Observations of an expat: Coronavirus exploitation

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A pandemic is a perfect excuse for politicians to exploit public fear for their own political advantage—and many of them are doing just that.

Let’s start with Trumpland where the administration’s mishandling of the pandemic means that the country is fast heading for a world-beating 100,000-plus deaths. Trump is using coronavirus to stoke the fires of Sinophobia. China has been the US administration’s chief bogey since 2016 when advisers such as Steve Bannon were warning that a Sino-American war was inevitable. The anti-Chinese stand is also proving popular with the voters in an election year with 70 percent of the electorate critical of China.

China’s President Xi Ji-ping is just as bad. Between Beijing and Washington an increasing number of outrageous conspiracy theories have been launched by both sides. The Chinese have also used the pandemic to boost military operations in the South China Sea and is selectively dispatching its medical equipment to countries where it thinks it can establish a stronger foothold. It has also used Covid-19 to crackdown on Hong Kong dissidents and is claiming in capitals around the world that its relatively successful handling of the pandemic demonstrates the superiority of the country’s political system. The latter claim is a leaky bucket as increasing doubt is poured on Beijing’s death statistics.

One of the most blatant pandemic power grabs is in Hungary. President Viktor Orban has managed to persuade his parliament that the danger of the pandemic means he should rule by decree for an unlimited period. As a result, the already sycophantic press has been further muzzled and public protests have been banned and in some cases criminalised.

In Turkey, President Erdogan, released thousands of prisoners from jail—except the political prisoners. He has also blocked fundraising efforts by opposition city councils in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

Uganda’s long-serving authoritarian president Yoweri Musevini banned opposition activities before the first case of coronavirus was reported in his country. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte was among those who initially dismissed the danger. Recently he ordered police to “shoot down” anyone breaching the lockdown. Similar tactics are being deployed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has used coronavirus to fast track plans to blanket the country with facial recognition CCTV cameras. He claims they are needed to enforce the lockdown, but they will remain in place long after the virus has disappeared.

Coronavirus has saved the political career of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. He has used the crisis to persuade Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz that a national unity government is essential. As a result pending criminal charges against Netanyahu are on hold and he remains as prime minister for the next 18 months.

Just as dangerous are the leaders who minimise coronavirus. Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina has used the pandemic to launch his own line of herbal remedies. In Turkmenistan, horse-loving dicator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedo has ordered his officials not to use the word coronavirus. In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko has told his countrymen that the cure is vodka and saunas. Tanzanian President John Magufuli has kept the churches open because “coronavirus is the devil and cannot survive the body of Christ.” Then there is Brazil where President Jair Bolsonaro regards Covid-19 as no worse than flu. He has sacked his health minister for saying otherwise; promoted unproven remedies and opposed state governments who are imposing lockdowns.

It is tempting to be amused by some of the above stories. Don’t be. Coronavirus is a pandemic that requires a global response. If world leaders use it to further political repression, or dismiss the virus as inconsequential, it only increases the difficulty of forging an international response that is required to defeat an enemy that refuses to respect national orders.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” was published on 15 October.

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5 Comments

  • Not to mention all the publicity that journo,s churn out ignoring other things happening in the World.For one,fires in Florida.Russian mercenaries (Putins) fighting the Libyan govnt on the side of a warlord. Stretching his power after Crimea, Syria TRUMPS dealings Johnson,s Russian papers (I have NOT forgotten about them). A virus that is taking our attention of the World,s problems.

  • In five years time it will be interesting to compare the excess deaths in each country over that period, to see whether limiting coronavirus deaths leads to even more deaths from other causes that would be otherwise treated.

    It will also be interesting to see where cancer rates go, I have the feeling that the human body has the ability to deal with the early stages of cancer and that early intervention actually limits the body’s own healing processes when hit with cancer again.

  • LOL I love the way Lib Dems go on about sinophobia then start talking about Russians.

    In the end it escaped from a lab in Wuhan. China failed to alert the world due to the authoritarianism. This held back a global response (or should we have marched in demanding they cooperate) and after this banned domestic flights from Wuhan and as many international flights as you like. In the meantime when their proxies in the WHO were maintaining no human to human contact the CCP were hoovering up as much PPE as possible.

    How do you have a `global response` with a bad unresponsive actor?

  • Jonathan Coulter 12th May '20 - 10:33pm

    I find this an excellent article, summarising the way regimes around the world are misusing the Pandemic to advance their antidemocratic agendas

  • @james: “In then end it escaped from a lab in Wuhan.”
    This is a lie.

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