'China blame game' offers no real solution for COVID-19 chaos in UK

The treating of China as a scapegoat for ill-discipline within government and society maybe is a tempting way to vent public anger, but it will never offer real solution or answers that are really needed.

China.org.cn December 27, 2020
By Tom Fowdy

An ambulance passes by the Christmas tree outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, on Dec. 23, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The past week has been absolutely chaotic for Britain. Following the revelation that a new "mutant strain" of the COVID-19, apparently 70% more infectious than the original, had taken root in London and the South East, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a new lockdown on impacted regions, which simultaneously resulted in a growing number of countries, including most continental Europe, blocking travel from the U.K. 

Right-wing populist politician Nigel Farage, who has been increasingly subservient to Donald Trump's line, took to twitter and proclaimed "Christmas is canceled. Thank you China," and doubled down on his position with a newspaper column entitled "Christmas is Canceled, and it's China's Fault," accusing Beijing of having allowed the virus "spread to the world," while simultaneously venting anger that things in China were in fact normal, and the economy was growing again.

The logic of a "China blame game" in Britain concerning the COVID-19 is not a new thing, it's one that was even pushed by the government itself around April. However, it is an intrinsically flawed argument that is based on a premise of ideological and cultural supremacy, creating an idea that this could never happen to "Britain itself" of its own occurrence. 

In reality, the facts that Britain is hobbling towards a third national lockdown, that the government's messaging, organization and priorities in handling the pandemic are flawed, and that many in the population have refused to take the rules seriously, have all been political choices creating an unprecedented disaster. 

When Wuhan was struggling with its outbreak of the COVID-19 in January through February, the British media drew up an orientalist and ideological framing of the situation which blamed the outbreak on China, which in turn generated the prevailing assumption that Britain could never suffer such a catastrophe. A lot of misinformation that was spread by many Western media outlets drew on Sinophobic sentiment.

Few in Britain have taken the prospect of a COVID-19 outbreak seriously despite the warnings. It was not until as late as mid-March that the government feebly acted, offering scant advice. 

When the gravity of the situation emerged and the government imposed a lockdown at the end of March, the knee jerk reaction was to blame China on the grounds it was not feasible that Britain itself could be responsible for an out-of-control epidemic. 

The British government rushed to open the country up to foreign travel in the summer to appease the travel industry and declared a number of European countries "safe." They failed to organize a test and trace system to handle new cases, and then, on top of that in August, they promoted a disastrous "eat out to save the economy" scheme which encouraged restaurants to offer half-price meals. This, combined with the failure of many in the public to wear masks or take social distancing regulations seriously, quickly resulted in the country being back to square one and worse, by Autumn. Despite saying he would not impose another lockdown and resisting calls to act, Boris U-turned and did just that.

Yet, even as that the second lockdown ended, things have got progressively worse. The government didn't talk about saving lives, they talked about "saving Christmas" and once again things quickly got worse, with the virus having developed a mutant strain which spreads more rapid. 

Now, a third national lockdown is on the cards. By this stage, it is absolutely bizarre that after the government having made so many mistakes, and shown so much incompetence and fudged priorities, people are still blaming China via a "guilt by association logic." It doesn't make sense to blame a country for another country's mismanaging the virus. 

China has successfully fought off a "second wave" and quashed new outbreaks through proliferating mass testing which has often extended to entire city populations of exceeding 10 million, such as Qingdao, Dalian and Beijing, strict quarantining of affected areas and not half-baked lockdowns, but uncompromising ones. 

Given this, there should be no qualms about the reality that the virus situation in the U.K. is the product not of China, but disastrous political choices made at home. The treating of China as a scapegoat for ill-discipline within government and society has created an enormous level of complacency which has led to the virus not coming and going quickly.

However, a perpetual cycle of mass outbreaks is creating a worsening situation. Populist and right-wing politicians intent on blaming foreigners for the country's problems are a tempting vent for anger, but they offer no real solution or the answers the public deserve. 

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S. For more information please visit: 


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