Coronavirus and the Media – Perfect Instruments of Modern Warfare By Tope Fasua

Whoever made the graphics did not have the intention of helping China manage the crisis, or even the world to contain the disease. This was war. It is subtle, requires no guns to fight, no bombs, no troops on ground, but it is war all the same, with very devastating results. That was CNN on that day playing its part in the ongoing buckling of China, a situation which has caught that country totally on the back foot.

Having been swindled by Al Jazeera over the ouster and brutal killing of Muammar Gaddafi, the consequent destruction of Libya and the opening of a weapons route for the destruction of Nigeria, I stopped actively watching the news. We know that the CNNs of this world come with their agenda. In fact, I believe I could tell a journalist who doubled as a secret agent by the slant of his/her reportage, his/her body language, and the kind of places s/he showed up in. I could also catalogue many instances where journalists or news anchors have put spins on stories to score political points against a country that they or the establishment behind them hate or wish to put down. The media is certainly not just about the altruistic dissemination of information to the world. It is also a very potent instrument of war and a money machine. China can confirm that to us presently.

The other day I watched a bit of the reportage of the new Coronavirus (n-COVID) on CNN’s Richard Quest’s programme. Indeed, I couldn’t even hear what he was saying. All I could see were the creepy yellow graphics that crawled all over the map of China. Just looking at the depiction of the virus, and watching it spread over the map of China made one’s skin crawl, and reminded one of fictional depictions of incurable disease mutations. Whoever made the graphics did not have the intention of helping China manage the crisis, or even the world to contain the disease. This was war. It is subtle, requires no guns to fight, no bombs, no troops on ground, but it is war all the same, with very devastating results. That was CNN on that day playing its part in the ongoing buckling of China, a situation which has caught that country totally on the back foot.

There is even a conspiracy theory on whether this coronavirus is a deliberately manufactured biological weapon or disease, and in the past few days, this theory has received much boost from quotes from one of Dean Koontz’s novels written in 1981 and titled The Eyes of Darkness. In that book, Koontz wrote of a respiratory disease that will come in the year 2020. I think he also called it Wuhan 400 and, at some point, the name Coronavirus was used. This uncanny, spot-on prediction has got millions of people gasping, with all fingers pointing at the U.S.A – where Koontz resided. Even the ghosts of HIV/AIDS and Ebola, among other diseases suspected to have been create in laboratories, have been exhumed. The way I see it is this: It is as easy to accuse superpower countries of these conspiracies with which they hold down the rest of the world, as it is for them to actually think of such capers and deploy same. Even if no one was thinking of terrible schemes to wage strategic wars on their enemies, all that has to happen are these suggestions. It is a chicken and egg issue. Which one came first? Did conspiracy theories come first and give ideas to those who make them a reality? Or are conspiracy theories based on real events, which leaked out through dissenters? Also, is it possible that some of these uncanny happenings were merely coincidental and could such coincidences have been hijacked by those who know how to make political, economic and strategic capital out of them?

What this current event has shown is that China has to do even more in her global media push. A nation can master the science of hot war, propelled by sophisticated weaponry and so on, but this kind of media war can expose serious vulnerabilities. It is evident to me, more than ever, that the U.S.A retains global power and it will be tough to shift that pendulum to the East just yet.

Back to the n-COVID. China’s economy is taking a big hit this year. The slowdown will reverberate for a few more years. An economy that grew at 18 per cent at peak in the last two decades, and which had slowed down to 6.5 per cent last year, may grow at no more than 2 per cent this year. It could even be worse; the economy may slide straight into recession if the panic lasts. What I have seen is just how easy it is to ruin an economy. This is global economic warfare, whether the virus created an opportunity for this or was manufactured to purpose. If by some conspiracy, the global media ups the pressure on China by the kind of scary reportage I have seen, for another three months, China could be buckled for some years. How that country manages the effect of such slowdown and shut-in, with her 1.4 billion population remains to be seen. The Chinese have been very optimistic of continuous growth in recent times. The Chinese also understand the power of the media, even if they were unprepared for this very type of warfare. We could see that awareness in how the Chinese news media (CGTN) now beams into millions of homes – often for free – across the universe and especially in African countries, in which China hopes to gain influence and mindshare. What this current event has shown is that China has to do even more in her global media push. A nation can master the science of hot war, propelled by sophisticated weaponry and so on, but this kind of media war can expose serious vulnerabilities. It is evident to me, more than ever, that the U.S.A retains global power and it will be tough to shift that pendulum to the East just yet.

The Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Zhou Pingjian has been on overdrive, doing his own part to manage the crisis, especially as it pertains to trade between the two countries. China is Nigeria’s largest single foreign trade partner in terms of sheer volume. I have read at least two heartfelt articles from the gentleman and those write-ups were interspersed with emotive phrases such as “one good turn deserves another”, “a friend in need is a friend indeed”, “at our trying times” and so on. You could almost begin to pity that superpower machine of a country. The Chinese have taken notice of the way the global West, led by the U.S.A, has weaponised the media against her interest in this instance and their pain drips through their responses on the matter. The country hopes to get nations like Nigeria on its side. It needs to be noted that the slow-down in China will certainly reverberate to other countries in the world. A slowdown in Chinese trade is equivalent to a slowdown in global trade. Nigeria’s 2020 GDP growth was recently reviewed down to 2 per cent by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the back of a slight softening of crude oil prices. Even the U.S.A will suffer from a slow Chinese growth, as a number of companies in the U.S.A have strong links with China and China is the U.S.A’s single largest trade partner as well. All that may not matter though, so long as it is China taking the worst hit.

To conclude, I like to say it is amusing to see China appealing to Nigeria and saying all those nice, endearing things. I know that we Nigerians have not quite conducted ourselves in ways that bring respect, so China should not try to put it out like it respects Nigeria as a partner; whether in trade or anything else. The only relationship China has with Nigeria is that of a cold, calculating investor who purchases mindshare, and a stake in the country’s infrastructure by cutting the cheque and supplying the technology, expertise and even casual labour. The Chinese know in their minds that we are rather an unserious lot who will find it almost impossible to repay these ‘loans’ they are giving us. The other relationship China has with Nigeria is in the largely one-sided trade, where Nigerians go there to import finished products. Today, many Nigerian traders are afraid to head to China because of the Wuhan virus and that is hurtful to that country. In fact, there is more scrutiny on cargo, especially those coming from China, to anywhere else in the world.

We could support China a lot more through this saga – and others that may be deployed against it as a nation trying to define another global order, howbeit subtly. I personally still admire that Chinese self-deprecation and strategic-mindedness inherited from Confucius and other greats like Lao Tzu, Sun Tzu.

The West may have battered us in Africa, but the Chinese haven’t been particularly nice to us either. The West has treated us Nigerians as trash for too long, especially with their dehumanising visa policies, but China too is not too far off. Try to get a Chinese visa. I tried in 2017 or so. I realised just how unfriendly and standoffish the process can be. I also saw that even for a Sinophile like me, who has written books extolling China, and several articles favouring Chinese intervention over the Western intervention in Africa, there is no consideration. They just don’t care if anyone exists. China is a machine looking for money everywhere. And so in my quest for their visa, I was forced to go through agents, and I lost N900,000 to touts in the process, before just deciding to try on another day. Even when I tried last year, to see how I could go for one of the trade fairs, I realised that nothing is straightforward. What if I don’t even want to go for any exhausting trade fair where I will be introduced to tech warehouses as large as Adeboye’s 3×3 kilometres church camp? What if all I am interested in is a stroll down some streets in Beijing and an appreciation of the architectural landscape, plus a visit to the local library? No. China wants my money and that is all it is interested in. What we want to see is a normal country of normal people with a civil process for tourist visits. What exists right now towards Nigeria is a highly suspicious and condescending process. In fact, there is a category of the kind of company that can give you invitation letters, and such companies are only interested in bulk purchasers. China must review this policy as not all of us are traders.

We could support China a lot more through this saga – and others that may be deployed against it as a nation trying to define another global order, howbeit subtly. I personally still admire that Chinese self-deprecation and strategic-mindedness inherited from Confucius and other greats like Lao Tzu, Sun Tzu. I have read some of the history of the Middle Empire (Zhongguo) as the Chinese call themselves (forget the English christening of everything). I take sides with China on the injustices they have suffered, from the Brits and Japanese, among others. I don’t agree that they are monsters trying to take over everything, like their enemies try to paint them. I certainly prefer the Chinese interactions in African development to the snobbish, condescending approach of the Westerners. I was in the same room as Tony Blair, George Bush and Condy Rice in 2009 when Blair said (in answer to a question from the audience about the growing Chinese influence in Nigeria) that they (the West) know that when African countries
ask China for a road, the next day the Chinaman shows up with a digger, while if we ask them in the West, they confront us with sheaves of fine print, questioning our politics, cursing our mothers (my words), and asking to plant some military base in our pantries (again my words). However, this is a good time for the Chinese to rethink their policies and actually get us to be more familiar with their country as equals. Not all of us in Africa or Nigeria are ruffians. What China needs today is not only the support of our traders, but of our intellectuals, and indeed ordinary Nigerians.

As for n-COVID, it too shall pass. We hope the effects are not too devastating on everybody. The question then becomes: Are we prepared for the next episode? Are we also learning that there is war by other means?

‘Tope Fasua, an economist, author, blogger, entrepreneur, and recent presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), can be reached through [email protected]

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