Last week a Chinese coronavirus “suspect” in Myanmar was hunted down near the border with China.
The news story detailed the hunt for possible carriers of the killer virus with the emphasis being on the three suspects who were still at large. An incidental detail in the story was that the woman, who was located, was handed over to the Chinese authorities in the border town of Wandingzhen.
The woman, identified as Xin Zui Fang, was apprehended near the border in Pang Hseng, northern Shan State. Myanmar’s medical tests showed she was healthy and had no symptoms of the coronavirus.
The fact that an apparently law-abiding, healthy citizen needed to be deported to the repressive Chinese authorities gained no attention.
The threat of unwanted deportation might also ensure those feeling the symptoms of the coronavirus avoid seeking medical assistance.
Anyone who follows Chinese politics will be aware that the Communist regime does not like to “waste a crisis”, to paraphrase Barack Obama’s former adviser Rahm Emanuel.
China may have sent out coronavirus alerts for Uigar and Tibetan dissidents across Asean. There has been a hysterical tone to the media coverage about a virus that appears to be killing a very small proportion of the under-70s that have been infected.
As of yesterday (Sunday), 37,198 coronavirus infections and 811 deaths had been reported on the Chinese mainland.
China’s finance ministry said yesterday that 71.9 billion yuan (US$10.3 billion) had been set aside to fight the coronavirus.
It is, however, hard to believe China’s official health data.
The Chinese authorities have been known to be untrustworthy with death tolls in the past.
In 2008, the Sanlu milk scandal broke when the firm was found to have been watering down its baby formula. Sanlu, a previously respected company, had been adding the toxic chemical melamine to watered-down baby milk powder because it was discovered that it tricked the official protein tests.
When the story broke, six babies were reported to have died.
The extensive media coverage persisted for weeks and the number of reported cases mushroomed.
However, all the subsequent baby deaths were put down to liver failure or other ailments rather than watered-down milk formula laced with toxic chemicals. The death toll remained stubbornly fixed on six babies.
A society that prioritises marginal gains in profits over babies’ health and then lies about the death toll is unlikely to provide reliable figures about the current outbreak.
Regardless of the real death toll from the coronavirus, the Chinese government finds it easier to govern its citizens when they are gripped by fear.
In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese media was dominated by stories about Uighur terrorist threats to the games.
There was no evidence of any real threat presented in the stories and no attacks took place. But the stories of the Islamist terror threat provided a useful justification to crush any public gatherings that might have embarrassed the government in front of the global media during the sports showcase.
A scared nation is less likely to complain about the removal of its human rights.
In April 2016 Thailand and Malaysia were gripped by a hunt for two ethnic Uighur “terrorists” who were at large and thought to be plotting attacks on Koh Samui or Phuket.
Efforts to track down the men dominated the news agenda in both countries and the security services were put on high alert.
Eventually, the men were tracked down in Malaysia; except they were not terrorists at all but Uighur refugees. Muslim Uighurs are being incarcerated in vast “re-education” camps as their ancient culture is crushed.
As an incidental detail in the 2016 news coverage about the supposed terrorists was the line that the Malaysian authorities were in talks with China about returning the Uighur refugees. The media in Thailand and Malaysia appeared unconcerned for the men’s fate at the hands of the government they were fleeing.
On the economic front, international commodity markets are suffering as Chinese demand tumbles and shipments of oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG), copper and iron ore are turned away.
Asian LNG prices fell to their lowest point on record last week at less than half of what they were in February 2019.
CNOOC, the Chinese state-owned oil firm, has announced a force majeure or unforeseeable circumstances that prevent the fulfilment of a contract.
China is the world’s second-largest LNG importer and the biggest oil importer. Tankers have been heading to Singapore instead and LNG suppliers are looking elsewhere for customers.
Chinese copper buyers have reportedly also issued force majeure notices in response to the illness.
Global rubber prices on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange have fallen by around 17 per cent this year, hammering one of Malaysia’s key exports.
Vessels bound for China have reduced speed, industry sources said.
Chinese factories and transport networks have also been closed.
Industrial sources estimate that the coronavirus has reduced Chinese oil demand by about 20 per cent or almost 3 million barrels per day.
The turbulence is due to intensify as the virus spreads.
But Asean’s governments should not sacrifice human rights amid the economic destabilisation and incessant demands coming out of virus-gripped China.
Picture credit: US Defence