A pandemic of apocalyptical dimensions continues to cause incalculable loss of lives and of economic resources. We don’t see the end of it yet, but we can and must take stock of some obvious facts and analyse their cause-effect relation. Only by doing so can we prepare ourselves for the rebuilding of our society and providing new defenses in the future for our humanity.
The fact is: a pandemic started in China and it spread quickly over the whole world.
The analysis: it must have something to do with globalization. Globalization is a fact and the enormously increased mobility of people explains, in part, the fast spread of the pandemic. But modern progress in communications could have provided a timely alarm and contained that spread. Obviously something went wrong.
Let us remember that globalization is an ambivalent phenomenon: it may be good, it may be bad, but it depends on the way we manage it.
Pope John Paul II used to distinguish a “globalization of solidarity” from a “globalization of marginalization.” One is operated by people who care for the real good of all human beings, the other is driven by selfish interest of individuals and groups.
It is opportune also to remember what has been said by Pope Paul VI: The real progress is when everybody progresses and the whole human being progresses. With those premises let us come to examine the actual reality, especially with reference to China.
Many people welcomed the arrival of globalization: with the world becoming a “village,” a “big family” cooperation and mutual help would make the world better, and the rich and strong could help the poor and the weak. But, alas, the actual outcome was very disappointing. Why were all those often bloody protests held at the venues of meetings of the World Trade Organization? The answer is: the poor of the poor countries did not feel they got any help from this globalized economy of the world.
Those running economic globalization are the world’s rich and strong: the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc. They are meant to help the poor countries, but too often they end up by helping the governments of the poor countries, the rich and powerful people in those countries, not the poor people, because the poor people of the poor countries have not been invited to take active part in the process.
The managers of globalization plan the world economy with scarce consideration of the real local situation and needs. Local governments and other operators, rich and powerful, may be more interested in getting the money into their own pockets rather than helping the poor people of their country.
China's entry to the world scene
At the moment when all this was becoming evident, China entered the world scene, once a poor nation now rich and strong, the model and leader of Asian and African nations. China brought them the hope of a more just, equitable, prosperous society.
There is much to be discussed about such a perception. Has China really become rich and strong? We have to distinguish between the people and the nation. China became rich and strong because its people are hard-working and fast-learning. As the most populous country, China became a huge provider of labor in the world, capable of gigantic production and bringing money into the nation’s coffers.
But what about the people? In a totalitarian regime the people contribute to the wealth of the nation, but they don’t get a fair share of its prosperity. In China the people are slaves under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Slaves are not allowed the luxury of dignity. Under the dominion and bad example of their masters, the Chinese people have lost their traditional virtues. In a world of struggling for survival, they make recourse to lies and violence, just like their masters. China became a threat to the world.
The world must have had an opportunity to be aware of all this, but they may have never heard about the duty of “ethical investment” and “ethical consumption” until they realized that they were accomplices in nourishing a dangerous monster.
Deng Xiaoping, the initiator of China’s state capitalism, used to say that for the nation to become rich you must allow somebody to get rich first. But who can be those first to become rich and for how long? Obviously those in power, the CCP leaders, and once they become rich they are more powerful, and they can stay that way for ever.
Now, for the CCP to move from being the capitalists exploiting their countrymen to being the imperialists exploiting other countries, there is just one step.
Under the “One Belt, One Road” project (the modern “silk road”), Xi Jinping presents himself to many Asian and African nations as the saviour, the one who can free them from the poverty in which they were left by their colonizers.
“We lend you money, specially to build the infrastructure which is the foundation of progress” (The communists “lend” money, they never make “gifts”).
“We provide you with expertise and we send the workers to do the job” (Obviously you have to pay for all this. That means the borrowed money goes back to China).
When they are not able to pay back the money, they are requested to pay with monopoly rights and privileges, or even concession of territories and ports (for 99 years). The new colonizers are worse than the old ones!
A pandemic exploded, a world disaster. It is an awakening for everybody. It’s time we have a hard look at the journey in the history of our humanity. Can we be proud of our scientific progress, of the many possibilities of more consumption? All a sudden we are losing everything and find ourselves powerless.
Now we realize how more important is the truth, our right to information and the freedom of expression. In close contact with death, we are encouraged to pursue the human and gospel values with more determination.
We discover that the real heroes are not those we used to admire on the screen but those who sacrifice themselves in serving the sick, those who take care to keep our environment clean and healthy.
Finally, we appreciate our faith which teaches us that we are children of God, brothers and sisters in the human family. Thank you, Lord, for this lesson from the pandemic.
This article first appeared in the blog of Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong. It is an edited version of the cardinal’s input for a video conference that discussed “Post Pandemic Globalization: the Role of China and the United States — Analysis and Action.”