TRUTH BEHIND VIRUS CRISIS KEPT SECRET TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Mired in the new coronavirus crisis, the Xi Jinping administration is faced with probably its worst crisis since coming to power in 2013. What can Japan learn from the crisis in China? What should be done to avoid making the same mistakes? The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces a critical test.
China has historically been a source of concern for Japan on many fronts. In order to avoid trouble, we must deal adroitly with our difficult neighbor at all times.
The ongoing spread of the deadly virus is traceable to Hubei Province located right in the center of China. The epidemic has yet to be brought under control, forcing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to grudgingly cancel the 13th National People’s Congress (PNC) slated in Beijing for March 5. The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body to the CCP leadership, has also been postponed. Beijing has so far failed to give any indication whatsoever as to when these events will be held.
That Xi was compelled to postpone at the last minute this year’s PNC—which he desperately wanted to hold as a celebration of his power and prestige—is proof of how critical the present situation in China is. It will be difficult to avoid a postponement of Xi’s state visit to Japan slated for early April.
China has managed to become a superpower by manipulating information of all types. It would be correct to assume that its national character drives it to instinctively hide any information detrimental to its national interests. In that vein, one should not take at face value the information hitherto provided by the Chinese authorities as regards the spread of pneumonia attributable to the new virus. Take the February 20 announcement, for instance, which listed Guangdong as the province with the second largest number of the affected after Hubei, where the virus originated. A large number of Japanese corporations have operations in Guangdong, which neighbors Hong Kong and Macao.
Unbelievably, the announcement also listed Henan, Zhejiang, and Hunan in the descending order of infected provinces, emphasizing that the number of patients had reached a threshold of 1,000 in each of the provinces, with the dead held to 5 in Guangdong, 19 in Henan, 1 in Zhejiang, and 4 in Hunan.
Requisitioning Private Resources at Will
The series of numbers released by the authorities are far from trustworthy, as they hardly reflect the truth about the crisis in China. They are only the numbers the Chinese authorities came up with, expecting the Chinese public—and the world at large, for that matter—to view the situation as “not that serious.”
But the world has taken the crisis much more seriously. For instance, the US and Taiwan, which intimately share virus-related information, swiftly took stern measures early this month against Guangdong Province. Hong Kong followed suit. Washington had most Americans—not just diplomats but private citizens as well—leave that province expeditiously. Meanwhile, as early as February 2, Taiwan banned all entries from Guangdong, putting the province on the same alert level (first class quarantine zone) as Hubei six days later, on February 8.
The Hong Kong government closed its borders with China except for certain spots, subjecting all visitors to two weeks of quarantine isolation. Incidentally, Kyodo News Service, the Asahi Shimbun, and the Yomiuri Shimbun pulled back their Guangdong staffers to Hong Kong. Only two Japanese news outlets—NHK and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun—remain behind. BBC and CNN have no bureaus in Guangdong. Other international media outlets, such as Reuters and the Associated Press, keep their bureaus in Shenzhen staffed by journalists specializing in the high-tech industry, not necessarily China in general.
What actually has evolved in China following the epidemic is typically Chinese, if I may say so. For example, the provincial government of Guangdong ordered workers back to business on February 10 in following the decision by the central government—despite the fact that infection within the province had remained far from controlled. This inevitably has led to the recurrence of the explosive human-to-human spread of the epidemic at work, in transit, and during meals in the province populated by 110 million people.
The Guangdong government passed, and immediately enacted, emergency legislation the following day to cope with the new type of pneumonia traceable to the virus. The law delegated to local governments the administrative rights to restrict citizens’ movements, seal off cities and towns, and control market activities.
Simultaneously, Guangdong established a wartime-like authoritarian system aimed at randomly requisitioning private resources, including real estate, to construct badly needed isolation facilities.
The province also implemented an emergency law (Guangdong Province Notification No. 55), giving local governments the strongest legal binding power possible to restrict movement within the province through blockade and administrative control.
The true aim of the legislation is to enable the provincial government to evade its responsibilities while letting local governments freely utilize private resources to restrict the movement of the people, seal off cities and towns, and control market activities during the crisis.
In keeping pace with the provincial government implementing emergency measures, bigger cities like Gauangzhou and Shenzhen have also adopted measures reminiscent of wartime legislation, sanctioning them to requisition private property and goods. Clearly discernible is the resolve on the part of the CCP leadership, spurred by an imminent sense of danger, to control the ongoing crisis by force under all circumstances, resorting to every available coercive means possible.
Hospitals Resembling Prefabricated Containers with Iron-Barred Windows
While implementing the emergency measures, the Guangdong government has started constructing with great urgency isolation facilities like the one in Wuhan—a prefabricated structure with iron-barred windows. At least three such “hospitals” are reportedly being built, patterned after the one with 1,000 beds in Wuhan which was completed in a matter of 12 days earlier this month. The first of the new facilities is a 1,000-bed isolation facility in the Gaihyun Ward of Guangzhou, as reported by the independent Caixin and the Caijing 21, both known for investigative reporting. The second one is a facility being expanded at the Third People’s Hospital in Shenzhen.
The third facility, with 200 beds, is attached to the Second People’s Hospital in Zhongshan, completed in only 10 days. Another 300-bed structure is being added there. Each hospital room purportedly is designed to accommodate two patients, but these structures look more like “prefabricated containers with iron-barred windows” than hospitals as far as one can see from photographs.
Rush construction work is underway at these sites as far as is presently known. But isn’t this fact enough proof that the whole of Guangdong Province is completely out of control like Wuhan?
The Guangdong government has declared that its hospitals have enough beds to accommodate up to 10,202 patients. If that is really the case, then why must they build these prefabricated isolation facilities, or hospitals, in such haste? The answer appears quite clear. It looks highly likely that the whole of the province, including Guangzhou and other cities and towns, is completely out of control like Hubei Province, which includes Wuhan, the epicenter of the ongoing epidemic.
It would not be wrong to view the current situation in China as far uglier than one can possibly imagine. Japan must speedily adopt measures designed to strictly control travel between Japan and China in order to not further increase the number of those infected with the virus in Japan. Next, the government must fully disclose virus-related information, urging patients with mild symptoms to recuperate at home so as to allow serious cases to be treated at hospitals. Such a policy is badly needed to prevent more serious cases from worsening and resulting in deaths. So long as thorough disclosure of information is enforced, I have no doubt that we the people of Japan will be able to overcome the crisis by resorting to our innate crisis management ability and spirit of caring about each other. It is time for all of us to reaffirm our bond of unity.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 891 in the March 5, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)