NEW VIRUS UNDERMINING CHINA’S AUTHORITARIAN ADMINISTRATION
As one stunning revelation after another comes to light in the unfolding coronavirus crisis, we continue to learn more about the true nature of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The spread of the new virus, which originated in the city of Wuhan in central China, may lend impetus to the eventual loss of power for both the party and Xi, who has made no secret of his desire to rule over the 1.4 billion people of his nation as an emperor for life. Even if developments do not go that far, I have a feeling that the apparent loosening of the foundation of the world’s second largest power could not but profoundly affect the dynamics of international politics.
The Xi administration’s response to the crisis has made clear to the world that the CCP leadership has learned absolutely nothing from their encounter with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus 17 years ago. In point of fact, Chinese leaders apparently have taken a step backwards since then.
At the time of the SARS epidemic, the Chinese government attracted stern criticism from the international community over its “suppression” of related information. And yet, in comparison with the blunders Xi has made, then President Hu Jintao (2003-2013) was credited with having at least made a certain level of effort to bring SARS under control.
After the first SARS case was confirmed in Kwantung Province in November 2002, the virus quickly spread to neighboring Hong Kong and then to Beijing in March of the following year. At the time, prominent virus researcher Zhong Hanshan disclosed to Hong Kong media outlets that the Chinese government had been hiding pertinent information on SARS.
Zhong is the one who again last month announced to the media that Chinese authorities were once again hiding vital information—this time that the new coronavirus is transferrable between humans.
Informed of the danger of SARS, Hu dismissed the mayor of Beijing and the health minister who were instrumental in hiding information relating to the outbreak and commanded that all pertinent facts and figures would henceforth be disclosed expeditiously. Akio Yaita, deputy foreign editor of the conservative Sankei Shimbun, explained the background:
“SARS-related information was strictly hidden during the initial stage of the epidemic, but Hu dealt with those responsible in an unambiguous manner, taking resolute steps to have the information disclosed. This led media outlets like The Southern Weekly of Kwantung Province to vigorously report on the danger of SARS. I believe the Chinese government must now know what countermeasures need to be taken. Fundamentally, however, the Xi administration has utterly failed to come up with any substantial measures since the outbreak of the new coronavirus.”
“Beijing’s Announcements Are Absolute Lies”
Even now, information on the new virus’s spread is being daily deleted bit by bit from the Chinese Internet. Undoubtedly, that is what the Xi administration wants. The Chinese media, serving as the mouthpiece for the government, only report how hard the communist leadership is striving to bring the crisis under control. One can hardly expect the Chinese media to disseminate the truth about the epidemic.
How far and wide has the new coronavirus spread? We can only guess, but Japanese evacuees from Wuhan are expected to throw some light on that question. Of the 565 Japanese back from Wuhan, eight, or 1.4%, have so far been found to have been infected with the virus. By applying this number to the estimated 9 million Wuhan citizens currently confined to their city, the number of those actually infected can be estimated at around 126,000—a world of difference from the 17,000 quoted in the official Chinese government announcement of February 3.
An important point to bear in mind is that those evacuees had not had particularly close contact with the local citizens in Wuhan and that their hygienic environment had generally been good. Therefore, it is possible to assume that the Japanese infection rate (1.4%) may possibly be lower than that of most Wuhan residents. In that case, it may be possible to surmise that far more than 120,000 Wuhan citizens actually have been infected.
Commented Yaita, a China-born journalist well versed in Chinese affairs:
“The announcements the Chinese authorities are making today are absolute lies. The world will be stunned when it sees the truth about what is going on in Wuhan. That is why the CCP is only giving out information bit by bit.”
The number of the infected has been increasing by some 2,000 daily in China since February 1 and is increasing fast, along with that of the dead—like a snowball rolling down an icy slope. The series of statistics provided by the authorities earlier must be viewed as having been extremely underreported.
Let us review some of the epidemic-related images circulated on the Chinese Internet. One of them shows what appears to be the body of a person wrapped in plastic sheets. The body was carried out of an apartment house, not a hospital, by a group of men, presumed to be health workers, wearing white protective clothes. It is safe to presume that this person was a victim of the coronavirus. What happened to this hapless person? Yaita explained:
“The people of Wuhan have more or less been abandoned by their city and the CCP. All means of public transportation have been halted in Wuhan—the trams and buses. Gas stations have been closed so cars can’t move. The citizens have no means of going to the hospital. If they are fortunate enough to have somehow reached the hospital, there already is a long line of people. It will be hours before a doctor will examine you. A doctor may examine you if you are lucky, but hospitals carry no supply of medicine. The situation is very tragic for the citizens of Wuhan.”
Uncertain Prospects of Future Japan-China Ties
Xi had a 1,000-bed hospital built with great urgency in Wuhan. Another is under construction. But experts seriously question what treatments will be available at these hospitals and whether they will be large enough to accommodate the huge number of patients. A majority of infected citizens and those showing symptoms of infection will likely have no choice but to stay at home. Some will recover thanks to their their own immunity system, while others will not survive.
It can be said that the Chinese government has left 9 million of its citizens virtually uncared for—as if to say it is up to them to survive if they can manage to recover, or die if they fail to. Yaita emphasized that the CCP has effectively forsaken the citizens of Wuhan. And these people will not be included in the statistics of people “infected” or “dead” of causes attributable to the virus. Under the circumstances, it would be next to impossible to expect the authorities to communicate the truth about the virus victims to the Chinese people or the international community.
Under a one-party authoritarian system, people’s lives, happiness, and social wellbeing are almost always neglected. All the evils and blunders that undermine a society are covered up. The people feel stifled, the weakest suffer the most, and to save face for the party and the state, some citizens will even lose their lives. That is the harsh reality of the one-party dictatorship called China.
There have still not been many calls for Xi to account for the current distressing situation. At this stage, the CCP can ill afford to take its leader to task, as neutralizing the virus is the party’s present top priority in order to secure its own survival. But the new virus has steadily been breaking down the party’s foundation at its core, wreaking havoc on the Chinese economy. Hard-hit by the new coronavirus as the US-China trade war decelerates growth, the Chinese economy has virtually come to a standstill.
The distribution of wealth through robust economic growth is the source of the CCP’s power. One can easily imagine how furious the people of the country will be if the party can no longer deliver the goods. Given China’s history of revolutions from below overthrowing powerful rulers, the prospects for the Xi Jinping administration must be seen as dark indeed.
Under such circumstances, will the CCP be able to hold the next National People’s Congress as slated for March 5? The answer could significantly affect the outlook for future relations between Tokyo and Beijing. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 888 in the February 6, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)