Containing Paranoia as Well as a Deadly Virus

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China’s unprecedented decision to quarantine a city bigger than New York has prompted travel curbs that have spread around the world nearly as fast as the deadly virus they’re intended to stop.

Many of those measures have found Chinese travelers — healthy or otherwise — facing suspicion, a sideways glance, or an awkward shuffle away. With nearly 6,000 cases in China alone and at least 132 deaths, the virus presents a major challenge for governments to limit the contagion.

British Airways has stopped all flights to and from mainland China. Citizens in South Korea and Singapore are circulating petitions to ban all Chinese visitors. Hong Kong has halted most daily visitors from the mainland. Even within China, residents from the hard-hit quarantined city of Wuhan have faced greater scrutiny.

The fact this virus came from China makes it more complicated. While Beijing says it is sharing information, it has a history of either reacting slowly to crises or being less than transparent on the details. At home, authorities have long sought to control what the public sees and hears.

That backdrop could fuel fears officials either failed to respond fast enough or are now reacting so firmly because the virus is much worse than it’s letting on.

That risks fueling paranoia against Chinese people in general. China is a rising economic and military power that’s challenging decades of U.S. dominance. A strong narrative in recent years has been fear of what the growing clout of the secretive Communist state might mean for the rest of the world. There’s much debate about the role of its telecoms giant Huawei in global networks and perceived threats to security.

As governments move to protect their citizens from the virus, the balancing act is to avoid things tipping into anti-Chinese sentiment as a whole.

Global Headlines

Dead on arrival? | Palestinian leaders swiftly rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which heavily favors Israel and offers the Palestinians far less than they’d have received under two previous proposals they also deemed non-starters. While Arab leaders haven’t monolithically come out in opposition, winning support in their countries will be complicated by a lingering animus toward the Jewish state.

Protests broke out in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and are set to continue through the week. But the crowds never topped a few hundred in each place, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has urged a non-violent response.

Question time | Senators will spend the next two days grilling Trump’s defense team and House impeachment managers, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell trying to salvage his plans for a quick trial. His strategy hinges on a pivotal vote, possibly Friday, on whether to call witnesses. McConnell told his Republican colleagues at a hastily called meeting yesterday that there weren’t yet the needed 51 firm votes to block witnesses. A failure would be a major blow to McConnell and the White House.

Joe Biden’s resilience to attacks over his son Hunter’s work for a Ukrainian company could soon face its toughest test, Joshua Green reports, with Republicans threatening to subpoena the younger Biden as a an impeachment trial witness.

High seas tensions | The U.S. Navy’s patrols of the South China Sea earned a rebuke from Beijing after a warship entered waters near the contested Spratly Islands. China, one of the archipelago’s six claimants, accused the U.S. of a “deliberate provocation” when the USS Montgomery sailed through without its permission, while the Navy’s Seventh Fleet said the maneuver was within the bounds of international law.Waning influence | Trump’s bid to convince U.S. allies to lock Huawei out of their fifth-generation telecommunications networks is expected to suffer another blow today when the European Union reveals its 5G guidelines. Facing threats of retaliation from both Washington and Beijing, the EU will probably follow the U.K.’s decision yesterday to exclude high-risk suppliers from core parts of their systems but reject an outright ban on Huawei.Jihadist raid | Islamist militants killed at least 39 people in a northern village of Burkina Faso in the West African nation’s deadliest attack this year. Eschewing their normal tactic of targeting teachers and soldiers, reports about the weekend assault say the insurgents surrounded a market, told the women to leave and executed the men. Violence in the region is spreading despite large contingents of French and United Nations forces.

What to Watch

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners are no longer talking about trying to bring down her government or demanding big spending projects and will focus instead on fine-tuning economic policy when they meet tonight. The EU and the U.K. face tough negotiations over subsidies, taxes, fish, and workers’ rights, as they try to hammer out a post-Brexit trade deal by year’s end, Ian Wishart and Jonathan Stearns explain. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is set to meet U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London today before traveling to Ukraine to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a bid to persuade Kyiv that U.S. support remains amid the Trump impeachment saga.

Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net.And finally…South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe apologized for telling Trump that Africa loves him but warned of the continent’s growing anti-American sentiment, which he said may hamper investment. Motsepe’s remarks to Trump — who two years ago reportedly referred to African nations as “shithole countries” — at a dinner during last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos sparked a debate among his countrymen, who questioned his right to speak on behalf of the continent.

 

–With assistance from Karl Maier, Philip Heijmans and Amy Teibel.

To contact the author of this story: Rosalind Mathieson in London at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kathleen Hunter at khunter9@bloomberg.net

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