When it's over in China, it's over

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When it's over in China, it's over

The author is the head of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Covid-19 situation in China is unusual. Since it started to spread again in March, the number of new cases in China on April 4 was 16,412, surpassing the previous record of 15,152 on Feb. 12, 2020. On April 9, it recorded 26,462. Cases were confirmed in most regions of China, from Jilin in the north to Guangdong in the south. After the resurgence, the Chinese government resorted to its signature “lockdowns” in accordance with the “zero-Covid” policy.

While some say the policy should switch to “Living with Covid,” the Chinese authorities are stubbornly against this for three reasons. First, China cannot start to open due to the low effectiveness of Chinese vaccines. Second, a lack of medical facilities cannot handle patients if a large-scale outbreak occurs. Third, as Chinese president Xi Jinping is to start his third term soon, he cannot give up the zero-Covid policy that has been publicized as a victory of the regime. The problem is that China’s crisis will not be limited to China. That triggers three serious concerns for Korea.

The first is the damage to the Korean residents in China and escalating anti-Korea sentiments in China. Nearly 700,000 Koreans are living in China. If they are confirmed with Covid, they will be sent to quarantine facilities. The conditions there are so poor that even the Chinese are reluctant to go. Babies are often isolated from their parents. Some say the isolation is scarier than Covid itself. Some Chinese media reported that Covid-19 was related to clothing imported from Korea. The impact of such news reports is evident. The trend of hatred toward Koreans is expected to intensify in China.

The second concern is the economic impact in the aftermath of the Chinese blockade. In last year’s crisis over a shortage of urea water solution, Korea already experienced the repercussions of an unstable Chinese supply chain. Hyundai Motor had production disruptions after parts suppliers in Shandong Province temporarily shut down at once.

Third, as the coronavirus spreads again, there are concerns that another variant may become dominant. According to the Chinese media, a new form of virus not yet identified was confirmed in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, near Shanghai. The mutation has not been reported to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (Gisaid).

Of course, it takes time to confirm a new variant. But there is a good chance that the virus could mutate into another variant in China, the origin of Covid-19. Even as Korea’s situation improves, the crisis will not likely be over until the pandemic ends in China.
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