The Chinese Government and the Corona Virus

There’s people, there’s the government that represents said people, and there’s a concept called “nation”.

They’re three separate things.

If you disagree, I submit that people have existed before nations have, and (most) nations have existed for longer than individual governments have. And the reason I bring this up is because I put up a video some while ago, arguing against tribalism, and therefore arguing that blaming the Chinese for the virus didn’t make sense.

Here’s the video:

And I stand by said video: it makes no sense to blame a country, or its people for a virus.

But a government? That’s a separate story, for as I said at the start of this essay, a government is not its people, and vice versa:

Some of the bravest men and women have been the Chinese doctors and nurses on the frontlines of this virus, who were bravely raising alarm, often at the cost of their lives, and suppressed by the most totalitarian and evil great power in the planet.

And the Chinese government can say what it likes, it bungled this up. Fact.

A study published in March indicated that if Chinese authorities had acted three weeks earlier than they did, the number of coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 95% and its geographic spread limited.

As with any quantitative model, treat the number with a pinch of salt, but fewer people would have died had the Chinese government acted faster, and communicated better.

We now know that the opposite happened: local authorities in China suppressed information about the outbreak, even destroying proof of the virus sometime in December. Official censors scrubbed social media posts from medical professionals warning of a new “SARS-like” disease. And as late as mid-January, Chinese authorities denied evidence of any community transmission, allowing the lunar new year celebrations to proceed despite having known about it for at least a month.

Not only is the Chinese government obviously aware of this fact, it is trying – surprise, surprise – to not only hush things up, but warning other countries of ‘adverse’ impacts if the line is not toed, stat.

Once the virus made its inevitable outward march, claiming lives beyond China’s borders, the CPC mounted a major public relations exercise that exploited common human decencies to evade accountability. Criticism of the Chinese government was equated with racist prejudice against ordinary Chinese people. The result: rather than confront China, precious energies were exerted to avoid the trap set by China. In February, the Mayor of Florence launched a campaign encouraging Italians to “hug a Chinese”, describing it as a “fight of solidarity and unity against virus”. The People’s Daily, a mouthpiece of the CPC, applauded young Italians advertising their virtuousness on the Internet with photos of themselves hugging Chinese tourists without mentioning a word about the mortal perils of human contact.

China didn’t owe an apology or an explanation to the world: the world owed China proof of its anti-racism.

China has legal problems on its hands, once the worst of the crisis is behind us:

While China’s intentional conduct is wrongful, is it unlawful? If so, do other states have a legal remedy? Under Article 1 of the International Law Commission’s 2001 Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, states are responsible for their internationally wrongful acts. This commission’s restatement of the law of state responsibility was developed with the input of states to reflect a fundamental principle of international customary law, which binds all nations. “Wrongful acts” are those that are “attributable to the state” and that “constitute a breach of an international obligation” (Article 2). Conduct is attributable to the state when it is an act of state through the executive, legislative, or judicial functions of the central government (Article 4). While China’s failures began at the local level, they quickly spread throughout China’s government, all the way up to Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He is now being pilloried by Chinese netizens for his failures of action and inaction. The most prominent critic, Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, lambasted Xi for his mishandling of the coronavirus, calling him a “power hungry clown.” Ren soon disappeared.

But that also depends on an internationally coordinated response, and that isn’t likely, given current evidence:

In this effort, the third event mentioned above, i.e., Donald Trump’s chaotic management of the spread of the disease in the US, is an asset for Beijing. The US President’s early responses were bumbling, flippant and motivated by narrow domestic political considerations. Trump went from being completely dismissive to eventually declaring a Europe travel ban, a national emergency and a potentially collaborative approach with G7 countries. It’s still early days, but if the US leadership continues to stumble in its efforts to contain the spread of the disease domestically and mismanages ties with international partners, it will work to Beijing’s advantage. In such a scenario, expect the Communist Party to further double down on the effectiveness of its governance system to contain unrest at home and reshape global norms

Demanding clear(er) communication ought to be requirement number one from any government here on in, beginning with the Chinese government. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.