Rep. Will Hurd: Coronavirus response reflects China’s lack of transparency

February 19, 2020
Editorial
By Will Hurd

Originally published in the Houston Chronicle on February 19, 2020.

The lack of government transparency from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in dealing with the coronavirus global public health emergency is contributing to the international community’s inability to resolve the crisis. The United States responded swiftly, bringing hundreds of Americans back from China on government-chartered planes while simultaneously establishing safeguards to limit the spread of the virus at home. Having toured Lackland Air Force Base, which was designated as one of the quarantine sites for these returning Americans, I have witnessed firsthand the exemplary efforts being made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and others to ensure the health and safety of all Americans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers this outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” However, what I saw at Lackland gave me confidence in our ability to effectively address the crisis. There are currently 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. Americans returning to the U.S. are undergoing multilayered screening processes and a 14-day quarantine period where they are being carefully monitored. Generally, of the cases known, coronavirus has a mortality rate of about 2 percent, compared to the SARS and MERS outbreaks, which had mortality rates of around 15 percent and 35 percent, respectively. While the immediate risk to the U.S. public remains low, the outbreak continues to be a global problem of growing proportions.

Addressing this crisis must be a global effort, but China’s record of opacity has hindered efforts aimed at understanding its origins and mitigating its effect. As the outbreak began, Chinese officials downplayed the severity of the virus and cracked down on doctors attempting to warn the public. The number of confirmed cases in China has skyrocketed to over 40,000, and the global death toll has risen to almost 2,000 with all but two of the deaths occurring in mainland China. The numbers have been rising so quickly that it is difficult to maintain an accurate count. In their response to this outbreak, the Chinese government’s penchant for secrecy and total government control has threatened the lives of their own citizens and risked the safety of the world.

Instead of welcoming the global assistance available to them from the beginning, China has prevented health care workers from coming in and has criticized countries like the U.S. for not doing enough in response to the crisis. The U.S. first offered to send expert assistance and resources to China on Jan. 6, and it took the Chinese government over a month to allow a small advance team of WHO experts into the country. This lack of transparency has come even as the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a letter insisting that the scientific community needs more sequence data and samples to better understand the virus and its origins. Delaying an understanding of the virus has delayed the development of an effective global response.

While disappointing, the CCP’s response to this crisis has not been surprising. Their lack of transparency and openness goes well beyond public health issues and extends to all areas of governance, including the business sector. For years, the Chinese government has sought to take advantage of U.S. companies and consumers, and the international community has allowed China’s exploitative behavior to continue for too long, often with serious ramifications. For example, last week the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against four members of the Chinese military in the 2017 breach of Equifax, in which hackers stole personal information of nearly 150 million Americans.

China has followed a pattern of exploiting foreign companies to advance their own innovation and advantage. For example, Amazon Web Services had to sell physical infrastructure assets to its China partner, Beijing Sinnet Technology, to comply with Chinese law in 2017. Last year, the CCP ordered all state agencies to remove foreign technology equipment within three years, which could be a major hit to U.S. companies like HP and Microsoft. The CCP’s lack of transparency and openness threatens both the health and economic security of the U.S. and the international community. To force China to change its behavior, maybe it’s time to impose restrictions on Chinese firms operating in the U.S. service sector or sanction Chinese officials and enterprises that target American firms to create more economic reciprocity. The United States and China are intertwined and both countries can coexist, but this will only become a reality if the CCP starts being transparent not just with the United States and the global community but with its own citizens. Hopefully, the chaos created by the Chinese government’s disastrous response to this latest global health threat is the wake-up call the CCP needs to realize they have to change their ways.