As countries around the world enact measures to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, there’s an additional factor shaping their response: China’s enormous economic clout.

While wealthy countries such as the U.S. and Australia -- both key trading partners of China -- are currently barring entry to all non-resident travelers from the mainland as the virus spreads and fatalities rise, less developed countries that rely on Beijing are taking a softer approach as they balance public health concerns, the potential economic fallout and domestic political consequences.

Particularly in countries where China is the biggest trading partner and largest source of inbound tourists, moves that restrict the flow of mainland visitors could end up hurting growth. Restrictive measures also risk angering Beijing’s officials as they battle the outbreak and try to avoid further damage to China’s global image.

“Countries imposing travel restrictions on China will try to carefully manage any potential political tensions,” said Kaho Yu, a senior Asia analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

“A serious pandemic threat -- a potential outbreak in these countries -- will have an impact on their domestic politics, such as elections, and would transcend geopolitics,” he added. “But these countries are also very careful with how they present the travel restrictions, in order to avoid upsetting Beijing and having geopolitical consequences.”

Holocaust Comparison

China has already made its displeasure known over some travel restrictions, which have not been advised by the World Health Organization. The acting Chinese ambassador to Israel compared the country’s travel restrictions on Chinese visitors to Jews being turned away at borders during the Holocaust. The embassy later apologized, the Associated Press reported.

After the U.S. State Department issued its highest do-not-travel alert for China -- on par with Iraq and Afghanistan -- Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “the U.S. comments and actions are neither based on facts, nor helpful at this particular time.”

In a briefing on Monday, Hua blasted the U.S. for being the first to withdraw consulate staff from Wuhan and announce a travel ban on Chinese citizens.

“The WHO doesn’t approve of, and even rejects, travel and trade bans on China,” Hua said. “In the face of a public health crisis, countries should work together to overcome the difficulties, rather than resort to beggar-thy-neighbor practices -- let alone take advantage of others’ difficulties.”

Economic Worries

Some poorer countries with close relations with China, such as Cambodia, have explicitly emphasized the potential economic and diplomatic damage from a ban on visitors.

As President Xi Jinping’s most reliable partner in Southeast Asia, the Cambodian government has attracted around $8 billion from China between 2016 to August 2019, more than a third of its foreign investment, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Banning flights to China would “destroy the Kingdom’s economy and affect the good relationship between the two countries,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s office said in a statement.

Cambodians “who are currently working or studying in China, including those in Wuhan, have to remain there and join the Chinese people to fight this disease,” Hun Sen said during a speech in Phnom Penh on Jan. 30, according to Voice of America. “Don’t run away from the Chinese people during this difficult time.”

Pakistan, a key Chinese diplomatic and military ally, canceled flights to China but quickly resumed them after just five days in line with WHO guidelines, according to Zafar Mirza, a special assistant to Pakistan’s prime minister on health. He added that China’s health plans were “the best” and, as a neighbor, Pakistan needed to “respect their policies.”

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