In August 2018, a case of African porcine fever was reported in China. One year later, 40% of the pigs in China had disappeared. That epidemic killed one-quarter of the world’s pigs. It was an epidemiological debacle that disrupted the food industry in a country with 1.4 billion people.
The crisis was a result of China’s poor animal-disease prevention and control, but also the lack of transparency and accountability that are congenital to the Chinese totalitarian regime.
You probably didn’t even hear about it. The Western world has been ignoring or minimizing China’s problems at least since 1972 when President Nixon went on his historical visit to China.
At that time China was still in the middle of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, a brutal attempt to erase traditional Chinese culture and values to be replaced with Mao’s version of Communism. Up to 20 million people died during the Cultural Revolution. But the genocidal nature of the regime was ignored with the hope of containing another totalitarian empire — the Soviet Union.
After Mao died and the Gang of Four was dealt with, the West supported the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping introduced in China. While commenting on the new drive toward a market economy, Deng famously commented that “it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat.”
Probably Western leaders applied similar logic to ignore the repressive nature of the regime, its currency manipulations, shameless and systemic technology theft, human rights violations, religious persecution and a long list of other crimes.
According to many experts, if the Chinese society became richer and more sophisticated, the regime was going to become more democratic. We all have somehow benefited from our leaders’ voluntary blindness toward the Chinese regime’s sins. We helped to turn China into a huge factory with a very cheap labor force.
From time to time, we appease our conscience with half-hearted condemnations of child labor in Nike’s factories or abhorrent work conditions in Apple assembly lines. But we continue to enjoy the products and the prices made possible by their suffering.
Early in March, it was reported that members of China’s Uyghur ethnic minority are being used as forced labor in factories that provide services to companies like Apple, Nike, Amazon, or Samsung. You probably didn’t hear about that one either.
But we all certainly have heard about the Coronavirus pandemic. We have become now victims of the Chinese regime’s poor epidemiological control, and its lack of transparency and accountability.
We all know the famous words of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller about the Nazi regime:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Something similar is happening to us now. While COVID-19 may have not willingly been produced by the Chinese regime, it was probably the nature of that regime that made it a pandemic. And, yes, we ignored the nature of that regime while its victims were citizens opposed to the Communist Party, or Muslims or Christians who wanted to practice their faith, or Catholics who wanted to be in communion with Rome, or any person who wanted to think for themselves.
We can’t ignore it anymore. And we need to ask our leaders for a plan of action that will pressure the Chinese leaders to behave like responsible citizens of a globalized world. Our lives now depend on it.