New Delhi: While over 200 countries worldwide are battling to win the war against the “Wuhan virus” (the taxonomy wing of the WHO has named the virus Covid-19), Chinese envoys, state-sponsored media and its propaganda machinery are in a damage control mode to save “Brand China” that has been hit by the outbreak of the deadly virus.

Sources said that China is pumping in huge money to help maintain its brand, and for that, Chinese authorities across the world are using several tools, ranging from pushing fake narrative to engaging with country heads and pleading them for sympathy.

China has been facing a longstanding mistrust from the West and with the spread of the virus, the same mistrust has widened. Now, China is appealing for sympathy, but those attacking China accuse it of hiding the truth and making the situation worse. Experts say that a pandemic like the current one that the world is facing will be over after sometime, but it will leave China “unmasked” forever.

The reason behind such a narrative is China’s response to the virus outbreak. The first Wuhan virus case was detected in mid-November 2019 and since then, the number of contracted cases kept rising, but Chinese authorities concealed the fact from the world and let it spread across the world.

Ironically, even the seven-decades long expertise did not help the World Health Organisation (WHO) to sense China’s concealment. The WHO on 14 January said, “Preliminary investigations done by the Chinese authorities have suggested no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus.”

Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), told The Sunday Guardian: “If you ask whether spread of the Wuhan virus has hit Brand China, I would say yes. As the whole world is shut and fearing contracting the virus, nobody is buying Chinese products or the label.”

Kondapalli, who has deep knowledge of China, international relations and trade, said: “China as a brand was mainly reflected in the manufacturing of consumer durable goods (automobiles, books, household goods, home appliances, consumer electronics, furniture, tools, sports equipment, toys, jewellery, medical equipment, and firearms), a sector that emerged in the past three decades. And the spread of this deadly virus has affected the China model as well as the China brand.”

According to Kondapalli, China is a brand mainly in the economic sphere and has been built through authoritarianism, efficiency and the absence of any labour laws, or opposing voices, which is generally difficult for most the democratic countries to achieve easily.

“Ever since the outbreak of the virus, everybody who looks at the Chinese model or label says that this model has restricted me from going outside the home and has taken the lives of others and our relatives. The first thing that comes to the minds of consumers before purchasing a Chinese product is whether the product is virus-free or not,” Kondapalli said.

Asked about the news coming in about resumption of manufacturing setups in China, Kondapalli said: “That’s not true, there are restrictions on travel. Now that they have not reported new cases, there may be movement, but saying that factories have resumed manufacturing is nothing more than a rumour. When we say that manufacturing has resumed, we will need to cite some indicators including transportation, electricity consumption, logistics supply chain, circulation, bank loans and, in my view, there has been no significant change in most of these indicators. We have to give indicators to support the argument that manufacturing has revived in China. My suggestion is that we should look for statistics instead of going for rumours. The one thing that I want you to look at is PMI (Purchasing Managers’ Index) indicator that is basically a manufacturing sector indicator. Generally, if your PMI is above 50 points, we can say that there is some activity but if it is less than this, we can’t say that manufacturing has resumed.” The China’s February PMI was at less than 40 points which shows that factory production in China is in an acute slump and is lowest since 2009. The PMI for March is yet to come and that will be interesting to see whether it has improved or not. Also, the CPI (Consumer Price Index) is stagnant, so people are not buying and in the situation of a total export halt, the country is nowhere in the position of resuming production.

Kondapalli thinks that the spread of the virus from China due to movement of Chinese trade and people is a kind of terrorist activity and the country must be held responsible for that. “I guess the matter will go to the international court,” he said.

“All accounts suggest that the virus spread from Wuhan, we have no global evidence that the Covid-19 has erupted in other parts of the world except in Wuhan so far. There is a new twist given by the Chinese foreign ministry diplomats who recently said that the virus had originated with the US military troops when they went to Wuhan for a meeting in October last year and for that China has to put out evidence. They will have to take the responsibility as the major evidence suggests that the virus came from China’s Wuhan. At least China must apologise to the world for their insane act of concealing the truth,” Kondapalli said. On the taxonomy of the virus, Kondappalli said, “It is appropriate to call it a Chinese virus which, of course, China will oppose, as they fear that it will get a bad name and dent the country’s image. But it won’t be wrong to call the virus the Wuhan virus or Chinese virus. This is not the first time that a virus will be named after a place or geographical border. For example, Japanese Encephalitis, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), German measles and the recent Ebola outbreak, besides others.”

“No doubt that China will put all its effort together to protect its image, but the spread of the virus has already caused an irreparable dent to China’s image, especially the manufacturing sector, finance and infrastructure projects like the One Belt One Road (OBOR),” he said.