George N. Tzogopoulos
China values continuity and stability. But world politics do not always evolve according to wishes or plans. Unexpected developments challenge the traditional principles of Chinese thinking and require prudent management. The adaptation to new realities should be a gift for politicians. This is China’s current mission in a period during which the novel coronavirus dominates national and international agendas. The 2020 Two Sessions – the annual sessions of the China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, and top political advisory body, the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – can only focus on this theme.
China’s role in the fight against the pandemic has been central. As COVID-19 was first detected and reported in Wuhan, it was the first country in the world to isolate the virus, share its genetic sequence with other states, take measures to stop the contagion, treat a high number of patients and deal with economic consequences. So, discussions are expected to revolve around the improvement of prevention capacities, the enrichment of biological and pharmaceutical research, the preparation for a potential second wave of COVID-19 and the qualitative support of the economy, according to several scenarios of the evolution of the pandemic.
China understands the ongoing tragedy and the pain of ordinary citizens. A national mourning for lives lost was held at the beginning of April. Humility – largely absent in several Western countries – is important during difficult times. Public health remains the greatest concern. The big challenge is how to prevent the ongoing fight against COVID-19 from impacting the fight against poverty. Despite obstacles, the objective of completing the task and removing the remaining population out of poverty by the end of the year is possible.
The economic consequences of the pandemic remain primarily unknown as long as the novel coronavirus persists. The Chinese government has already started to take tailor-made fiscal policy measures from the outbreak of the crisis. These measures will perhaps be further elaborated during the Two Sessions. Chinese citizens have experienced significant improvements in their living conditions; if required, people will accept the temporary tightening of their belts. Also, the good news for China is that it has already shown signs of self-sufficiency. But the effort should be strengthened further.
From another perspective, this year’s Two Sessions are significant in terms of symbolism. They will send a message that China has steadily returned to normality. However, the country remains very careful about the future. The return to normalcy does not mean that relaxation will be allowed. If the international community pays attention, it will be enlightened on how a balanced resumption of work – at the political and economic levels – and prevention of a second wave of the virus can be achieved. The ongoing Chinese experience should be carefully studied in the West because it can provide lessons on how the economy will open up after weeks of lockdown – while prioritizing public health.
On the whole, the Chinese experience has been valuable in the fight against the virus. Let’s look at what is happening in the world: Countries that quickly took measures following the Chinese paradigm have placed the virus under control. Others that did not act in time have failed to do so and are looking to transfer their responsibility to external factors.
The 2020 Two Sessions find Chinese citizens united and proud. They overcame the initial phase of the problem despite social stigma, international distrust, suspicion and allegations. And they remain cautious because the virus respects no borders and can return. The Chinese leadership will do everything it can to prevent this scenario from happening.
We are living in uncertain times requiring synergies at the global level. Understanding China’s role remains a problem in the West because the country’s progress and development are based on continuity instead of opportunism. China’s cooperation with the WHO, its reliance on multilateralism, and the Health Silk Road, for example, were not suddenly discovered as policy-ideas by the Chinese government.
China not only needs to act but also better narrate its story to non-Chinese audiences. The more it grows, the more it will be criticized in the West. This is a natural tendency requiring calm, constructive and smart answers – not entrapment in populism. The 2020 Two Sessions can set the way forward for a more efficient international communication.