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Professor Francis Snyder Received Interview from Peking University on Covid-19 Outbreak

In February 2020, STL C.V. Starr Professor of Law Francis Snyder received interview from Office of International Relations at Peking University regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak. In the interview, professor Snyder shared his experience during the pandemic. At the same time, he gave some professional advices from the standpoint of a professor specializing in international law and in regulation of food safety and of public health. Following is part of this interview:

1. Can you make a brief introduction about yourself?

I am Francis Snyder. I serve as C.V. Starr Professor of Law and EU Jean Monnet Chair at Peking University School of Transnational Law, Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School. I teach WTO Law, EU Law and Food Safety Law. My research areas are EU-China relations; EU and China’s Belt and Road Initiative; standardization and technical standards; international, Chinese and EU food safety law; public health law including pesticide residues and pesticide regulation.

2. What drives you to work for Peking University?

Outstanding faculty and students, international reputation, outstanding opportunities for teaching and research.

3. Can you share with us some of your memorable experiences at Peking University prior to the novel coronavirus outbreak?

Receiving the honors of China Friendship Award 2018 and Peking University Friendship Award 2018. Working with outstanding students on innovative research projects. Working with faculty and staff at PKU School of Transnational Law.

4. In face of the epidemic, how did you spend your winter holiday/Lunar New Year in 2020? How was it different from the same period of time in previous years?

Yes, very different from previous years. Currently I am in Europe for lectures and meetings. Some engagements were cancelled due to the epidemic.

5. To what extent does the epidemic affect your work and daily life? How do you cope with the inconvenience?

Some previous engagements in Europe had to be cancelled. Otherwise I am able to continue my research and contacts with research assistants in China via Internet. The next months are uncertain, so it is important to remain calm and be patient.

6. Will you return to China and resume your work at Peking University when the epidemic ends?

I am looking forward to returning to China and resuming my work at Peking University. I am deeply committed to Peking University and China and it is my pleasure and honor to teach and do research there.

7. What’s your view on e-learning? Is it an effective move in times of the novel coronavirus outbreak? Is it challenging for you to teach online?

E-learning is a very good solution to the current crisis. It should also be encouraged as part (but not all) of regular teaching activities. I am not teaching this quarter so I have not made preparations for teaching online. However, I am in constant contact with my research assistants, who are scattered in different places in China, and so far this has worked effectively. I think students can adapt to online education, and in fact the experience should help us learn more about face-to-face teaching as well as how to make online education more effective in the future, in case it is necessary for example for guest professors or other circumstances.

8. What else do you want to share with us regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak?

From the standpoint of a professor specializing in international law and in regulation of food safety and of public health, there seem to be at least three lessons we can take away from this outbreak.

First, more medical research and other scientific research and more public education are needed on possible connections between bats, wild animals and human beings.  Much has been done, but not enough. Universities, schools, media, market participants, and all social organizations can play an important role here. They can contribute to our capacity to identify and analyze these risks.

Second, we need stricter legal and non-legal (soft law) regulation of food production and distribution and other public facilities, such as markets. This must include products which potentially may serve as both food and for medical purposes. The outbreak teaches us that it is necessary to control food markets strictly, for example separating wild animals from regular food products and imposing severe sanctions of breaches of key food safety rules. This involves legislation and administrative regulations concerning food safety, food quality and public health, but it goes much farther, including non-legally-binding codes of conduct, basic rules of business practice and even public morals and sense of responsibility for others.

Third, the outbreak also teaches us the importance of appropriate transparency in the management and communication of public health crises. This is a difficult, complex and sensitive issue which now will certainly be given more consideration throughout the world. It requires agreed standards, which ideally should be agreed voluntarily by consensus in relevant regional and international standards-setting bodies. China is a leader in making national and international standards, for example in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and many other standards bodies. It may be suggested that China, including PKU, should also take the lead in developing new standards to deal with future threats to public health, such as Covid-19. The analysis of risks includes the assessment of risks, the management of risks, and the communication of risks. China has an invaluable leading role to play in these important fields.