(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
There is a chorus around the world that it’s “wet markets” of China which has sunk the world through Covid-19 pandemic but closing them is easier said than done.
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, blames “wet markets” where pathogens jump from animals to humans while the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has asked them to be closed where live animals are slaughtered on the spot for consumption. The origin of Covid-19 were laid to rest in January itself when the head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said: “The origin of the new Corona Virus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market.”
“Given the strong link between illegal wildlife sold in wet markets and zoonotic diseases, the United States has called on the People’s Republic of China to permanently close its wildlife wet markets and all markets that sell illegal wildlife. I call on all ASEAN governments to do the same,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key figure on the White House coronavirus task force, said of China’s wet markets: “It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we just don’t shut it down.” Some 70 House and Senate lawmakers have sent a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) urging it to support the closure of the markets.
If this causes an outrage worldwide, the statement from World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, accused of favouring China, has only added fuel to the fire. The WHO chief supports the reopening of wet markets. An exasperated Morrison has said,: “I’m totally puzzled by this decision (of WHO).”
Covid-19 is only the latest in the long list of troubles which originate from so-called “wet markets”: AIDS, SARS, MERS, Ebola and the swine flu have happened in too rapid succession for us to ignore the lessons. SARS, the closest relative to the present pandemic, is suspected to have originated from civets sold in wet markets of China. MERS came from camels.
Such appeals from the world nudge China into a coercive action but before long “wet markets” spring back to life as if nothing had happened. In the wake of SARS outbreak, China had briefly banned the sale of wild animals in 2003. Now again, it has outlawed the sale of wild animals—no one knows for how long.
Damningly, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan (see image), the alleged ground-zero of Covid-19, was reopened this month having been first closed in January. It’s a widely-held theory that Covid-19 came off bats, before spreading to pangolins and making the jump to humans inside the Huanan wet market–said to have stocked 120 wild animals across 75 species, including bats, dogs, pangolins, turtles and snakes.
Why China is reluctant to shut the damn “wet markets”?
The problem I guess is in the terminology of “wet markets.” Wet markets are different from wildlife markets. The majority of wet markets don’t sell wild animals. They largely sell perishable food: vegetables, fruits, fish, fresh meat etc. Not just China, but “wet markets” are common in most of Southeast Asia. Indeed, it’s been a way of life through millenniums. You stumble upon them not just in China or Southeast Asia but in most of Europe, such as Italy, and even in American cities with large immigrant populations. It’s not wildlife markets. By design or by ignorance, today wet markets are being equated with wildlife markets.
It’s the market for wildlife animals which is the source of humanity’s troubles. It’s a live animal market where vendors slaughter animals upon customer’s demands. At a customer’s behest, the stall-owner would pull out, say a snake, from a cage by the back of its head, skin and gut it and drain it off fluids, both blood and one of spine, and draw It into a cut where mixed with some tonic it’s gulped down by the customer.
In Chinese culture it’s a belief that the body fluids of animals hold key to several human’s health problems. Thus the testicles of a Siberian tiger or powdered Rhino horn all carry, in their belief, some cure for some ailment. There are said to be curative powers in Lizard’s oil. China runs commercial tiger farms for traditional medicine and bear’s bile extraction is almost an industry, not just in China but also in Southeast Asia. It’s called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in normal parlance.
Chinese have been practicing such medicines for close to 2,000 years. It’s a cultural belief that ingesting plans and animal parts keep people safe from illness and restore their inner energy balance. On an average, the TCM uses about 1,000 plants and various organs and fluids of 36 animal species.
Thus there are tiger bones to treat arthritis and other join ailments, bear bile for liver ailments and headaches, seahorse for getting rid of impotence. Tragically, many of these animals are on endangered species list. Yet a demand persists for their magical healing power. It’s belief, and not scientific evidence, which sustains wildlife markets in China.
It’s not helped when WHO has endorsed TCM now. Chinese are apt to treat this validation as a proof of their long-held beliefs and practices. It grows a demand for new TCM markets for the revival of great Chinese nation. Why, even in the midst of Corona Virus, China has been heavily promoting TCM, claiming that it has cured Wuhan virus patients without putting forth any clinical trial proof.
In such an endorsement, poor sanitary conditions are ignored. It becomes a ripe ground for close contact between humans and life and dead animals. It thus turns into a breeding ground for infectious diseases. Belief in TCMs and consumption of wild animals without evidence is surely a problem.
