibility for the outbreak becoming a global emergency can be laid squarely at the door of the Chinese Communist Party.

He writes: “There is one government that has primary responsibility for what it has done and what it has failed to do, and that is the CCP regime in Beijing. Let me be clear – it is the CCP that has been responsible, not the people of China, and no one should respond to this crisis with racial hatred toward the Chinese. Indeed, the Chinese people were the first victims of this virus and have long been the primary victims of their repressive regime. They deserve our sympathy, our solidarity and our support. But it is the repression, the lies and the corruption of the CCP that are responsible.”

He points out that “when the scale of the outbreak first became apparent in Wuhan last December, the authorities in China suppressed the news. Instead of protecting the public and supporting doctors, the CCP silenced the whistleblowers. Worse than that, doctors who tried to raise the alarm – such as Dr Li Wenliang in Wuhan Central Hospital who issued a warning to fellow medics Dec. 30 – were ordered by police to ‘stop making false comments’. Dr Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, was told he would be investigated for ‘spreading rumours’ and was forced by police to sign a confession. He later died after contracting coronavirus.”

Bo goes on to name “young citizen journalists” including Li Zehua, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, who tried to report on the virus and have since disappeared.

Legal scholar Xu Zhiyong was detained after publishing an open letter criticising Beijing’s response.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention offered assistance when the seriousness of the outbreak became apparent but it was ignored by Beijing for more than a month. 

Even the World Health Organisation, which has very close links with Beijing, through the massive funding it receives from the Chinese Communist Party, and the through the close links between WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the Chinese Government, was sidelined, if only for a short time, Bo points out.

The background of the WHO Director-General is in politics rather than medicine. Born in Asmara, Eritrea, he became a leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and was Ethiopia’s Health Minister from 2005 to 2012, a time when the use of the massive aid funding to the country is now being scrutinised.

Bo goes on in his article to question the accuracy of official Chinese statistics regarding the death toll from the virus in China. This scepticism is reinforced by accounts on social media of huge queues at crematoria to collect ashes of loved ones, and also by official statistics on mobile phone usage in Wuhan. As part of Beijing’s surveillance state, it is nigh on impossible to move around the country without a smartphone, which means that the bulk of the population can be monitored. However, year-on-year statistics for mobile phone usage in affected areas comparing the beginning of 2019 to the beginning of 2020 show major and unexplained declines.

“The CCP’s conduct,” Bo says, “is symptomatic of its increasingly repressive nature. In recent years, we have seen an intense crackdown on freedom of expression in China. Lawyers, bloggers, dissidents and civil society activists have been rounded up and have disappeared.

“In particular, the regime has launched a campaign against religion, resulting in the destruction of thousands of churches and crosses and the incarceration of at least one million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps.”

Bo makes reference to two UK sources that expose the activities of Beijing. 

“An epidemiological model at the UK’s University of Southampton found that had China acted responsibly just one, two or three weeks earlier, the number affected by the virus would have been cut by 66 percent, 86 percent and 95 per cent respectively. Its failure has unleashed a global contagion killing thousands,” Bo says.

He goes on: “An independent tribunal in London, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, accuses the CCP of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.”

Bo references the accusation put out by Beijing that the US Army caused the pandemic. This was the accusation that prompted US President Donald Trump to refer to the coronavirus in his news conferences at the time as the “China virus”. Beijing has not repeated its allegation. 

Meanwhile Bloomberg reported that a classified report to the White House by the US intelligence community says China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths from the disease. Bloomberg sources its own report to “three US officials”.

On Wednesday on CNN, US Vice-President Mike Pence said: “The reality is that we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming. What appears evident now is that long before the world learned in December that China was dealing with this, and maybe as much as a month earlier than that, that the outbreak was real in China.”

Cardinal Bo concludes: “Through its inhumane and irresponsible handling of the coronavirus, the CCP has proven what many previously thought: that it is a threat to the world. China as a country is a great and ancient civilisation that has contributed so much to the world throughout history, but this regime is responsible, through its criminal negligence and repression, for the pandemic sweeping through our streets today.

“The Chinese regime led by the all-powerful Xi Jinping and the CCP – not its people – owes us all an apology and compensation for the destruction it has caused. As a minimum, it should write off the debts of other countries to cover the cost of Covid-19. For the sake of our common humanity, we must not be afraid to hold this regime to account.”

Cardinal Bo quotes law professor James Kraska writing on the War on the Rocks website, who says that claims against China could be made in the trillions of dollars.





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