A volunteer sprays disinfectant in Shwedagon Pagoda's compound in Yangon as a preventive measure against coronavirus on March 31. Cardinal Charles Bo says poor and conflict-ridden Myanmar is extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. (Photo: AFP)
Last Friday Pope Francis stood facing an empty St. Peter’s Square, speaking to millions around the world watching through broadcasts and online. The square was empty but everywhere hearts were full not only of fear and grief but also of love.
In his beautiful Urbi et Orbi homily, he reminded us that the coronavirus pandemic has united our common humanity. “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together,” he said.
No corner of the world is untouched by this pandemic, no life unaffected. According to the World Health Organization, nearly a million people have been infected and more than 46,000 have died. By the time this is over, the global death toll is expected to be millions.
International voices are being raised against the negligent attitude shown by China, especially its despotic Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by its strongman Xi Jinping. The UK’s Daily Telegraph on March 29 reported how China had hidden the true scale of coronavirus. With shock, it reported the reopening of the wet market identified as the cause of the spread of the virus. James Kraska, an esteemed law professor, writes on the War on the Rocks website that China is legally responsible for Covid-19 and claims could be made in the trillions of dollars.
An epidemiological model at the UK’s University of Southampton found that had China acted responsibly just one, two or three weeks earlier, the number affected by the virus would have been cut by 66 percent, 86 percent and 95 percent respectively. Its failure has unleashed a global contagion killing thousands.
In my own country, Myanmar, we are extremely vulnerable. Bordering China, where Covid-19 first began, we are a poor nation without the health and social care resources that more developed nations have. Hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar are displaced by conflict, living in camps in the country or on our borders without adequate sanitation, medicines or care. In such overcrowded camps the social distancing measures implemented by many countries are impossible to apply. The healthcare systems in the most advanced countries in the world are overwhelmed, so imagine the dangers in a poor and conflict-ridden country like Myanmar.
As we survey the damage done to lives around the world, we must ask who is responsible? Of course, criticisms can be made of authorities everywhere. Many governments are accused of failing to prepare when they first saw the coronavirus emerge in Wuhan.
But there is one government that has primary responsibility for what it has done and what it has failed to do, and that is the CCP regime in Beijing. Let me be clear — it is the CCP that has been responsible, not the people of China, and no one should respond to this crisis with racial hatred toward the Chinese. Indeed, the Chinese people were the first victims of this virus and have long been the primary victims of their repressive regime. They deserve our sympathy, our solidarity and our support. But it is the repression, the lies and the corruption of the CCP that are responsible.
When the virus first emerged, the authorities in China suppressed the news. Instead of protecting the public and supporting doctors, the CCP silenced the whistleblowers. Worse than that, doctors who tried to raise the alarm — such as Dr. Li Wenliang in Wuhan Central Hospital who issued a warning to fellow medics Dec. 30 — were ordered by police to “stop making false comments.” Dr. Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, was told he would be investigated for “spreading rumors” and was forced by police to sign a confession. He later died after contracting coronavirus.
Young citizen journalists who tried to report on the virus then disappeared. Li Zehua, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin are among those believed to have been arrested simply for telling the truth. Legal scholar Xu Zhiyong has also been detained after publishing an open letter criticizing the Chinese regime’s response.
Once the truth became known, the CCP rejected initial offers of help. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention was ignored by Beijing for over a month, and even the World Health Organization, although it collaborates closely with the Chinese regime, was initially sidelined.
Moreover, there is deep concern that the Chinese regime’s official statistics significantly downplay the scale of infection within China. At the same time, the CCP has now accused the United States Army of causing the pandemic. Lies and propaganda have put millions of lives around the world in danger.
The CCP’s conduct is symptomatic of its increasingly repressive nature. In recent years, we have seen an intense crackdown on freedom of expression in China. Lawyers, bloggers, dissidents and civil society activists have been rounded up and have disappeared.
In particular, the regime has launched a campaign against religion, resulting in the destruction of thousands of churches and crosses and the incarceration of at least one million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps. An independent tribunal in London, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, accuses the CCP of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience. And Hong Kong, once one of Asia’s most open cities, has seen its freedoms, human rights and the rule of law dramatically eroded.
Through its inhumane and irresponsible handling of the coronavirus, the CCP has proven what many previously thought: that it is a threat to the world. China as a country is a great and ancient civilization that has contributed so much to the world throughout history, but this regime is responsible, through its criminal negligence and repression, for the pandemic sweeping through our streets today.
The Chinese regime led by the all-powerful Xi Jinping and the CCP — not its people — owes us all an apology and compensation for the destruction it has caused. As a minimum, it should write off the debts of other countries to cover the cost of Covid-19. For the sake of our common humanity, we must not be afraid to hold this regime to account. Christians believe, in the words of Paul the Apostle, that we must “rejoice with the truth," for as Jesus says "the truth will set you free.” Truth and freedom are the twin pillars on which all our nations must build surer and stronger foundations.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo is the archbishop of Yangon in Myanmar and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.