News stories this morning about contradictory reports that early coronavirus (2019-nCoV) diagnostician Dr Li Wenliang was dead, or had died and been revived and was now in critical condition, came with some indications that China’s public image as world power and international leader is a shallow façade.
It seems Dr Li was threatened by police to stop spreading unfounded rumours when he warned colleagues early on in the disease’s discovery about the potential risks.
Responding to disease with information suppression and police persecution is evidence of atavistic Medævalism, not far sighted technocracy in a scientific-materialist society. However, it seems to be behavior in keeping with administrations under trump, Johnson, and Morrison.
Anyone watching will have spotted three major flaws exposed by President Xi Jinping’s failure to lead in this matter:
- China’s central government is apparently quite remote from regional administrations, and slow to exert any authority. Instead, local police seem to be free to act against national interests without oversight from civil or medical authorities. This is proving disastrous in an infectious disease crisis, and therefore presumably critical in any other crisis, including any military ones. A weakness China does not want to show to the West.
- China has shown itself not to have any emergency protocols worth the paper they’re presumably not written on. Again, one might easily extrapolate to conclude none exist for economic, military, or coming extreme natural emergencies either.
- That means its government remains stuck in a 1930s Stalinism that undermines its goals at modernization and world leadership. You cannot run a superpower with a bureaucracy hamstrung by lack of independence to make rational decisions without fear of persecution. Trump has yet to learn how his failings in that area have reduced the USA to an also-superpower instead of the pre-eminent world power. And like Trump’s America, Xi Jinping’s China seems to have more than its fair share of Mediævalists in positions of authority-people who seem guided more by superstitions and atavism than competence and evidence. Can one suspect Xi is a Medævalist himself, despite his urbane image?
No matter which way you look at this, it is a blow to China’s image in international relations circles. Its ambitions to be granted legitimacy as a major and influential actor on the world stage will have been set back by this show of incompetence and ineffectiveness in managing a domestic matter, let alone the international ramifications of the 2019-nCoV outbreak.