Coronavirus: China letting WHO in shows ‘Xi Jinping mishandled crisis’ and protected government over citizens

Associate Professor of Political Science Carrie Liu Currier told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), "Now that the WHO has been allowed in, it seems clear that Xi Jinping has mishandled the crisis"

                            Coronavirus: China letting WHO in shows ‘Xi Jinping mishandled crisis’ and protected government over citizens
Xi Jinping (Getty Images)

After a month of negotiations with the World Health Organization (WHO), China has finally relented to their requests, permitting WHO experts to visit a country on the verge of crumbling under the coronavirus pressure. China has recorded over 1,000 deaths and more than 43,000 cases of the deadly virus in the country alone, as of Tuesday. With an unprecedented increase in the number of infections in recent days and no vaccine or cure available yet, the biggest question that looms over the crisis currently is why China has been hesitant to accept assistance from international experts at a time it likely needs it most?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently been offering to send a team of experts to China to study the coronavirus outbreak in the region and assist in any way they can. However, China has not yet publicly invited any experts. 

The WHO, on Sunday, said that after being in conversation with the Chinese government for weeks, they have finally been permitted to go observe the outbreak. It is not yet clear whether the CDC would be participating in the trip. 

Chinese children wear protective masks as they wait to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020, in Beijing, China. (Getty Images)

"There are several reasons the Chinese have been reluctant to allow outsiders into China to deal with the crisis," Carrie Liu Currier, Ph.D., Department Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). "There was hope they could contain the virus relatively quickly and make up for mistakes made with the SARS crisis. This would have been a big win for the government if they had managed to do that."

During the SARS outbreak in 2003 — which began in southern China — the Beijing government was severely criticized over its late response to the virus and for "covering up" the extent of the virus's impact. Over 8,000 people were infected and 774 were killed between November 2002 and July 2003. 

Referring to the new coronavirus, termed 2019-nCoV, the professor said it possible the Chinese government had repeated the SARS mistake and underreported the current conditions amid the latest outbreak in the region.

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker attends to a patient in the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via AP)

"There is a good chance that the number of cases was more than what the Chinese were letting on from the beginning," Liu Currier said, and proposed Beijing would benefit from limited transparency if that was the case. "Rather than create more panic it would be in their best interest to keep limited transparency and have more complete control over the information reaching the rest of the world."

The professor suggested that approval of a WHO team visit points to the Chinese President Xi Jinping having mishandled the current crisis, calling it a "real blow" to his government. Xi, amid mounting criticism over his near-disappearance from action since the outbreak, appeared at a coronavirus facility Monday in an attempt to stem scrutiny.  

"Now that the WHO has been allowed in, it seems clear that Xi Jinping has mishandled the crisis," she said. "This is a real blow to Xi and the government. In spite of travel bans domestically and globally the virus has spread. The economy is grinding to a halt. This raises a number of fears in the domestic population that go beyond the health crisis created by the virus. It draws attention to the lack of transparency issues in the Chinese government and shows the frailty of the regime in protecting the interests of its citizens over itself."

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been receiving criticism over his government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, some experts believe China's hesitancy to accept foreign assistance amid the crisis pertains to state sovereignty and power politics. China is considered a rising power on the world stage, and accepting foreign help would suggest the government has not succeeded in controlling the crisis on its own. Beijing, last month, took draconian measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus by putting cities on lockdown, and essentially quarantining more than 50 million people, especially in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

"Allowing other countries and/or the WHO to access the area around the 'wet market' in Wuhan as the epicenter of the outbreak, risks international condemnation," Glen M. E. Duerr, Ph.D. Associate Professor of International Studies History and Government at Cedarville University told MEAWW. "China is limiting access, in my view, because it seeks to protect its own sovereignty, but also because it seeks to maintain its reputation among the world powers."

Recent reports from China state healthcare officials, including thousands of doctors and nurses who volunteered to be at the frontlines of the virus outbreak, have been overwhelmed with the sheer number of cases every day. Some, in the region, are even dying because of exhaustion and infections, citing a shortage of protective gear. China, once again, has found itself in the midst of a crisis that is nearly impossible to emerge out of unscathed. 

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