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Austrian scientist:global solidarity and cooperation are the way to overcome the worldwide pandemic

Austrian scientist:global solidarity and cooperation are the way to overcome the worldwide pandemic

Mag. Alexander G. Welzl is the president of the China Data Analysis & Research Hub (CDA) - based in Vienna. He is a trained natural scientist and an internationally recognized expert in the fields of innovation, capital markets, digital transformation and sustainability.

1. How do you evaluate the Chinese government's action against the corona virus? Which good experiences are recommended for the European countries?

In my view, the Chinese government and the Chinese people have reacted resolutely, quickly and in an exemplary manner to the existential challenge of COVID-19 in an international comparison. Effectiveness and united action were, as we have now learned in Europe in the past few weeks, the only correct answer to this crisis. Just like what we have been through here in Europe, the threat of the corona virus in China has also exploded within a short period of time. Actually, starting in mid-February I should be teaching and doing research as a visiting fellow at the TUS College of Digit and the SchoolAustrian scientist:global solidarity and cooperation are the way to overcome the worldwide pandemicof Management at the Guangxi University of Science and Technology (GXUST) in Liuzhou. However, at the end of January my colleagues wrote to me that my stay had to be postponed due to the fight against the corona virus. If you consider that the outbreak of the plague in China coincided with this year's Spring Festival, where millions of Chinese people traditionally meet to celebrate and travel across the country to their relatives, the government was faced with a Herculean task. Under all circumstances, the festivities had to be stopped nationwide (with 1.4 billion people), travel between cities and provinces had to be stopped and all gathers had to be canceled. First with skepticism and then with increasing astonishment, I observed how, starting from Wuhan the public and economic life across the country in international metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou came to a standstill in a matter of days. I will never forget the pictures of the completely empty streets in the 21 million metropolis Shanghai. In the past few weeks, I have been in contact with colleagues across China, who had to completely change their lifestyles due to the strict curfews. The discipline, with which the Chinese have obeyed to these tough measures and supported them as a society, is remarkable. A colleague from the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing, with whom I work, wrote to me that he enjoyed having dinner with his family every day after years of busy work. He was in quarantine by the end of February, just having returned from a longer visit to Austria and Germany. Another colleague who works for a large infrastructure company in Shanghai told me about her efforts to quickly purchase large quantities of masks from abroad to China. A professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, who had visited his daughter in the United States in January, was unable to travel back home due to the circumstances and is now teaching his students online in Las Vegas.

2. The normalization of the Chinese economy and social order is currently China's most important mandate. From your professional perspective, can you explain how the Chinese innovation system will boost economic normalization? (Better with concrete examples)

From the economic and social perspective, the interplay between the individual citizens in the community and the intelligent use of innovative technologies is crucial for success. As we have seen in China and continuously see the example of individual European countries, nationwide use of digital technologies is essential for coping with everyday life in this global crisis. It is now becoming clear which social strategies and which modern technologies are the most suitable and where innovations have to be promoted in order to cope with such a pandemic. In the area of social order, the system of neighborhood committees in the apartment blocks of the metropolises apparently has proven its worth in China. Even under the extreme conditions of a week-long lock-down of entire cities with millions of inhabitants, this small-scale organizational form helps people to make living together as smooth as possible. The difficulties of the individual as well as emergency situations can be coped with better together.

The Chinese government, ministries, universities and companies, on the other hand, have in the recent months promoted the scientifically supported learning process as well as the further development of the latest technologies for coping with the crisis through a multitude of initiatives. Some examples show this in an impressive way. As part of its 2nd call for responses to COVID-19, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) has placed a strong focus on studies of the epidemic’s economic impact in China. The aim is to provide data in a timely manner that provides detailed insights into the development of the main industries, small and medium-sized enterprises in China, the supply chains, regional economic performance in the provinces and foreign trade as well as cross-border investments. In connection with this, the effect of the countermeasures taken by the government is also examined on the basis of the data collected. These efforts for a comprehensive analysis are supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) through free access for researchers to the China Science and Technology Cloud (CSTC). The Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS) supports the decision-making process of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party for measures to curb the spread of virus and the recovery of the economy through evidence-based recommendations based on analysis of the influence of COVID-19 on the society and the economy. In the high-tech sector, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is taking measures to implement nationwide projects for “new infrastructures” (5G network, industrial internet and artificial intelligence) faster in those regions of the country which are in a low level of risk. In response to COVID-19, Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) has launched an innovation platform, with which national high-tech zones in particular are to provide and disseminate innovative products and technology developments nationwide that accelerate the resumption of economic activity in China. These include innovations in the areas of diagnosis and treatment, hospital construction, temperature measurement and monitoring, epidemic prevention and surveillance, measures for disinfection and protection against infection as well as new services and management approaches at the regional level. With regard to the medical level, extensive research activities were started under the leadership of MOST to understand the spread of the virus and the course of the disease, to continuously improve the test methods and to develop optimal treatment methods for the patients. At the same time, several Chinese research teams are working in parallel on the development of an effective vaccine. Clinical tests are currently being prepared, also as part of international cooperation with partners in Europe.

