How Beijing is trying to save face in the global battle against Covid-19


The global Coronavirus crisis began in November 2019 at Wuhan, China It quickly spread throughout China, Asia, Europe and the world.

As the epidemic continues to grow and kills people, the Chinese authorities are working to rewrite History of the virus, Preparing the elements of language and placing themselves in the midst of a global health crisis. This article synthesizes some of Beijing’s efforts to lend credence to its actions while belittling or discrediting liberal democracies. The political management of crisis brings together all the classic criteria for an authoritarian, if not totalitarian, system: silence, censorship, opacity, selective amnesia, and amnesia.

A medical aid team member from Yunnan Province takes a selfie with Wuhan residents who hold up the “Thank you” signs as the team leaves (March 18, 2020).
France Press agency

Virtuous silence, intensifying censorship and intense propaganda

The silence of the Chinese authorities on the health, social and economic reality marked the first weeks of managing the crisis. Silence remains a key ally of the regime, both in terms of it The emergence and spread of the virus And its inability to rise to the challenge of the crisis in the early days.

The first signs of the virus spreading in Wuhan were met by the authorities with A. Cover up and then delay. The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has reportedly talked about the issue before Politburo Standing Committee on January 7, Two weeks before he mentioned it publicly. When the crisis broke out into the open, so did Beijing’s tendency to Manipulate statistics To support the regime, it was his full turn.

China’s silence and censorship has had an effect, too Felt in Geneva: The World Health Organization did not declare Covid-19 a pandemic until March 12th.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on January 28, 2020.
Nowhiko Hatta / Agence France-Presse

‘Wuhan model’

Since the end of January, Chinese diplomats have worked to legitimize the actions taken by their government, particularly in the face of effective crisis management through Taiwan, South Korea and SingaporeAll are open democracies. Many Chinese diplomats participated in Verbal duels With elements and language that often conflict with facts and seek to lend credibility to the system. Others try to reassure the world by setting them free Optimistic economic and industrial figuresEven as global demand stagnates due to the Covid-19 crisis.

While banned in China, the use of Twitter is increasing before Chinese diplomats And the Consultations abroad To feed Conspiracy theory The virus was allegedly grown by US personnel during the October 2019 Military Olympics in Wuhan. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized these efforts and called on China to do so Stop the disinformation campaign. Recently, China announced that it would do so The expulsion of American journalists to work for The New York TimesAnd the Wall Street Journal And the Washington Post In retaliation for a workforce cap for four state-run Chinese media outlets in Washington.

Global health crisis, global responsibilities

Due to the initial lack of coordination and political decisiveness in Europe, China was able to make a donation Medical equipment for ItalyAs well as Iran, Pakistan and other countries that are targeted by the Belt and Road project, which is a diplomatic coup. It is clear that the Chinese authorities are looking to consolidate a reality vision that absolves them of their responsibilities and failures and provides them with a political victory at the domestic and international levels. Once again, politics takes precedence over cooperation and science.

A different aspect of the longstanding rivalry between the two countries was exemplified by the generosity of Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, who donated 1 million masks and 50,000 test kits To the United States.

Masks were manufactured in a factory in Handan City, Hebei Province, north China, on February 28, 2020.
France Press agency

Token War

If the use of history as a tool is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes, then so is this epidemic The purges accelerated It began when Xi Jinping took power in 2012. In China’s political memory, Wuhan was the epicenter of the revolution that ended the last imperial dynasty. It was also one of the first cities to open a parliament during the reign of the young Republic of China and become De facto The first capital of New China.

Faced with the siege of the city, Wuhan intellectuals are like the writer Fang Fang It published daily reports of the horrific conditions that its citizens have suffered and attacks the irresponsibility of the Chinese authorities. While some of her writings were deleted by censors shortly after their publication, they were reprinted thousands of times, indicating there was resistance from civil society.

China’s management of this crisis shows the means that were used to monitor the population. Neighborhood committees, Which was established during ‘Big leap forward’ (1958-60), augmented with artificial intelligence and other technologies. The military rhetoric of Xi Jinping has the same tone used against Taiwan, the demonstrators in Hong Kong and the Uyghur ethnic minority. Here the regime’s legitimacy is at stake, reinforced in its repressive choices by the systematic definition of the enemy (from within and from outside).

Towards a global economic “New Deal”?

Beijing understands that the war against the virus is not only a health crisis, but an ideological one as well. Unless there is a second outbreak of Covid-19 in China, the system must be able to leave the epidemic and its consequences ahead of other continents. But whether or not China is able to rewrite history, its image in the West and the rest of the world will be divided more than ever between supporters and detractors.

Western countries responded to the coronavirus epidemic with Nationalization and protectionism It could even lead to a return to some key sectors such as manufacturing and pharmacy. At the same time, this crisis may allow China to consolidate its economic and strategic dominance in Asia. The Regional Economic Trade Partnership (RCEP), which was seen as dying, could serve to bring vulnerable members of ASEAN, such as the Philippines, closer to Beijing. After all, Beijing has the means of interregional recovery, its banking institutions (AIIB, SRFIt could undermine the long-dominant Bretton Woods system.

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