Sunday, January 16, 2022

China and Nepal Lock Horns Over Coronavirus

Nepal’s leading English daily, The Kathmandu Post, recently published an op-ed in which the Chinese government’s secrecy was highlighted as the main reason why the coronavirus outbreak has become so severe. Beijing lashed out at the article, eventually forcing the editor-in-chief Anup Kaphle to step down.

Chinese censorship strikes

“The numbers inside China are bound to be much higher, and the lack of reports from Africa, the Middle East and South America are more likely due to faltering health care systems rather than its absence altogether… We may never know if the spread of the new virus could have been prevented by earlier, concerted action. But the fact that China chose secrecy and inaction turned the possibility of an epidemic into a reality,” the article, which also appeared as an op-ed in South Korean daily Korean Herald, states (India TV News).

The article goes on to state that Beijing downplayed the severity of the virus for 16 days between January 2 and January 18. Only when new cases of infection outside of Hubei popped up on January 20 did the authorities decide to take action against the infection. However, it was too late by then. The disease had not just spread within the country but to other nations too. The op-ed points out that the number of deaths was in the single digits in mid-January but has shot up to thousands in just a few weeks.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
The op-ed points out that the number of deaths was in the single digits in mid-January but has shot up to thousands in just a few weeks. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

The article was written by Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The Chinese Embassy in Nepal accused Anup Kaphle of being biased on China-related issues and called him a parrot of anti-China forces. Eventually, he had to step down from his position as editor-in-chief. In response to China’s allegations, The Kathmandu Post published an article questioning whether Nepal would lose its freedom of speech by siding with Beijing.

“The Chinese embassy’s statement, ultimately, is not just about the Post, or its Editor-in-Chief. It is a rebuke to not bite the hand that feeds. It is about an ostensibly friendly neighbour testing the waters to see if Nepalis and Nepali society will tolerate this kind of intrusion into values that Nepal holds sacrosanct. If Nepal is to keep its sovereignty, it needs to ensure that no foreign nation, no matter how powerful, gets to dictate what principles Nepalis uphold,” the paper said in the article.

Ban on The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is another media outlet that faced China’s wrath due to its coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. The paper published an opinion piece that had the headline “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia” in which the author called Beijing’s initial response to the coronavirus crisis “less than impressive.”

(Image: Jennifer Feuchter via flickr CC BY 2.0 )
China expelled three reporters from The Wall Street Journal after the paper published an opinion piece critical of Beijing’s initial response to the coronavirus. (Image: Jennifer Feuchter via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

China accused the paper of being racist and expelled three WSJ reporters. This is the first time in Chinese history that multiple reporters belonging to a foreign media outlet have been asked to leave the country. “[The decision was an] extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organisations by taking retribution against their China-based correspondents,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement (Al Jazeera).

Last month, the Chinese embassy in Denmark asked a publication from the country to apologize for publishing a satirical cartoon in which the Chinese flag’s five yellow stars were depicted as coronaviruses. The paper refused to apologize.

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.

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