Conspiracy theorists will see in a report of a British think tank ~ that says China will emerge as the world’s largest economy five years earlier than predicted because of its rapid recovery from the coronavirus epidemic ~ confirmation of their fears that the manner in which Beijing reported the outbreak and then persuaded the World Health Organisation to accept its initial prescriptions was aimed at global economic domination.

In its annual report for 2020, the Centre for Economics and Business Research has concluded: “The Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic fallout have tipped this rivalry (between the United States and China for the top spot) in China’s favour.”

This year’s report, released on Boxing Day, says China’s “skilful management of the pandemic” and the arrest of economic growth in the West, especially the US, had tipped the scales. The contrast with the same think-tank’s report last year is startling. In 2019, CEBR had said the US made up nearly a quarter of the world’s GDP, its largest share of the world economy since 2007.

Noting that China’s growth would slow, the think-tank had last year seen China’s rise to the top slot delayed by three years to 2033. Thanks to the pandemic, not only has that trend been reversed, CEBR now believes China could be on top of the world as early as 2028.

Certainly, the last two quarters of 2020 have seen China grow amid global gloom and its virus management techniques have seen its total caseload remain in the 80-thousands for successive months now. Amazingly, China which for several weeks in the first half of 2020 occupied the top spot in terms of virus load, has now dropped to the 80th position. It now reports fewer cases overall than Armenia, Bolivia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Myanmar.

Indeed, if a comparison is to be made with the country whose top spot it aims to take, China has recorded fewer cases of the virus in the past year than the United States has in a single day this week.

These are startling facts and suggest a degree of calibration in Beijing’s response to the virus that those searching for a conspiracy will find sinister. China had refused to allow an international investigation into the virus for weeks, before finally agreeing to one by the WHO.

Thereafter it dragged its feet for months while deciding the terms of engagement of the WHO investigation. It quibbled on the composition of the team, and the degree of access it would allow, and it was only last month that WHO was able to announce that a group of scientists would visit Wuhan in January 2021, a full year after the outbreak.

Many believe that if there is a trail to follow, it would by now have turned cold and fear of China’s intransigence has already made some members of the team declare it is not their intention to identify the guilty.