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Security

COVID-19 and Public Security

Jun 05 , 2020
  • Zhang Yunling

    Chair Professor and Dean, Institute of International Studies at Shandong University

Global public security is an issue that crosses national borders and concerns the security of mankind. Unlike domestic public security problems, cases of threats to global public security require countries to work both on their own and in cooperation. For the international cooperation to unfold effectively, there must be corresponding operating mechanisms, institutions and networks at a global level. All this makes the creation of a global public security system critical.

The unexpected coronavirus outbreak forced all countries into containment mode. Aside from restricting the flow of people, governments suspended air travel, delivery services and customs services, cutting off normal social activities in almost every area of international exchange.

In the economic sphere, in particular, the temporary break in the supply chains that feed global production and consumption exacerbated debt burdens and raised the risk of social crises.

In the era of globalization, the economies and societies of all countries are interconnected, and no one can stand apart. For complex reasons, the incidence and transmission of diseases across borders has become normal in today’s world, even showing signs of getting worse. The COVID-19 pandemic provides a moment in which all can see the importance of global public health security, and it spurs us to look more deeply into ways of promoting cooperation and creating mechanisms to facilitate it.

Internationally, the World Health Organization, as the major pandemic management institution, has acted proactively in information exchanges, situational awareness, research and forecasting, as well as the prevention and treatment of the disease at hand. However, in face of a pandemic as serious as COVID-19, the WHO has also met some difficulties — for instance, ensuring that afflicted areas keep the WHO posted in a timely, precise and comprehensive way. Others include preventing members of the international community from striking out on their own and taking measures against one another, which only results in greater panic and faster transmission, and how to strengthen coordination measures whose effectiveness is amplified by working together.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, it is difficult to proceed with bilateral negotiations. In this situation, the preparation of international rules and guiding principles — honored by all — becomes ever more urgent.

When public health security becomes increasingly globalized and threats rise ever higher, it is essential that a comprehensive system has been worked out in advance, featuring coordination and cooperation.

After the SARS outbreak in 2003, China initiated efforts to set up the International Association of National Public Health Institutes, or IANPHI, in a bid to promote exchanges by national public health institutes through such actions as technical cooperation, expert resource sharing and policy advocacy, thus propelling mutual development. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we should take the opportunity to advance cooperation on global public health security, update old ideas and promote a multilayered global public health security system.

Since a country’s neighbors experience the most frequent flow of its people and goods, the value of a common public health security apparatus becomes even more prominent. Because regional cooperation is easier to conduct than a global initiative, the setting-up of a public security cooperation mechanism within a region could be organized on a pilot basis, with members sharing the benefits in a faster and stronger manner. Therefore, regional public health security cooperation has a key role to play.

In Asia, great efforts should be made to create public health security cooperation mechanisms under the frameworks of the ASEAN-China, Japan and Republic of Korea (10+3) leaders’ meeting; the East Asia Summit; the China-Japan-Korea cooperation; and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Global public health security is crucial to the core interest of mankind. As a great power, China has both the capability and obligation to contribute substantively to by offering more public products. The experience China has gained, the response models it has explored, and the best practices it has found can all serve as important public products.

In particular, China should play a leading role in promoting mechanism-based cooperation on public health security with countries along the Belt and Road by such means as framing a B&R public health security network, setting up a special fund or organizing skills training. Actually, much effort has been made in this regard. A cooperation mechanism with African countries has already taken shape, and specific measures have been implemented, including the joint development of human resources for public health, organizing vocational training sessions, establishing joint medical and healthcare research laboratories, and supporting Africa in preventing and curing schistosomiasis, diarrhea, AIDS and Ebola through public health security cooperation programs. China has also stepped up coordination and cooperation with the United States in global health security affairs. On this basis, a China-Africa public health security governance mechanism may be established.

Back in the years after the SARS outbreak, China signed public health security cooperation agreements with Japan, South Korea and ASEAN countries. After the current coronavirus crisis, China may want to reexamine these agreements, improve clauses on cooperation and prepare feasible rules and establish joint warning and response mechanisms.

China has a greater role to play in the organization of global public health security measures, not only by offering material and financial aid but by promoting public health security governance with its ideas, experience, knowledge and techniques. Public health security should be linked with globally important issues such as sustainable environmental development and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.

In promoting the creation of a system, high importance should be attached to the role of businesses, nongovernment organizations and other social entities to put in place diversified partnerships and intelligent systems; to fully leverage the integration capacity of networks and big data in resource allocation and information collection, organization and disclosure; and to realize fast joint responses and effective coordination in terms of warning, prevention, control and medical treatment.

Looking into the future, the gravest threat to mankind comes from the changes in our living environment brought by changes in the ecological environment —, glaciers melting as a result of a warming climate, polar ice disappearing in the Arctic and the Antarctic, imbalances in bio-diversity. According to scientific predictions, along with the environmental upheaval, new viral epidemics are more likely to occur frequently, repeatedly and abruptly, attacking humanity on a large scale, at blinding speed and with widespread influences.

However, an understanding of the nature of a virus can hardly be done in a short time frame. Under such circumstances, it is only through a well-operated global public health security governance system — not the uncoordinated efforts of individual countries — that will lead to efficient, effective victory.

(Excerpted from World Affairs)

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