and the Virus
October 27, 2021
“Chinese investment in the United States helps support jobs across our country. We partner to address global challenges, whether it’s promoting nuclear security, combating piracy off the Horn of Africa, encouraging development and reconciliation in Afghanistan, and helping to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. …So, greater prosperity and greater security—that’s what American and Chinese cooperation can deliver. That’s why I want to say again, the United States welcomes the rise of a China that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and a responsible player in global affairs. … For the first time, the U.S. and China will also formally partner to promote global development. Building on our efforts against Ebola, we’ll work to strengthen global health security.” (Barack Obama, 2015)
Again, as the panic over COVID-19 raged in early 2020, the American media further began blasting as “racist” any further reference to the virus as “the Wuhan virus” or “Chinese Virus,” in the eponymous fashion of past epidemics such as “German measles,” or “Spanish flu.” In February, the New York Times and CNN freely referred to the Wuhan or China virus; by April such references were taboo. Oddly, the more lethal the virus proved, the more careful the media was not to stigmatize China as its originator—even as the media realized that something originating under murky circumstances in China had the ability to disrupt even lives in once secure tony zip codes such as Palo Alto and the Upper West Side.
As disposable gloves and masks, and hand sanitizer, disappeared from American shelves, frenzy finally rose over globalization itself, which, it turned out, now seemed to be synonymous with a sudden ominous “Chinazation.” In other words, the long-ago indifference or ignorance of the American public about the outsourcing of the vast majority of their key medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to Chinese factories and producers suddenly magnified the panic surrounding the virus.
The snap awakening from years of slumber was analogous to the American disbelief and anger on December 8, 1941, that somehow Imperial Japan had developed the Zero fighter, superior to all its American counterparts, and an aircraft carrier fleet far better than that of the American Pacific fleet, without prior concern by America.
Most analysts estimated that about 80 percent of the ingredients used in essential U.S. pharmaceuticals were produced in China, as were an equal percentage of face masks and disposable gloves. The last penicillin plant in the U.S., for example, closed in 2004. What was even more worrisome was that U.S. authorities themselves seemed to have no idea what percentage of key drugs such as antibiotics were Chinese produced, only that it was large and apparently seen in both countries as an American liability.
One communist party organ, Xinhua, for example, at the height of the crisis, warned that if an angry China interrupted its supply chain of drugs and medical supplies to the United States, then America might be overwhelmed and plunge into “the mighty sea of coronavirus.”
China quickly began to limit exports of key medical supplies, including those produced by foreign companies with contracts to send production to their countries of origin. In especially ironic fashion, given the birth and spread of the virus on Chinese soil and due to Chinese dissimulation and laxity, China at first was the recipient of medical aid. Yet shortly as the virus spread from its shores, Beijing became a donor and eventually an especially hard-bargain exporter, jacking up the prices of masks, gloves, and other key medical supplies to ameliorate the infection it had spawned—many of them not just overpriced but defective.
Suddenly, expert opinion about Sino-American relations turned on a dime. In the pre-coronavirus era, the idea of keeping industries inside the U.S., especially those dismissed as drudgery work or non-value-added manufacturing—such as producing simple, N-95 face-masks—was dismissed as low tech know-nothingism at best, and Trump’s Neanderthal protectionism and nationalism at worst.
In the age of the coronavirus, however, the same experts now lectured about the need to preserve “strategic industries” and “national assets” in times of emergencies. The about-face was not so much a recalibration in the heat of panic, as an unknowing return to common sense, and a realization of the limits of globalization.
If a virus, which either leaked from a high-security virology lab outside Wuhan or, according to Chinese communist officials, supposedly brewed from exotic dead animals hanging on hooks in the Wuhan meat market, could reach Pacific Heights or Woodside, California more quickly than to rural regions of China, such international, “the world is flat” leveling seemed not so reassuring. Just because a nation’s airports greet millions of arrivals with gleaming terminals and high-speed rail did not mean that beneath the glitter there were not veritable Petri dishes incubating a new virus that could reach all the way to Alaska or Iceland in hours—without warning from the Chinese communist government.
As mentioned earlier, during the pandemic the reputations of transnational organizations and conglomerates took a beating, not just because there was plenty of pre-virus suspicion of their agendas, but because they performed as dismally in a crisis. The United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) were slow to respond. When they initially did, they sent out not just false information, but also data supplied by the Chinese government known to be inaccurate but useful for political purposes. American citizens began to grasp that their medical fates were not entirely in the hands of their own elected officials.
WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, assured the world that there was little threat from the Chinese virus. Director Tedros was not a doctor—a first, but likely the last instance for WHO. He had no international health management experience. His chief recommendation was that he was non-Western and had come to the UN post from his government sinecure as a health minister in Ethiopia, itself likely predicated on his past service in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Tedros’s résumé may help explain why the UN mouthpiece so easily assured the world that the virus was not transmissible between humans (“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus [2019-nCoV] identified in #Wuhan, #China”). Tedros was not through. He also falsely assured the world that the virus was largely already contained by China, and that the all-important January 31 American travel ban stopping direct flights into the U.S. from China (a heavy contributor both to WHO and to Ethiopia) was not just unnecessary but would also “have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.”
In the years 2018 and 2019, the United States—perhaps the nation most hurt by WHO’s initial obeisance to Chinese wishes to suppress the truth about the virus’s infectiousness—contributed almost $900 million to the WHO budget. That sum was one-fifth of the organization’s $4.4 billion budget over those two years.
