Opinion

Why tensions with China should force us to look within

With the death toll surpassing 15,000, the UK government took a gamble in order to curb the still rising cases of coronavirus. Two Chinese companies were offered a considerable sum of £16 million for two million tests that were supposedly able to detect antibodies for coronavirus through only a fingerprick. The tests looked promising, perhaps with the ability to change the tides of the pandemic in the UK. Boris Johnson smugly stated that they were “as simple as a pregnancy test” and had “the potential to be a game changer”. Soon after the arrival of five-hundred thousand kits, it was determined that they were useless. A careless money drain at a time when an injection of £16 million would have been welcomed more than ever in medical research or the NHS. 

This has not been the first time that countries across Europe have been sold faulty equipment, multiple countries including Spain, the Netherlands, and Turkey have also complained of defective PPE and testing kits. Each of these governments ordered the medical equipment from Chinese companies, leading to many countries in Europe putting future shipments from China on hold. 

The situation of the UK and across the rest of Europe has split the nation over who is to blame for the counterfeit tests. There have been tense exchanges online, and no doubt in person too (2 metres apart I hope), as to whether the UK or China is to blame for the recent blunder. One camp gleefully file this as an example of evidence of China’s untruthfulness throughout the pandemic. The other shouts that these accusations are the product of racial tensions that have led to the demonization of China, Trump often being seen as the ringleader of the ‘Chinese virus’ clan. 

It has been argued that the UK should have taken greater precautions when spending such a large sum, ensuring that they were ordering from reliable manufacturers. The case has been seen as a dangerous gamble that did not pay off, a professor from Imperial College London admitting that the government “might perhaps have slightly jumped the gun”. On April 8ththe World Health Organisation advised against the fingerprick antibody tests as the accuracy has yet to be proved. The UK shrugged-off this warning, many blaming the immense public pressure on politicians to act quickly for being the reason behind this negligence. 

The Chinese companies involved have been quick to point fingers at the UK also, AllTest releasing a statement that the tests were not supposed to be for use at home which they detailed on their website. Similarly, the Chinese embassy in Spain hastily announced that the company ordered from was not granted an official license from the medical authorities. Many of the dealings have been with private companies rather than the Chinese government, yet Xi Jinping has still come under fire from much of the West.  

On the other side of the argument, many argue that accusations of Sinophobia have been an attempt to delegitimise arguments against the Chinese Communist Party. Across Europe, attitudes towards the Chinese government have had an air of suspicion woven into them. There has been continuous questioning of the truthfulness of the Chinese in regard to their coronavirus statistics, both by the general public and among governments. Macron, the French President, openly accused Beijing of being closeted with information and Dominic Raab grimly warned that there will be some “hard questions” that China will need to answer. Among suspicions over Chinese statistics, there has also been talk over whether Beijing acted quickly and efficiently enough, it being suggested that more could have been done to prevent the spread of the pandemic. The poor-quality PPE supplies have provoked the feeling of unease towards China that has been lingering in many minds across Europe in the past few weeks. There has been little to put these minds at ease so far. 

It is impossible to determine whether the accusations of China’s malicious intent are empty shouts or not. Hopefully over the coming weeks coronavirus cases will decline and with them global tensions. However, we must not let these arguments detract from the divides in our own communities. As each side spars with each other it is becoming clearer that despite the recent back-patting over the community spirit and unity in the UK, we are still a divided nation. 

Although internal political tensions appear to be subdued during this crisis, the bickering over China still draws a line between the left and right in thick black marker. Of course, not all arguments are at polar opposites, but there are certainly a large number of extreme views being aired via social media. We have tendency to turn our attention outwards to create a view of ‘them’ and ‘us’, the ‘us’ implying a false sense of national solidarity. While we are all facing the consequences of a global pandemic, many are grappling with each other online, many of these arguments being abusive and disrespectful. For every motivational Tweet or Facebook post, there is another that undermines the image of a nation united against a pandemic.

This does not mean that there isn’t solidarity in the UK and Europe at all, the regular clapping that brings communities together weekly (or nightly in some cases) is proof of this. However, we must internalise these feelings of togetherness, and remind ourselves of them when feelings of belligerence boil up inside of us when we see a social media post we disagree with. By all means, voice your opinion, but do so with the reminder that a divided nation will not get us through a pandemic, whether China is to blame or not.