Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

What the international community and Japan should do after COVID-19
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

May 7, 2020
When the novel coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China started spreading to various parts of the world, I felt that it was the beginning of the New War Part II.

When the World Trade Center buildings collapsed under the terrorist attack by the Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, people said, “The world has entered an era of new war.” It was new because it was an asymmetric war of sovereign states versus terrorists, as opposed to the previous pattern of war between sovereign states. This was the New War Part I.

The New War Part II is much tougher to fight. The enemy is invisible and capable of baffling mutations. It apparently has the propensity to grow stronger and stronger. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of May 1, 2020, the total number of confirmed cases was 3,247,648 for the world and 1,053,036 for the United States. The number of deaths was 230,804 in the world and 61,717 in the United States. In comparison, the total number of deaths as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks was 2,996 including the culprits.

There is no end in sight to the expanding spread of infection. But let me stress the following five points as an interim summary of the battle.

Firstly, it is absolutely forbidden to resort to concealment. This pandemic crisis is attributable largely to China’s misstep in the initial stage. Today, China is bent on selling its success story of having brought the spread of infection under control through the lockdown of Wuhan and playing up its assistance to the affected countries. However, its initial misstep was a fatal error that could not possibly be offset by such subsequent actions. How long would President Xi Jinping intend to keep covering it all up?

Secondly, there is a sharp focus on the pro-China stance of WHO (The World Health Organization) and its dysfunction. Director General Tedros Adhanom not only praised China’s measures on the virus but also opposed the U.S. ban on the entry of Chinese nationals and only belatedly declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Consequently, the world ended up with a pandemic.

This was a far cry from the WHO team that went into Beijing in 2003 to investigate the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and questioned the underreporting of the infected cases by the Chinese authorities. Politicization of WHO would mean that the lives that could be saved might not be saved.

Thirdly, the United States and Europe were caught off-guard. Why has there been an explosion of infection not in Asia that is close to the source of infection, but in distant U.S. and Europe? There is no denying the hubris and the lack of vigil that left them uncaring as if they were observing a “fire on the opposite shore”.

Fourthly, failure is the mother of success. Taiwan learned the lesson the hard way from the many deaths due to in-hospital and other infections at the time of SARS, and has taken exemplary measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. So has the Republic of Korea, which also learned the lesson the hard way at the time of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2015.

Japan’s record has been without failures regarding SARS and MERS and, with respect to the 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic, it managed to keep the number of deaths at the lowest level in the world. This, however, does not guarantee success for the ongoing challenge. Whether the Japanese can overcome the current pandemic with a somewhat relaxed “Declaration of the State of Emergency” would be a test of their real strength.

Fifthly, social infrastructure, especially medical and welfare budgets, must not be cut down without careful consideration. In fact, there would be a high price to pay for such easy options, as is shown by the dire plight of medical workers in Italy and the high infection rate among the minorities in the United States.

Despite all that, through every dark night, there is bound to be a bright day. Let me look ahead in the medium and long term and mention the following three tasks that the international community and Japan should tackle after COVID-19.

Firstly, we should rethink globalization. The novel coronavirus has been spreading with an astounding speed, bearing no comparison to SARS and MERS, to say nothing of the Spanish Flu in the early 20th century. The coronavirus feeds voraciously on globalization. What are the non-essential and non-urgent activities that we should refrain from? It is not just about physically going out. Aren’t we being asked to rethink our way of life?

Secondly, we should remind ourselves that multilateral cooperation and international organizations continue to be indispensable. No matter what a problem child WHO may be, halting funding as President Trump has intimated or withdrawing from the organization (as the U.S. did from UNESCO) provides no solution. It would only result in enhancing China’s hegemony over those international organizations.

However, WHO urgently needs to reform itself, so that it can restore its impartiality. To that end, broadly based multilateral cooperation including the United States and Europe is called for. This is an opportunity for Japan to exert leadership as a country that has advocated “human security” and considers global health as a matter of high priority.

In parallel with its reform, we should urge WHO, above all, to investigate thoroughly and report on COVID-19. We need to clarify all the suspicions and mysteries surrounding this viral infection, including its place of origin, the route of infection, the countermeasures, the therapeutic drugs, etc. It is essential for the United States and China to cooperate to this end.

Thirdly, environmental protection is more important than ever. It is said that SARS and COVID-19 are carried through the medium of bats. Today, an increasing number of animals, in search of food, are crossing the boundaries separating them from human beings. It would be cataclysmic if the New War III were to start against animals. Let us send bats back to their abodes deep in the woods.

After all, COVID-19 may be a wake-up call for us to rise up from the immersion in the comfort of modern civilization and rethink our way of life.

Chino Keiko is a freelance journalist and Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2020年 5月 7日


















一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > What the international community and Japan should do after COVID-19