It’s said that bats would now face a backlash from humanity. It would be a mistake. The better option is to let them be where they are in their natural habitat. Bats have unique immune system and carry a lot of viruses around them which could hurt others but not them. They are believed to have played a role in the transmission of at least 12 viruses, counting Covid-19. Scientists believe bats carry a reservoir for a lot of viruses that are hugely dangerous to humans. Yet, the also hold answer to curing various health conditions, such as cancer or diabetes. Wet markets, on the other hand, are integral to Chinese culture and way of life.
Its’ unlikely advocacy groups, politicians and health experts could demand and China would shut down its wet markets. A typical day for a Chinese housewife begins with a visit to wet market. It’s been a practice since the days when there were no supermarkets or fridge to keep food consumable. It’s just a part of life. Not just cultural it has psychological reasons as well. You get to chat with friends and neighbours or develop new acquaintances. Asking price, checking the freshness of items, bargaining with the vendors is a daily experience in such wet markets. Both customers and vendors enjoy such exchanges.
A typical wet market in China doesn’t sell exotic animals. These are expensive stuff which is normally beyond the reach of a common buyer in wet markets. There is no way China could shut down the typical traditional wet markets.
Yet a way has to be found and lessons from Corona Virus must not be lost. Globally, there is a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which has more than 180 countries as members. It must come down heavily on dubious wildlife markets and animal farms. The illegal international trade in such wildlife exports must be closed. There ought to be a penalty stiff enough to deter exploitation of protected wildlife species. Inspections must get more intense.
Or else world would say that Chinese have food habits which kill millions of people.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) with 120-member countries is second only to the United Nations (UN) in size yet its’ two-day 18th Summit in Baku, Azerbaijan on Friday would be lucky to find front-page mention in your newspaper.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi would give it a miss again, like he did in Venezuela in 2016, and so would heads of a whole lot of other nations even though Hassan Rouhani (Iran), Sheikh Hasina (Bangladesh) and KP Sharma Oli (Nepal) as notable exceptions are making rounds in press releases.
It’s unlikely, anyway, that Baku would see more heads of states than eight viewed in Venezuela, down incidentally from 35 witnessed in a still previous edition in Iran in 2012. The NAM doesn’t have a formal constitution or a permanent secretariat, only a coordinating office adjacent to the UN in New York, and a formal media communiqué is all they have to declare to an indifferent world.
It wasn’t so when the world was freeing itself from colonialism in the aftermath of World War II in 1945, and few charismatic world leaders– Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Sukarno (Indonesia), Gemel Abdel Nasser (Egypt) and Josep Broz Tito (Yugoslavia)—rallied the new nations under the banner of the NAM to keep an equidistance from the two superpowers, United States and the Soviet Union. It was a Third World-grouping which didn’t lean either way in the dangerous nuclear-race of Cold War era.
The grouping ensured the vestiges of colonialism didn’t linger on long in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean through their activism in UN General Assembly which declared de-colonization as its main objective in 1960. They brought their weight to bear on the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty and later helped the superpowers to formulate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But the Cold War ended in 1989, the Soviet Union was no more soon, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved and apartheid in South Africa was dismantled. The NAM still defined its role through the prism of Third World nationalism. Western hegemony was still the elephant in the room.
All of it has changed with the rise of China: What was an ideological war has today become one for economics and geography. Many of the NAM members are economic basket cases of the West. As many as 40 of Africa’s 55 states, along with the African Union, have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with Beijing in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build their ports and airports, highways and railways. Over 50 NAM countries figure prominently in the index of failed states.
You thus have a situation where support for Iran’s nuclear programme is voiced in the NAM’s summit but the same nations back economic-sanctions resolutions in the UN Security Council against Tehran. A host of Arab countries bristle with anger against Israel in the NAM conferences but lap up profitable military and economic ties with the Jewish country once outside the boardroom. From conservative Colombia to Leftist Venezuela; from pro-West Malaysia to socialist Cuba, all have hosted NAM conferences.
India which skillfully used Soviet Union to secure their veto in the UN Security Council on Goa and Jammu & Kashmir in the 50s and 60s and used the Western economic assistance to bail themselves out of a food crisis don’t see much value in NAM these days. S. Jaishankar, present foreign minister, had no qualm in declaring in Venezuela Summit that blocs and alliances are less relevant in international order, and the world is moving towards a “loosely arranged order.”
