Many governments across the globe have reacted to the coronavirus outbreak by banning certain foreign-nationals, suspending flights to and from China, and threatening to throw citizens in jail if they breach quarantine conditions.
Some individuals have reacted to the virus by verbally and physically assaulting anyone who looks Chinese, and while the outbreak has mainly affected China and other Asian economies, it has now spread to at least 50 countries, infected over 100,000 and killed more than 3000.
#China, due to the #coronapocolypse, is now pushing for changing the Phase One #trade deal: https://t.co/y5q0WpyT3D. Okay, change it this way: tear up the agreement and restore the Section 301 #tariffs. Let's make our products in America. #ProximityManufacturing #coronavirus
— Gordon G. Chang (@GordonGChang) March 15, 2020
Strict and seemingly zero-tolerance government directives may not be effective solutions. Instead, examples set by the United Arab Emirates, which has taken a more measured approach to contain the spread of coronavirus, should be encouraged.
The Emirates has managed to safeguard its citizens while preserving crucial trade ties and business operations with China and Asia.
This is the right way to deal with coronavirus. Even though the sort of knee-jerk response that has swept across the world is understandable, the racism that has accompanied it is not. Racial tensions towards those of Asian descent have long been present in the West and with the coronavirus in full swing, attacks against Asians are soaring.
Hysteria-driven government policy and draconian health directives do no favors.
These policies don’t protect citizens from coronavirus, in fact, they also serve to facilitate economic distress.
Read more: China is losing its economic game!
Many Asian nations are in economic disarray as tourism and businesses dry up. Other countries that also rely on Chinese trade and tourism are also feeling the squeeze, yet they continue to seal off commerce activities with China to protect their citizens.
While a serious virus, perhaps overly zealous medical policies are hurting diplomacy and trade. The mortality rate is about 2% in the epicenter of the outbreak and less than that elsewhere. That’s slightly more than seasonal flu, which typically has a mortality rate below 1%. But it’s far less than severe acute respiratory syndrome – which spread to 37 countries in 2002 and killed more than 750 people.
Governments on almost every continent have closed their borders to most, if not all, flights from China, and to foreign visitors who have been to China or certain parts of it. Airlines including Air France-KLM and Qantas have scrapped more than 200,000 flights, mostly within China.
US carriers have halted service to the mainland and Hong Kong because of the virus, and any foreign national who has been to China in the last 14 days is barred from entering the United States.
Air travel demand globally is poised to drop for the first time since 2009 and cost carriers in the Asia-Pacific region $27.8 billion in revenue – with $12.8 billion lost in the Chinese domestic market alone.
However, the UAE, through its balanced policies that try to strike a synergy between economic and medical fallout, has been praised by the World Health Organization for its efforts.
The country has conducted humanitarian operations beyond its borders evacuating Yemeni students and hundreds of other foreigners from Wuhan to Abu Dhabi.
The evacuees are then tested, housed and repatriated at the request of their home governments who are often unable to perform such expensive missions themselves.
This policy perhaps stands in contrast to the isolationist strategy of other nations who are sealing their borders and stoking tensions in the process. US news media have reported “racist and xenophobic attacks against fellow Americans or anyone in the US who looks East Asian.”
British police are investigating a spate of virus-linked racist incidents targeting Chinese people, and racist acts and comments against Asians are spiraling in France.
Racist “incidents” directed at Asians have also occurred in several other European countries as well as Australia, Canada, Egypt, South Korea and elsewhere.
One wonders if it’s just a coincidence that no anti-Asian racism has been reported in the United Arab Emirates, which is working with the Chinese authorities to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
Perhaps this is because the UAE recognizes how much its economy depends on trade with China and the rest of Asia.
The UAE is one of China’s leading import partners – one percent of all Chinese exports are destined for the Emirates. Further still, the UAE is unquestionably China’s favorite investment destination among the Arab League.
In fact, the China-UAE Joint Investment Fund, a $10 billion initiative to forge political and commercial ties forms an additional pillar of this trade relationship, and according to Ni Jian, China’s Ambassador to the UAE, around 6000 Chinese companies have relocated to the Emirates.
Business aside, last year alone Dubai registered nearly one million Chinese tourists. Clearly, the UAE government has assessed that cutting ties with China entirely will have too much of a damaging economic impact.
Motivated to maintain its lucrative economic ties with China and the rest of Asia, the Emirates appears confident Beijing will be able to contain and control the spread of the virus.
The government has promised to make medical supplies available to support China’s efforts and forged warmer diplomatic ties recently by lighting up the Burj Khalifa in the colors of the Chinese flag as a show of solidarity.
Was Trump right about China? The Coronavirus has exposed global supply chain failures and the challenges of America’s dependence on Beijing for everything from drugs to hospital gowns. https://t.co/YvkZ2NEbaX
— John Solomon (@jsolomonReports) March 11, 2020
While the UAE government suspended all flights to Iran and Thailand, and almost all passenger flights to mainland China, it has left its Beijing route open to maintain business relations.
In any case, there will undoubtedly be a heavy impact on the UAE aviation industry, and Dubai’s hospitality and tourism industry may take a hit in the process. Indeed Dubai hosts 16 million visitors and approximately 90 million transit passengers each year – impressive numbers that authorities are working hard to maintain.
The Emirates Department of Health has also been proactive in identifying and mitigating the coronavirus threat by maintaining strong contacts with WHO and CDC and extending government health coverage to test, treat and hospitalize all suspected patients.
The ministry has introduced thermal screening at airports for passengers coming from high-risk countries while encouraging online meetups for schools and offices. These restrictions are vital to prevent people from being infected too quickly and placing an overwhelming burden on healthcare facilities.
International alarm is understandable. However, governments must take a balanced approach designed to tackle the virus and protect their citizens while maintaining trade ties with China and other Asian countries to protect their economies. This is the best way forward.
The author is an International Relations Specialist with over 16 years of experience. Currently consulting private sector US companies with regards to South East Asia & Middle East trade policies. He is also a contributor to Asia Times