America was by far the single greatest national contributor. But an even more unfortunate American investment of at least $600,000, in a cost-to-benefit sense, was an indirect contribution to the Wuhan Level 4 virology lab itself, the likely ground zero of the plague. Ironically, the grant was in part due to the past recommendations of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and later the leader of the Trump Administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force. The National Institutes of Health had approved two multiyear grants of some $3.4 million to the EcoHeatlh Alliance that had partnered with several organizations, including many in China and in particular the Wuhan virology lab. To this day, Fauci denies his role in sending cash to gain-of-function viral engineering at the Wuhan lab and seems oblivious when he withers in denial under oath before the U.S. Congress or is refuted by members of his own medical community.
Before the epidemic, it was assumed that no one would question the loyalties of several foreign and native-born scientists and engineers at work at U.S. universities and research centers who were either dual citizens, resident aliens, or enjoyed shared appointments at Chinese universities, often undisclosed to their American employers. To do so, would earn one the slur of racist, xenophobe, or McCarthyite.
Yet throughout the spring of 2020, several high-profile researchers were arrested on charges of either engaging in espionage for China, or theft of U.S. patented technologies, or violating U.S. national security laws, or improperly transferring American classified research to Chinese sources. The list of American universities and organizations who employed scientists stealthily working for the Chinese government or held undisclosed joint appointments with China or were secretly funded by China while enjoying U.S. grants, was diverse. The group included the nation’s top universities and public and private research entities such as Harvard University, the Cleveland Clinic, and NASA.
In general, the virus reminded American citizens that the diminution of nationality was either deleterious to their freedoms as citizens, or in fact was deeply resented by citizens and under populist counterattack. For example, the European Union was born on the promise that it could invent a new pan- “European” citizen who would transcend his German or Hungarian language, the customs of his native Greece, and the constitution of the Netherlands where he was born and would no longer be confined by the use of clumsy francs, or fences along the Italian northern border, or passport controls at the Brussels airport.
But in its initial weeks of crisis, the virus did what even the financial crisis of 2008, the massive waves of illegal immigration into Europe from Asia and Africa, and the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU could not: it exposed the truth that the keystone of EU ideology—a borderless continent, in which Europeanism trumped petty and idiosyncratic national identities—is a still a pipe dream. In fact, intra-European borders quickly slammed and remained shut. The much-heralded Schengen Area Agreement that had abolished most all passport control and border checkpoints among 25 European countries for all practical purposes disappeared in a few days—a postmodern pact previously often contrasted with the supposedly paranoid and premodern U.S. border wall with Mexico. Even prior to the coronavirus, the British philosopher Robert Scruton had argued that many had given up on the EU idea of ecumenical transnational identity, especially in Britain, as well as Southern and Eastern Europe—and for logical reasons.
What was to be the fate of once undocumented migrants who sought an enlightened European refuge from the horrors of Africa and the Middle East? The paranoid logic of Camus’s La Peste (1947) took over. Interned in Turkey and Greece, they were now quarantined and rendered mere suspect illegal aliens that should go home to North Africa.
Did German banks step up to relax repayment schedules to their near bankrupt Mediterranean brothers, hit the hardest by the virus? In the euphemistic language of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the notion of issuing “corona bonds” was not “the view of all EU countries.” Translated that meant EU brother nations with cash and fewer dead were certainly not going to loan money to EU brother nations without it, but with more dead. Or more likely what Germany alone said should happen, would happen.
Were medical supplies such as ventilators and masks common EU property, the humanitarian version of the common Euro that reflected pan-European brotherhood? Again, hardly. The ancient creed of every nation for itself supplanted the European Convention on Human Rights—at least until the EU eventually sought to create a common depository of medical supplies.
As the viral panic spread, Germany soon stopped all export shipments of key medical supplies. It sealed its borders. The virus should remind Europe that if a war ever came, any EU-abiding country that shared its arsenal and headed for the front would suffer the fate of the virtuous citizens who died first from the plague in the chronicles of Thucydides and Procopius.
Yet another odd illustration of the culture and values of the blinkered deep state again was offered during the winter and spring of 2020 during the Democratic presidential primaries and subsequent coronavirus lockdown. Multibillionaire but inept candidate and former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg—despite in the past sending billions of investment dollars to China to help jump start Chinese communist affiliated start-up companies—was apparently convinced at the time to enter the race to save the party from both socialist Bernie Sanders and the supposedly fading candidacy of a seemingly stalled campaign of Joe Biden.
Even before investing $1 billion in his brief failed bid, and proving completely inept on the debate stage, Bloomberg had in the past offered a number of inane ideas about relative worth in contemporary America. Addressing an elite group at the Oxford Union in Britain in 2016, Bloomberg contrasted the supposed technocracy and skill sets of the information age and its purveyors with preindustrial rote tasks like farming whose simplicity made them now passé, “It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, you add water,” Bloomberg lectured, “and up comes the corn. You could learn that”—as he pointed to his Oxford audience as if any of these elite students could produce food without much effort or experience or even dig a useful hole.
Again, just a few years following Bloomberg’s condescending putdown, nearly the entire U.S. population was locked down in their own homes—entirely reliant on farmers and frackers to keep working amid the epidemic. Only their skill and courage ensured that food and fuel were plentiful for an urbanized and suburbanized country at a time when investors and media moguls like Bloomberg—heavily invested in Chinse-American joint ventures—were for a time rendered superfluous.