Still, India has embedded itself in nimble regional networks such as SAARC and BIMSTEC, multilaterial ties with ASEAN; is a respected dialogue partner of the European Union and a special invitee to the G-8 summits. It has a trilateral grouping with Russia and China; holds a quadrilateral security dialogue (QUAD) with the United States, Japan and Australia. There is then BRICS and SCO. It is thus easy to see why India is losing steam on the NAM.
In an ideal world, NAM could be an immense balancing bloc to lower the heat in the South China Sea. Lesser states in Asia-Pacific would pay a heavy price if US and China up the ante of their animosity. The NAM could restrain US and Russia; help China and India lower their suspicion of each other. There are still dime-a-dozen limited wars being fought around the world and the NAM, if it wants, could still be heard in the UN.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the NAM in its pomp, India, Egypt, Indonesia and Yugoslavia, bear little resemblance to the era of 50s. For good or worse, they have moved on. Without a credible helmsman, the NAM is nothing but a talking shop.
The Indo-US agreement on sharing military logistics to counter China’s assertiveness in Indian Ocean could have wider ramifications. The two can use each other’s land, air and naval bases for supplies and repair. A piece on the essentials of this conflict:
India and China have been engaged in a Cold War since the beginning of 2015.
New Delhi feels a certain hegemony over Indian Ocean. China, which views it as vital to its survival as a trade route, won’t let it happen. The trade deficit between the two doesn’t help the cause. Both are wary of each other. It’s a real bad news for the future of BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—much to the delight of western powers.
India has made a few moves in recent past which shows its anxiety. Modi visited Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in March last year but ignored China-friendly Maldives as an apparent snub. Also a conference of “Indian Ocean: Renewing the Maritime Trade and Civilisational Linkages” was held in Bhubaneswar. India wants its own Cotton Route to challenge China’s New Silk Road. The Grand Prize of East Africa doesn’t lessen their friction.
China has its own “String of Pearls” strategy. The Gwadar port in Pakistan; naval bases in Myanmar, intelligence facility in Bay of Bengal, a canal-in-construct across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, a military tie-up with Cambodia and building military bases in the South China Sea. The “String of Pearls” is meant to secure the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea for its energy and security concerns.
With the Strait of Malacca enabling almost 80 percent of passage to China’s energy needs, it has looked to build its naval power at choke points along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.
A look at the two Asian powers’ position vis-à-vis critical nations/islands strewn across the Indian Ocean:
This Southeast Asian state was close to China for two decades. But in 2012, it began a “pro-democratization” process—most likely under US pressure—and is now seen close to India. The two together plan to extend Myanmar-Thailand Highway into a trilateral deal.
India’s “Cotton Road” strategy is meant to counter China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan. India wishes to integrate with its ASEAN counterparts and block china from dominating these states.
In a surprise result last year, the pro-China leadership in Sri Lanka, under Rajapksa was ousted and pro-India Sirisena came to power. The first thing Sirisena did was to suspend China’s $1.4 billion investment in port infrastructure.
With Sri Lanka back under India’s influence, for the moment, the link between Maldives and Myanmar for China has been “cut,” so to speak.
Pakistan has decisively moved into China’s arms and there’s no going back on it. The $46 billion Pakistan-China Economic Corridor is well and truly underway. From an Indian perspective, it’s a bad news.
In order to counter China-Pakistan alliance, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi went to Bangladesh and paved way for resolving the 40-year old border disagreement. It can also have a vital impact on India’s control of its northeast region. India can also now directly use Bangladesh’s ports, instead of relying on vulnerable Siliguri Corridor. Till Modi visited Bangladesh, the latter had been cuddling up to China.
Nepal has been a clear loss to India. New Delhi reacted badly to Nepal’s new federative constitution, as did the pro-India Madhesi ethnic group that occupies the Terai border. Subsequent riots and Indian trucks refusing to cross the border into Nepal worsened the situation. Kathmandu sees the hand of New Delhi in this unrest.
China moved in swiftly, providing 1.3 million litres of petrol and signing a deal to fill in Nepal’s demand in the face of India’s monopoly. In one swift action, Nepal has pivoted itself on China’s axis. China surely eyes the control of strategic Karnali and Koshi rivers that sustains 200 million Indians who live at the southern border.
The ouster of former head Nauseed and his Maldivian Democratic Party is a big blow to India’s plans for this little island nation. The current president Yameen is well-disposed towards China which gives it a proxy control on this island chain. There have been multiple attempts on Yameen’s life and India has found itself drawn into the scandal.