Experts: China Ties Led Italy, South Korea, and Iran to Slow Coronavirus Responses

Tourist wearing a protective respiratory mask tours outside the Colosseo monument (Colisee, Coliseum) in downtown Rome on February 28, 2020 amid fear of Covid-19 epidemic. - Since February 23, more than 50,000 people have been confined to 10 towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto -- a drastic measure taken …
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

Geopolitical experts speaking to the anti-communist publication Epoch Times in an article published Sunday indicated that political and economic ties to China hurt Italy, South Korea, and Iran in attempts to contain the Chinese coronavirus.

Outbreak epicenters Italy, South Korea, and Iran delayed their initial efforts to contain the virus. The experts blamed the desire to protect strategic ties with China by these nations – as evidenced by an initial hesitance to act or outright obfuscation – of having directly facilitated the spread of the virus around the world, leading to its rise as a global pandemic.

Originating in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus emerged in late 2019. It has now spread across the world, designated a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). So far, the coronavirus has infected over 142,000 people globally; According to a March 14 situation report by WHO, this number will very likely rise.

After February 25, an overwhelming majority of cases reported have come from outside China – specifically Iran, Italy, and South Korea. These nations have emerged as the hardest hit by the virus, contributing the highest number of deaths. Dissidents and even some public officials in Iran have accused the government of suppressing the true death toll of the outbreak, meaning the large numbers the regime admits to may be significantly lower than in reality.

Italy maintains strong ties to China. The communist nation is one of Italy’s biggest trading partners, and the Chinese immigrant community comprises one of the largest immigrant communities within its borders. The worst affected country in Europe – and second only to China globally – Italy’s coronavirus death toll rose to 1,441 on Saturday, according to the country’s civil protection authority. At press time, 21,157 Italians remain infected.

In 2019, Italy and China signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Projects related to this initiative have expanded shipping trade in the Mediterranean region, greatly increasing development opportunities for major Italian ports. Over three million Chinese tourists visited Italy in 2018. Two of the first three cases of coronavirus in Italy are believed to have originated from Chinese tourists in January. This fact caused Italy to close transport links with China and also spurred anti-Chinese sentiment within the Italian population.

Andrea Delmastro Delle Vedove, an Italian politician from the national-conservative Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, stated on Monday that his country’s current crisis demonstrates the problem with interdependence on China.

“Of course, the coronavirus opens a disturbing scenario, it tells us that interdependence on China can be a problem not only from an economic or industrial etc. point of view, but also from a national security, national health prophylaxis,” Vedove said.

Vedove, a member of the foreign affairs commission of his party, voiced a view held by an increasing number of Italians, as they point to China and its ties to Italy as the root cause of the calamity.

Despite Italy’s apparently growing resentment toward China for bringing the coronavirus to the nation – a “demon, born in China” as Vedove put it – Italian President Sergio Mattarella was quick to signal his solidarity with the communist nation, visiting a school in Rome in February with largely Chinese students in an effort to show friendship with China. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping later thanked Matharella in a message read by China’s ambassador to Rome, Li Junhua, at a concert at the presidential palace a few weeks later. “This is another concrete gesture that shows real friendship is seen in moments of need and I am deeply moved,” said Jinping.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been criticized at home for failing to impose travel restrictions on China earlier; he allowed 5 million Chinese to enter the country after the initial outbreak. President Moon sent $5 million worth of medical equipment to Wuhan in the early days of the outbreak, despite the fact that his people were seeking health services within South Korea for treatment from the virus.

This led to national outrage and resentment towards the president’s support of the nation responsible for the virus. As of March 11, over 1.4 million South Koreans have signed a petition on the Presidential website demanding President Moon’s impeachment over his mishandling of the coronavirus and pro-China policies.

Commenting on the current state of South Korea, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation for Northeast Asia, Bruce Klinger, told the Epoch Times, “The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the South Korean economy. Critics accuse Moon of being overly conciliatory to Beijing by hesitating to impose travel restrictions on Chinese visitors in the early stages of the outbreak.”

Iran – like Italy, a partner in China’s Belt and Road initiative – allowed the nation’s Mahan Airways to continue flights between Iran and China despite an official ban declared by the Iranian regime on January 31, according to reports. On February 2, the airline released a statement on its website claiming flights to and from China had been halted at the end of February.

Speaking to the Epoch Times, Manjari Singh, a Middle East expert from the Middle East Institute in New Delhi, said, “Iran’s case is curious because it is isolated due to economic and political sanctions but was still hit by the pandemic … Thereby, meaning that it is not so isolated as it is thought to be!”

Singh noted that the first outbreak was in the city of Qom, a religious city and pilgrimage site where “most of the Chinese projects are set up. So the Chinese link is there.”

Singh blamed Iran’s trade ties with China for the disastrous situation there currently: “Probably Iran didn’t want its trade with China to be disrupted and that’s why it took the spread of the virus very callously and did not reveal it. Cautionary measures were not taken and traveling to and fro to China was not checked,” said Singh.

Iranian state media claims 724 people have died from coronavirus as of March 15. The coronavirus death toll is over 2,000 in Iran. However, on March 14, Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) an anti-regime group, stated that the number was over 4,500.

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