SINGAPORE — Considering that many countries around the world have struggled to contain the coronavirus pandemic, it would not be accurate to put all of the blame for the outbreak on China, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
“I’m sure that there are many aspects of the Chinese response to this outbreak which they will look back upon and believe that they should have done better. But I don’t think overall that one can say this would not have happened if it... only the Chinese had done the right thing,” said the 68-year-old in a videoconference interview with CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria on Sunday evening (29 March).
“Because you look at the way the outbreak has continued, grown, and spread in many countries and they don’t have the Chinese government and yet they have not found it easy to keep the outbreak under control in their country.”
Lee added that the “most constructive” approach now would be to move forward and deal with the pandemic.
The Prime Minister was responding to Fareed’s query on whether it was fair to blame China for the ongoing pandemic, which has seen more than 720,000 infections and some 34,000 deaths worldwide. Many, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accused China of covering up the initial outbreak and of failing to inform the world about what was happening.
Fareed also alluded to the late Dr Li Wenliang, the Wuhan ophthamologist who was censured by Chinese authorities for attempting to warn his colleagues in December 2019 of the emerging outbreak. The 33-year-old died of the disease last month. The Chinese government formally offered a "solemn apology" to his family in March.
Lee was also asked about the impact of the pandemic on US-China relations, and whether it might deteriorate into a Cold War.
Calling it “a most unfortunate situation”, the PM noted that the Sino-American relationship had already been “complicated” even before the pandemic. “But if you’re going to deal with this virus you’ve got to get all the countries to be working together, in particular US and China.”
He added, “But if the US and the Chinese are swapping insults and blaming one another for inventing the virus and letting it loose on the world, I don’t think that that is going to help us solve the problem sooner.”
US leadership is needed
Fareed also noted that while the United States has historically taken the lead in organising the global response to such crises, the Donald Trump administration does not seen interested in doing so. Would this hinder the international community’s response to the pandemic.
Lee responded, “The world has greatly benefited from American leadership in situations like this for decades. If America is in a different mood well we will get by and I think other configurations will eventually work out. But it would be a loss.”
Stressing that he would like to see American leadership on the issue, Lee pointed to America’s strengths, such as soft power and scientific knowledge, as well as a track record of dealing with these problems convincingly and successfully.
“And it’s a pity not to put those resources to work now to deal with this very grave challenge to mankind.”
Lee was making an appearance on the weekly programme Fareed Zakaria GPS.
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