The resumption of activity in start-up centers and incubators is also carried out with particular emphasis in order to promote the existence of small and micro entrepreneurs in a targeted manner. On March 10th, measures for this group were discussed and decided during the State Council meeting. Against this backdrop, the Beijing Business Incubation Association, with 86 incubators in the capital, has started concrete measures and services for its target group with regard to financing options and the free or highly favored use of infrastructure for doing business.

In recent months, the large and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), with their resources and opportunities, have made it possible above all to build hospitals quickly, to produce medical materials, to support everyday life in China and to provide technical services for vital processes. From the point of view of SASAC (the state holding for SOEs), the COVID-19 crisis also represents a stress test for Chinese technology companies (and thus also for the resilience of the entire National Innovation System of the PRC) in the extreme situation of an aggressively rampant disease. In order to cope with this pandemic, the nationwide use of digital technologies is particularly important in China: big data, artificial intelligence (AI), robot technologies, 5G and cloud computing. Now it’s also time to organize an effective collaboration between different branches of industry, to enable new and innovative solutions for urgent problems of the Chinese people, the companies and the organization of all processes in this emergency situation. The SASAC research institute treats this learning process of Chinese companies and the entire national innovation ecosystem in the crisis as an opportunity and a major impetus for the resumption of economic activity in China. The economic shock and the associated boost in learning and innovation will possibly result in the further development of modern production processes, multiple modal transport, medical equipment and materials as well as bio-medicine and big data applications in China. The nationwide expansion of 5G infrastructure which was driven forward in the crisis, and the further digital transformation in China that will be pushed ahead, will also have an impact on the productivity of state-owned companies in the areas of energy, transport and infrastructure development as the economy recovers.

WeChat and the other digital media (just like WhatsApp and Instagram in Europe) play an important role for the individuals in China, especially during the week-long lock-down in times of COVID-19. There is no doubt that the epidemic in China has further accelerated the social acceptance of digital technologies in large parts of the population. In recent weeks, the mobile internet has helped people in strict isolation to maintain social contacts and thus to reduce the psychological pressure on the individual. Innovative, digital technologies are essential in the diagnosis, the analysis of the spread and the treatment of COVID-19 (including track-and-trace systems via smart phones), as well as in the maintenance of daily life (online shopping, online learning, online meetings).

3. How do you estimate the importance of economic normalization of China for the global economy?

As Chinese companies are integrated as key partners in numerous product areas and industrial sectors in the global production and supply chains, the temporary closure of companies and logistics routes in China means that global value chains are severely affected. In addition, the Chinese market, with around a fifth of the world's population, is also the largest sales market for exports in some key sectors of European goods production (e.g. the automotive industry). Especially now in the corona crisis it is becoming clear that an interruption in production in China, which is also a major supplier of pharmaceutical products, leads to noticeable bottlenecks in Europe.

The measures taken by the Chinese government to combat the corona virus and restart the economy in China have been followed very closely in Europe and other western countries. As a result of the spread of COVID-19 and the extreme reduction in economic dynamics in Europe, it is being discussed that a recession could also affect the entire European economic area. The restart of the Chinese economic engine is quite important for the global economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pointed out the resumption of operations in 19 leading provincial regions of China on March 16th in its daily Global Markets Monitor drawing on data provided by the State Council of PRC. After a nationwide fall in industrial production, trade and the capital market of up to 24.5% in January and February 2020, almost 100% of the companies related to trade have resumed operations especially in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai according to IMF. In the air traffic, Hainan Airlines has resumed all flights departing from Hainan Province.

4. Do you have any hope and wishes for China and the Chinese who are now fighting against the corona virus on the front lines? It is more than welcome if you would like to share other opinions about the fight against corona virus and the economic normalization of China.

Due to the isolation, which lasted for several months, the pressure on my Chinese friends, colleagues and their families has grown steadily. The challenges are great for everyone not only on psychological level, but also in terms of securing their livelihood and coping with everyday life. Especially in a country like China, where family cohesion is so important, the government's necessary social distancing measures within families lead to emotionally difficult situations, specifically for older people.

My condolences therefore go to everyone in China who is now suffering from the consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic. But it is now time to think - and act - far beyond mutual sympathy and cohesion between individuals, regions and peoples.

Let us now send a wake-up call to all Chinese, Europeans, Africans, Americans, Indians and the people in other countries around the world: "To Our People"! Unlike the declaration of war by the Austria-Hungarian Monarchy at the beginning of the 20th century, this time it should be a call that leads to a new form of global solidarity and cooperation in the 21st century. Let us create a planetary patriotism with which we combine all our power, intelligence and ability to learn as human beings. We can and must learn from this crisis together for the coming and even more serious challenges posed by global climate change. What is to happen in the coming decades is beyond our imagination and we have little experience of it. However, as a global community of destiny and learning, we can master these big changes. In truth, as humans we all are one single species that lives on this planet – and we are ONE PEOPLE.

I think of the beauty of the plane tree avenues in Hangzhou, which remind me of Arles in the south of France, and of the splendid view from the pagoda on Baoshi Mountain in the middle of Hangzhou down to the West Lake, which reminds me of Lake Wolfgang in my home country Austria. There is a lot that we can do together. Let's start it!

[ Editor: ZY ]