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Friday, January 31, 2020
Complication of Central-local Relations Highlighted in the Wuhan Pneumonia Plight
WeMedia01 HK

Wuhan, the ground zero or epicenter of the Wuhan Pneumonia is quickly becoming 2020’s biggest and most notable black swan following its spread to the rest of the world. Whilst the situation revolving the epidemic is constantly evolving, certain issues arising from the matter, far too pressing to be ignored, requires addressing. In order to gain a better understanding of the current situation, reporters from WeMedia01 HK interviewed ANBOUND founder Chan Kung to have a talk about the Wuhan Pneumonia epidemic. Below is a recorded conversation of the interview.

WeMedia01 HK: Following the breakout of the Wuhan Pneumonia in the city itself, we were informed that ANBOUND had specifically formed an emergency response team tasked with running empirical analyses to investigate the source of the virus as well as to analyze the potential outcomes coming out of the epidemic. Based on your analysis and observation, can you tell us if the epidemic was accidental, or perhaps, it was bound to happen at some point? In one of ANBOUND’s reports, it was mentioned that the “polluted air” was one of the main contributing factors to the Wuhan Pneumonia, and that “it did not come as a surprise that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was one of highest risk areas for a Wuhan Pneumonia outbreak”. How do you also explain if parts of the epidemic are half-accident, and half-natural? Because an article published by the Science Magazine on January 27 said that the seafood market may very well not be the source of the virus, a statement that was previously made in one of the Lancet’s articles dated January 24 too.

Chan Kung: We tend to look at things very differently at ANBOUND and as such, our findings would certainly differ from the rest. Following the release of our reports, we came under heavy fire by the public. Some had emotionally accused us of bribery, that we were paid to speak good words of Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market despite all that has happened. Truth be told, that was never the case. In fact, all our findings were based on objective facts. What merely happened was that we managed to pick out certain things that the rest did not notice, that was all. The Wuhan Iron and Steel Corporation (WISCO) happens to be Wuhan’s biggest polluter, with its pollution spanning eight hundred miles wide. During springtime, Wuhan’s breeze travels southeast all the way up to northwest where the polluted air and virus meet, forming a “toxic air”. If we were to judge the matter through the lenses of air pollution mechanisms, it makes perfect sense. Given that viruses exist in nanometers, whilst airborne particles are micrometers large, it also meant that the airborne particles would serve as the perfect carrier for the virus. It’s simple really, and I’m not sure why many experts are getting upset with us and jumping to their guns, but I know for a fact that they are wrong. Of course, to come up with a more comprehensive report requires further work. If you’re interested in a comprehensive report and not just the prevention and control of the Wuhan Pneumonia nor the crisis control policies involved, you will have to wait till we have enough time to supplement our comprehensive report with further evidences, which we’ll get to for sure. For now, however, we have only had the chance to run a policy analysis on the epidemic.

Regarding Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, I’ve never ever set foot into that place and so, I don’t personally know anyone there but I’m sure anyone can tell that the article is research-driven one, and not just some random article founded on a personal opinion. It is an article that contains a completely structured, logical analysis. Those who lack an understanding in analysis may find our findings difficult to comprehend. It’s like attempting a test question in reasoning all the same, wherein our article is driven by rigorous, targeted and objective analysis. Unless new findings crop up, I believe we’ve successfully determined the root cause for now. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market isn’t the source of the virus, the source lies elsewhere and there’s a need for the country investigate it. Whether the country does so or not isn’t my concern. That said, so long as we do not determine the actual root cause, there will always be nothing but inaccurate assumptions. At the end of the day, it’s nothing more than a shortfall in policies and resources.

WeMedia01 HK: The Wuhan Pneumonia has clearly reflected China’s degree of modernization in its governance system and capacity like a mirror. System dimension wise, we have learned much from the SARS outbreak that took place 17 years ago, faced many obstacles this time around and managed to stall the window period of the virus; Yet at the same time, more issues seem to have popped up, particularly in the areas concerning the officials’ competence, ranging from the lack of coordination during press conference to the mishaps in the allocation of resources. How do you think the government should tackle these issues from a governance system and capacity standpoint?

Chan Kung: These are issues under reformation. Nothing will improve unless a reformation takes place. Then again, would things truly improve if a reformation happened? Not necessarily! Even if you emulated the way the westerners run their country, you’d still have shortcomings! At the end of the day, reform, and there will still be a sliver of hope. No reform, and there will be no hope at all. Regarding governance system and capacity, the intention was to provide the public with an understanding of the complexities surrounding central-local relations, as well as between local relations. We can only discuss about its complexities, nothing else, or we might end up upsetting certain parties. The thing is, the merits are often portrayed in self-deprecated manner and downplayed; Meanwhile, officials fear that their demerits would result in lambasting, that they did not give it their all or that they did not accomplish their tasks wholeheartedly. Consequently, they do anything they can in their power to make the lives of those who are critical of them hard. Therefore, we need to be mindful of what we say. After all, the problem on hand is a complex one. Take Shanghai for example, we think there needs to be an improvement in its governance; But what about the areas that do have governance? Do we really need to talk about governance then? So long as some areas do not have governance to begin with, they would never think to discuss about governance at all! If they’re unhappy, they’ll find ways to rid of you. Logic does not apply to them, it’s pointless.

