Wang Yiwei:Handling pandemic-related public diplomacy and building a community with a shared future for mankind


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Wang Yiwei:Handling pandemic-related public diplomacy and building a community with a shared future for mankind


By Wang Yiwei    Source:China Plus      Published: 2020-09-24

The outbreak of COVID-19 has rapidly escalated into a global public health crisis. In the fight against the pandemic, China has stood behind the idea of a community with a shared future for mankind by quickly sharing information with the WHO and the international community in an open, transparent and responsible manner. China has worked to respond to the concerns of all parties, strengthen international cooperation and endeavored to curb the global spread of the pandemic. These actions have been widely praised by the international community.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in China has been a major public health emergency, quickly infecting a large number of people and has been the most challenging virus that China has faced since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, said President Xi Jinping in the Work Conference on the Coordination and Promotion of COVID-19 Prevention and Control and Economic and Social Development on February 23. How will future historians record this pandemic? I will try to summarize it in three points. First, the pandemic was a great test of the nation’s governance capability and system. At the end of last year, China put forward a proposition of modernizing its national governance capability and system, which is now facing a tremendous test. Of course, we should judge the test objectively and logically. If we can solve governance loopholes that exist in various countries, it would mean great progress towards reform and improvement of the governance system. In his recent phone conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Xi Jinping said: “We must not only face the current situation and resolutely win over the pandemic, but also take a long-term view to learn from our experience, improve major epidemic prevention and control systems, and boost national public health emergency management systems."

Second, the pandemic is an episode taking place during the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. We see this pandemic as an episode because it will not fundamentally reverse the great progress and rebirth of the Chinese nation, and its economic and social impact on China is only temporary. Moreover, we should treat it objectively by looking at both the negative and positive impacts. The pandemic has propelled China's digital transformation in areas such as healthcare, education, workplace management, communication, transactions, logistics, and entertainment. The pandemic has driven the modernization, digitalization, and intellectualization of national governance. It has advanced the IT transformation of China's manufacturing, and accelerated the innovation and application of AI, IOT, 5G technology and biomedicine. China has now been able to move up the global value chain and boost its input in the reconstruction of this chain. As the saying goes, "what does not defeat us only makes us stronger."

Third, the pandemic is a great beginning for a community with a shared future for mankind. Speaking on the phone with dozens of foreign leaders, President Xi Jinping stressed that China adheres to the notion that we share a common human destiny, and that China is responsible for the safety and health of its own people, as well as for global public health. The fight against the pandemic is a vivid case of building a community with a shared future for mankind. At the critical moment of China's combat against the pandemic, leaders of more than 170 countries and heads of more than 40 international and regional organizations expressed sympathy and support to China, and many countries, international organizations and civil society organizations donated medical supplies to China. In a phone call with President Xi Jinping, the president of South Korea noted that the two countries are close neighbors and South Korea takes China's difficulties as its own. The packages of aid donated by Japan read: "Different countries, shared destinies." All of these distinctly reflect the idea of "symbiosis" in East Asia, which is conducive to the construction of a community with a shared future. Viruses know no borders. Only when the virus is eliminated around the world can we conquer the pandemic! WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the current drastic measures taken by China in the epicenter have created a window period for the world to prevent the pandemic. Only by liberating the fear of all mankind can we liberate our fear! We call on people all over the world to unite and build a community with a shared future for mankind!

In the past, China’s poverty alleviation was one of the most important and apparent contributions to mankind. Can China’s experience of fighting against the pandemic be another of these examples? WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "Some measures taken by China have gone beyond WHO standards and provided a new benchmark for human beings in prevailing over similar outbreaks in the future." We should strive to take this from being solely a Chinese plan and have it become a global plan and for public health governance. Telling positive stories of China's response to the pandemic is telling the constructive stories of China in the present. It is safe to say that China is at the forefront of human resistance to COVID-19. That is to say, if China failed, it could have been a nightmare for the rest of the world. Some WHO experts said that two thirds of the world population could have become infected if China did not act quickly enough. If we were to have a young Chinese girl at the UN General Assembly explain the consequences were China to fail at controlling the virus, similar to how Greta Thunberg explained climate change, then it would have been the best way to publicize China's experience, wisdom, and contribution.

China has shown its commitment to curb the global spread of the pandemic, won trust in working together to meet global challenges, and set a benchmark for improving global public health governance. China's strength, efficiency and speed demonstrated in its fight against the pandemic have been applauded by the international community, and the institutional advantages of China's governance have been put on display. The international community has recognized China's speed, strength, and scope of actions as being unprecedented in the world, and has admired China’s capabilities of leadership, response, organization, mobilization, and implementation. It has set a model for countries around the world to fight the pandemic, accumulate useful experience, and provide important reference for the international community to deal with the infectious disease crisis and promote global public health governance. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th UN General Assembly, said that China's leadership and transparency in the prevention and control of the pandemic are exemplary. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the whole world highly appreciates China's efforts and effective response to the pandemic. No country can do better than China. Leading international professional journals pointed out that China has paved the way for the international scientific community to join in the combat against the pandemic and laid the foundation for the global mobilization of cooperation on scientific research. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the Chinese people have made tremendous sacrifices and major contributions to humanity. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that China's strong measures have not only controlled the spread of the pandemic in China, but also prevented its spread to other countries, and protected not only the Chinese people, but also the people of the world.

