Global synergy needed to defeat COVID-19

By Christopher Cottrell Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/3 19:05:33

Photo taken on March 23, 2020 shows the venue of an online meeting on COVID-19 epidemic prevention and control among representatives from China and Latin American and Caribbean countries in San Salvador, El Salvador.(Photo by Alexander Pena/Xinhua)

Last month in March, I celebrated my 17th anniversary in China since first arriving by ferry to Shanghai from Osaka, Japan in 2003.  

During that three-day boat journey, I remember sharing a cabin with two students from Princeton University and a Chinese doctor. Down the hall from my room was a group of young, garrulous American backpackers who drank large amounts of Japanese beer.  

The Princeton students were eager to talk with me because I was a fellow American. One wanted to debate politics, stating his political identity. "He likes to debate," his friend said. 

"Come on, let's have a debate later today on the US invading Iraq. I think we should go in," the student said. I thought to myself, how long would this boat journey last?

I ditched the Princeton prep, or PP, and chose to drink beer and play ping pong with the US backpackers. 

After that, PP caught me outside.  Luckily, the Pacific Ocean wind was cold and shrill and it was difficult to chat. I just listened to him yammer then asked, "Are you going over fight in Iraq and leave cozy Princeton?" That's what I thought. Nice debate. 

That evening, the backpackers drank beer and watched Forrest Gump as PP formed a debate circle with some of the Chinese ship managers who spoke English. I joined the Chinese upstairs who were singing karaoke in the bar - and learned my first words of Chinese, including pijiu, which means beer.

I write this now 17-years later because I think this sums up in my mind one of the great communication conundrums underscoring the COVID-19 crisis in the US and the mind-set of most Americans regarding China. 

Many Americans who have lived in China have come upstairs, as it were, to truly sing with Chinese people in their language and grasp their culture and history, plus beer - as our great American patriot and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin encouraged us to do in his 1737 essays "From the Morals of Confucius" that he published in his weekly magazine the Pennsylvania Gazette. 

Benjamin Franklin encouraged Americans to learn from Chinese technology, culture, and morals - even consider patterning a nascent American civilization on Chinese civilization.  

Like many of my American friends who have Chinese wives and families, of my friends in business, media and diplomacy negotiating the day to day realities of US-China relations, we are stumped with how to reach those who only want to watch entertainment, and the hawkish preppies in the corner roping concierge staff into yankee-style struggle sessions.

I've come up with some working ideas, though - a reality TV show about American millennials living on a Yunnan tribal commune in Southwest China or working in an advertising firm in Shanghai. Perhaps a Chinese answer to "The Apprentice" with the US president in the lead role. 

More seriously: if a concerted global COVID-19 rapid reaction medical force combining the strengths of the US, China, and the G20 isn't quickly created in tandem with a global public health messaging strategy like the Marshall Plan from World War II, then I fear we will be left with blame and shame as millions die. 

Ensuing chaos from medicine and food shortages, security cracks, looting, and natural disasters mean more will perish if this power vacuum is not sealed. 

The current shape of COVID-19 rhetoric is a disease of the mind that will infect and destroy a peaceful recovery. 

Countless people like me from business circles, educational departments, diplomatic corps, and other entities have invested heavily into peaceful global trade of the past 19-years since China joined the WTO. I would argue that to a person, we are concerned about the sheer stress test to these peaceful structures of globalization. 

Because of this, I fear for the safety of Chinese and Asian-Americans in the US - just as my cousin, who was stranded as COVID-19 struck China during the Chinese New Year, now has to worry about his Chinese wife there with him.

If he can find a path from the turmoil, then I am confident many of us can. He had to quit his English teaching job in China, and luckily was hired in Philadelphia - Ben Franklin's home, the City of Brotherly Love. 

As he and his wife adjust to that city, they are in luck to have a blueprint of essays and books from old Ben Franklin as they embark on a new path in the city. After all, Philadelphia was once the capitol of the US and the greatest center of Chinese thought in America in the late 18th century. 

It is where Franklin wrote about losing his four-year old son from smallpox, and where he pleaded with pen and sanity for families to vaccinate their children. 

Today, such wisdom is something everybody can relate to, and perhaps can be a rallying point in the race to discover a vaccine for COVID-19 together.

The author is a healthcare editor and professor of communications. [email protected]

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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