The role of China in the Ebola crisis

Mr Ankit Panda talks to Theano-Damiana Agaloglou

The current outbreak of one of the world’s most deadly diseases – Ebola – in West Africa is the largest and most complex one since the virus was first discovered in 1976.  Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are among the most severely affected countries. The weak health systems of these countries, which have only recently emerged from long periods of conflict and instability, as well as their lack of human and infrastructure resources, render the response to the outbreak weak. The Ebola crisis has proven how important it is to send aid to the affected countries. In that ankit-panda-386x386regard, Beijing has been one of the more important humanitarian responders to the Ebola crisis in Western Africa. Mr Ankit Panda, Associate Editor of The Diplomat and former Research Specialist at Princeton University where he worked on international crisis diplomacy, international security, technology policy, and geopolitics shares his wisdom on the matter in an interview with chinaandgreece.

How China responded to the epidemic?

China’s response to the Ebola crisis has been impressive. Short of its role in containing the SARS epidemic which was primarily confined to its immediate region, Beijing has not been a global health first responder. Its handling of the SARS crisis, naturally, had its problems. Following 2014’s Ebola breakout in Western Africa, Beijing sent monetary aid, technical assistance, and even sent medical experts to Africa to aid in containing and treating the disease. Chinese aid and technical assistance was sent to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia — all states where China has previously undertaken important diplomatic and economic initiatives. In Sierra Leone, for example, Chinese technical experts used the Sierra Leone-China Friendship Hospital in Freetown, the country’s capital, as their base of operations. That hospital was established earlier as part of a bilateral initiative between the governments of the two countries.



China has also sent a People’s Liberation Army medical squad to Guinea. Additionally, a Chinese pharmaceutical company working with a PLA-affiliated academy is working to fast-track a possible cure known as JK-05 through Chinese regulators for distribution in the affected region. Given the localization of the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa, Beijing had strong economic incentives to provide humanitarian assistance. China has considerable investments in many of these countries and ensuring that the Ebola epidemic does not yield long-term economic damage is in the interest of not only Western Africa, but also China. One example would be the China International Water and Electric Corporation’s $446 million investment in a hydroelectric power plant in Guinea. Additionally, Chinese investors have said that the Ebola epidemic could “cast a shadow” on future Chinese investment into this region.

Overall, however, Beijing has been one of the more important humanitarian responders to the Ebola crisis in Western Africa. This is a positive development in line with China rising to the task of becoming a responsible stakeholder in international stability, and a net provider of global public goods. Previously, Beijing has received criticism for being the world’s second largest economy but only the 29th most generous humanitarian donor (placing between Greece and Portugal). China’s response to the Ebola crisis sends a positive message for its role in similar crises in the future.

How much aid can China offer?

This is a difficult question to answer. Naturally, China is a very wealthy country and could donate more than it has already. Of course, the same can be said of many wealthy Western countries. Beijing’s humanitarian calculus has to take impact into consideration. For example, pure monetary aid is often less impactful than technical and medical assistance in a public health crisis. China, as a relatively scientifically and medically advanced nation, can create more impact in the global struggle against Ebola by sending doctors, researchers, and laboratory equipment to the region than simply providing the funding for Western African governments to contain the outbreak themselves.

When was Ebola first emerged and what are the myths that still surround the virus?

The Ebola virus disease was first discovered in 1976 after a major outbreak in southern Sudan. The virus was identified after the outbreak took place. Since then, there have been several Ebola outbreaks across the African continent. As of late 2014, there have been 17 cases of Ebola outside of Africa with 4 deaths. This compares to just over 20,000 cases and 8,000 deaths within Africa in 2014 — the majority in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

The 2014 Western African Ebola outbreak drew a great deal of international news coverage resulting in a massive worldwide panic about the possibility of the virus affecting major urban metropolises. Numerous misconceptions exist about the infectious nature of the disease and the manner in which the virus is transmitted. Ebola can only transfer from human-to-human in the case that one makes direct contact with the bodily fluids of a patient exhibiting symptoms or with a corpse that has died from Ebola.