Furthermore, what bothers me the most at this point is the structuring of the system. Whenever we talk about the systems’ structure, money comes to mind. Systems this, systems that, just about systems everything requires money to work and as long as money is involved in the picture, some self-proclaimed know-it-alls, gurus, experts and intellectuals will flock over to some high ranking officials with project funds to get on their good side, blue-and-red-light enforcements (hospitals, law enforcers, etc) included. Once the report has been written, the thesis published, money fully spent, they part ways till next time. Every single time they spend an enormous amount of money to establish the systems, it fails.

WeMedia01 HK: One can’t help but recall the 2003 SARS outbreak whilst dealing with the terrifying Wuhan Pneumonia. As someone who had personally experienced and witnessed both epidemics, what do you think are the gains and losses that China has experienced from both epidemics? You have many foreign countries praising China widely for its transparency and scientific breakthrough, but in China itself, the locals are bashing the country. So, how would you view the gains and losses both inside and outside the country?

Chan Kung: The gains and losses are probably a matter of benefactor vs. victim. China went with the option of locking down its cities and its people paid the price, one that involves their lives. It is also due to that, that the rest of world is safe and that the numbers of infected patients were greatly reduced. With that in mind, it’s a given that China would be commended heavily for its actions. It is basically the outsiders’ way of thanking the victims. Going on to my personal experience of getting through both epidemics, my personal thought is that both incidents are unique and cannot be compared. Back then when SARS plagued Beijing, just like the citizens of Wuhan, a lot of Beijing citizens were apprehended throughout the world, no one would welcome you. This isn’t even a rumor, far from it, I have personally experienced it and know that it’s true. That said, back then, the people from Beijing were relatively compliant too, they understood the circumstances. If we look at the Wuhan Pneumonia-dedicated hospital and the act of self-quarantine or self-isolation, those came from our experiences of surviving a SARS-plagued Beijing during then.

As for the current Wuhan, I’ll reserve my comments for now, as it is too early to tell. SARS was China’s first very epidemic, and despite ten years after the event, the only person you can really fault is the city mayor and not the Beijing officials. Perhaps in the near future, Wuhan could learn from the incident on a community management level. During then, Beijing remained perfectly normal in spite of the crisis. The city was running at an efficient level and there was no need for people to worry about food and water, the government never once shirked their responsibilities towards the city. Meanwhile, Wuhan has decided to relinquish the responsibility of the city to its grassroots community. Perhaps there would be lessons for the rest of the cities throughout China to gain from witnessing the way Wuhan’s grassroots community’s attempt to come out on top of the matter.

WeMedia01 HK: On January 23, ANBOUND ran its very first assessment and research on the Wuhan Coronavirus as it begun to spread, particularly on how the virus would impact the economy and investments. The research shows a preliminary key figure of 40.5 billion needed to counteract the Wuhan Pneumonia, part of which is a direct invest of 20 billion yuan; It was forecasted that the economy would grow at the rate of 0.5 to 1% and that China’s economy will experience some shaking up and impact. Apart from impacting the economy inside out, how else would the Wuhan Pneumonia affect China long-term?

Chan Kung: The figures from the assessment are highly preliminary at this point. As everyone can see, whatever results, findings, data, conditions obtained on January 23 were obtained under hectic conditions, it is nothing more but an evaluation based on empirical researches determined by the daily research competencies of our personnel. The fact that everyone is impressed by our findings, I guess I owe it to the researchers who have put in extra effort compared to certain experts. Meanwhile, I shall not comment on the rest. To me, I believe that the longer this goes on, the more data we publish, the more reliable our findings would be and of course, the better the quality of the researches too. In fact, we’ve already begun our second assessment two days back, as so to enable us to build a mathematical model to run certain calculations, the results will surely be better then.
Lastly, moving on to the effects that the epidemic would have on China’s economy, bearing in mind that the country had previously experienced the SARS outbreak, I believe its effects on the economy are just as similar as any other countries who have experienced catastrophes. The main industries to be affected are secondary and tertiary industries, with tertiary industries being hit the hardest. It’s not hard to imagine that, given the act of locking down the city and forcing people to self-quarantine and self-isolate. Everyone in the country is fighting the same battle, villages, cities. Logistics and consumerism would surely be hit, let alone tertiary industries. This year was meant to be the year where the government was supposed to maintain 6% economic growth. After all that has happened, I believe the government will be adopting decisive measures to stimulate the economy. Otherwise, we’ll be sitting ducks.

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