Coronavirus: keep calm and get the economy going again, Chinese adviser says

Laura Zhou

Beijing should focus on reviving the coronavirus-hit economy and improving ties with other nations instead of lashing out at its critics, a Chinese government adviser says.

“China should get its own situation in order in the pandemic fight so that a second outbreak can be avoided, but it should also be offering help to other countries in need,” said Jia Qingguo, an international relations expert at Peking University and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

His remarks came as tensions escalate between China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies, over areas ranging from the origin of the pandemic to trade, security, the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

US officials including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have accused Beijing of a cover-up when the deadly new virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Critics have also suggested China was engaging in “mask diplomacy” by sending supplies to other countries fighting the pandemic.

China has rejected these claims, and said US leaders were trying to deflect attention from the Covid-19 situation in America – the worst-hit country by far, with nearly 100,000 deaths – and that they were harming global efforts to combat the virus.

Jia Qingguo says the economy should be the priority. Photo: Handout

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary session on Monday, Jia said Beijing should keep calm and make the economy its priority to minimise fallout from the pandemic.

“China for its own sake also needs to speed up resumption of economic activities so as to increase economic growth, which could also help drive the economic growth of other countries,” he said. “That would be good news for the world.”

The pandemic has intensified the rift between Beijing and other nations, and its diplomats – from Asia to Europe to Africa – have reacted furiously to the criticism, saying coverage in Western media was to blame and tweeting about a conspiracy theory that the US created the virus to hurt China.

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Jia said the combativeness of the diplomats was a reflection of the mood in China, but they should tone it down.

“I think China is angry, or Chinese people are angry, which, at a certain level, is reflected in the reactions of the diplomats,” Jia said. “[But] when talking about some issues, you need to take into consideration the public sentiment in other countries, and the argument should be based on facts.”

He said the country should focus on working with agencies such as the World Health Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to coordinate policies to boost global growth.

Zhou Hong, a European affairs expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also said China should shift its strategy towards a more cooperative approach.

“Now, we should talk more about cooperation and doing more that could help boost cooperation after the pandemic,” Zhou said in a separate interview.

As part of efforts to offset the impact of the bitter trade war with the US, China has been looking to diversify its exports. That saw the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations surpass the US as China’s second largest trading partner last year. And in the first three months of this year, Asean eclipsed the European Union to become its largest trading partner.

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Jia said those deeper economic ties benefited both China and the Southeast Asian nations, even though half of the Asean members were involved in territorial rows with Beijing over the South China Sea – now a potential flashpoint for armed conflict in the region.

“China needs to manage and control the disputes over the South China Sea and we may need to speed up negotiations for a code of conduct,” Jia said. “China also needs to step up communications with these countries on international and regional issues, so each side can make their views clear and avoid misjudgments.”

Additional reporting by Wendy Wu

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