Coronavirus is Inciting Broader Anti-China Sentiment in Hong Kong

The anti-mainland protest that erupted in Hong Kong around eight months ago is now being repurposed.

Prior to the outbreak of the new strain of virus, at the end of December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, some 550 miles away, the Hongkongers were making five demands of the government. Right to comprehensive universal suffrage was the most crucial one.

With the birth of the deadly Coronavirus, the demonstrators are now remodeling their strategy. They are accusing the Chinese government of grave ineptitude in ensuring healthcare and are pushing for a more robust policy on public health.

China was already battling on multiple fronts.

The country’s soaring debt is killing economic growth. The grinding trade war with the United States is crippling its companies in global markets. It’s facing challenge from multiple fronts in South China Sea. The global pushback against China’s technological expansion, majorly against Huawei, is not over. Environmental issues are plentiful, severely affecting the country’s bio-physical environment and human health. It’s facing global condemnation for its treatment of Uighurs. There is widespread unemployment that is frustrating the country’s aspiring youth. There’s an overall fear of chronic unrest. The risks to China has expanded from the economy to every possible sphere.

And now, the Coronavirus. It has made a fraught situation so much worse. And the outbreak’s timing couldn’t have been worse. It started just ahead of the Lunar New Year when millions of Chinese are travelling within China and returning home from abroad.

Restlessness must be running deep in Xi Jinping’s frayed veins. These are the worst times to be President. He abolished a term limit on his presidency in 2018 and now has to stay and overcome all the challenges, whether he likes it or not. He will remember what he’d said immediately after coming to power – Soviet Union had fallen apart because Mikhail Gorbachev couldn’t lead like a ‘real man’?

Coronavirus Reviving Painful Memories

While the outbreak and the dangers it poses have given the protesters more ammunition against China in their quest to see their demands met, their fears are real.

China was criticized by the United Nations’ global health body for concealing the scale of the outbreak of SARS in 2002. At least, 774 deaths were reported in 17 countries. In Hong Kong, the worst affected after China, 1,700 people were infected and 300 died. Environmental issues are plentiful

The outbreak of SARS traumatized Hong Kong for years. Now, the people in the semi-autonomous state fear history could repeat itself. They have every reason to feel that way. A WSJ report has revealed that the mayor of Wuhan, where the virus was born, said that the rules Beijing enforced limited the extent of disclosure about the dangers posed by the pathogen.

A Collective Fight

China alone cannot, should not, be fighting the threat alone. Close to 5,000 people have been infected with the virus and over 130 have succumbed to it. And not just within China, it’s spreading far and wide. No one knows how long it will take for it to peak and finally vanish. There is no cure. It’s a dire situation that needs more hands on the deck.

China refused to take US help to fight coronavirus on three occasions, but finally relented and accepted the aid in the form of scientists and doctors. More international experts need to offer their services, and not just on humanitarian grounds. Countries thousands of miles away are also at risk. The virus is not restrained by boundaries.

The only safety lies in killing and burying the virus for good. And it’s everyone’s fight.

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