According to traditional Chinese culture, there are four realms of power: the principle of homology, the way of unifying all laws, the method of understanding the world, and the technique of concentrating on what is important. The key of public diplomacy lies in communication: The virus knows no borders and has infected all sorts of places, and people can feel this the world over. China’s efforts in combating COVID-19 pandemic should be judged from a global perspective under the framework of the community with a shared future for mankind. During the pandemic, political parties of all countries also provided us with a lot of support, in which these parties displayed their skills to the fullest by serving to connect all ethnic groups and people from all walks of life. This has brought the idea of a community for the shared future of mankind to life.

The principle of public diplomacy lies in the response. As shared data, technical support, and timely, open, and transparent sharing of pandemic information and technical experience are essential for the joint response to the pandemic, China’s counter-pandemic story has aroused a sympathetic global response. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus both pointed out that the biggest enemy at present is not the virus, but fear, rumors, and stigmatization. The "avoidance of discrimination, rumors, and fears" proposed by Antonio Guterres and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus actually means the same as the "isolation, but not separation of love," which was proposed earlier on by China.

The way of public diplomacy lies in sympathy. We should build partnerships focused on public health to cope with the pandemic and avoid panic. China has won praise for sending a group of experts and donating medical kits to Iran and other countries. According to the Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pathogen released on February 29, China has adopted the “bravest, most flexible and most active measures” against the pandemic. The chief economist of UBS, Paul Donovan, said that panic is the main threat to the economy at this time. Once panic spreads globally and affects consumer behavior, it will result in serious economic losses. Google search results for the word "COVID-19" reflect this panic. If "COVID-19/pneumonia" related content available on Google did not exaggerate fears but rather focused on China’s effective response, it would have reduced people’s fears and improved China's international image.

The technique of public diplomacy lies in empathy: a representative example is the public diplomacy initiatives of the Chinese Embassy in the United States. On February 26, Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the United States, met with David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and other major leaders of American Jewish organizations in Washington, D.C., and accepted the open letter for "their friends in the Chinese American and Chinese communities" jointly issued by 87 American Jewish organizations including the JCPA. “We are concerned about rising xenophobia aimed at Chinese people in this country and abroad over the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that in such times, concern can quickly turn into hysteria, which can lead to scapegoating. We pledge to help ensure that Chinese people feel safe and supported, and to combat attacks and stereotyping on social media,” read the letter.

Simply put, by sharing China's stories of its fight against the pandemic, the world has learned how China is winning the war on several fronts, so as to recognize and identify with the philosophical notion: "all for the people, and for all things of the people." This notion is upheld by the Chinese government and the Chinese People's Liberation Army, which have the confidence and determination to build a community with a shared future for mankind.

On February 24, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi presided over the sixth meeting of the leading group of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on pandemic response. At the meeting, he stressed the necessity to actively expand international and regional cooperation over the pandemic response, maintain good communication and coordination with the WHO, share experience with relevant countries, provide help to other countries and regions plagued by the pandemic, and strengthen international cooperation on the research and development of anti-virus medicines and vaccines in a bid to build a community with a shared future for mankind through joint efforts to cope with the pandemic. To this end, I have the following suggestions:

First, we should strengthen international media cooperation and tell stories of the fight against the pandemic. Considering there are millions of college students in Wuhan, we should fully take advantage to display the stories of foreign students, consulates, and foreign enterprises facing the pandemic in Wuhan, in the form of an online museum. We should make known the vivid stories of people across the world, including overseas Chinese, and spread these stories in various ways, such as holding an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York to demonstrate how China contained the pandemic. China should also, at important occasions, express its gratitude to other countries for their support in fighting the pandemic.

Second, we should actively work to promote pandemic response as a global issue, as this is a major global challenge. China is the biggest victim of COVID-19, and also the one with rich practical experience. It is necessary to transform the Chinese experience and practices into international common practice so as to lead regional, multilateral, and bilateral mechanisms and capacity building. Globally, we should also emphasize rules and regulations, or mechanism-building, reform some international institutions and mechanisms, prohibit protectionism, prohibit the embargo of China's goods, and cut off the flow of people from the perspective of international law. After the victory over the pandemic, we can even hold a global public health forum in Wuhan.

Third, we should promote the establishment of a global public health emergency reserve and a public health fund. We should promote the establishment of a global telemedicine platform by combining China's advantages and advanced technology. Similar to the gold reserve, a global public health emergency reserve can be established through an international cooperation platform.

Fourth, we should accelerate the construction of the Health Silk Road. Although the term " Health Silk Road" does not have an established mechanism behind it at the moment, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2021 needs to take it as an important theme and include public health in the agenda, because the large flow of people along the Silk Road would be at risk if carried out under unsafe conditions. On the Health Silk Road, we may consider providing health assistance, training and technology transfer to underdeveloped countries and regions, and establishing a telemedicine platform by combining our advanced communication technology, Chinese characteristics, and medical treatment. In the future, when there will be a similar emergency, such medical assistance in the form of remote consultation can play a big role in online learning, training, healthcare, and more.

Fifth, we should promote the establishment of a global health partnership network. While doing an excellent job in domestic prevention and control, China has worked with international partners to fight the pandemic, and shared experiences and practices regarding prevention and control measures, diagnosis and treatment programs. China has also explored measures for joint prevention and control through communication and exchange of pandemic information, experience, and technology. The country has also cooperated on treatment plans, and helped to further accelerate R&D of medicines and vaccines. Moreover, it has provided assistance within its capabilities to seriously infected countries in need of help. This has laid a foundation for the construction of China-Africa, China-Europe, China-Iraq and China-Japan-South Korea health partnerships, and even develop a global health partnership network. China should aim to turn the united front we have built for an international emergency response to the pandemic into a long-term mechanism for building a global health partnership network and a community of human health.

Wang Yiwei is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China(RDCY).

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