by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: gugganji/WikiCommons/CC
THE PRIORITIES OF the CCP should be clear given its response to the coronavirus outbreak. Namely, the CCP has not acted to protect the health of the Chinese people, but instead acted with its priorities on presenting the appearance of stability, so as to maintain political legitimacy.
The full scale of the Coronavirus outbreak is unknown. According to the Chinese government, the death toll of the Coronavirus is now 132 and the total number of confirmed cases is around 6,000. However, there remains the possibility that the Chinese government is underreporting statistics, given how rapidly the number of confirmed cases has exploded in past days, doubling in count several times. With cases reported in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the US, Thailand, Japan, Germany, and elsewhere, it is now believed that the disease has begun to spread among individuals who have not traveled to Wuhan or China anytime in the past few months.
The spread of the disease has been exacerbated due to the fact that it takes place during Lunar New Year, a time in which many Chinese travel to visit their family members. Lunar New Year travel is the largest annual migration of humans in the world.
The Chinese government initially acted to repress news of the Coronavirus outbreak during the crucial first days of the outbreak, which would have been the moment to act decisively to prevent a wider outbreak. Instead, the Chinese government focused efforts on arresting journalists who reported on the outbreak and provided misleading information on the disease outbreak.
For example, the Chinese government initially downplayed the possibility of the disease mutating to a form in which human-to-human transmission, and insisted that efforts to contain the virus were sufficient. Government officials have also come under fire for seemingly not knowing basic facts about how many surgical masks are available in the province or seemingly being unaware of basic safety measures in wearing safety masks incorrectly, with some contention between local and central governments regarding who is at fault for allowing the disease to spread.
The Chinese government’s handling of the Coronavirus outbreak reminds of its previous handling of disease outbreaks, most infamously the SARS crisis in 2003. Similarly, the Chinese government first attempted to conceal information on how widespread the disease outbreak was, before being forced to reveal the full scale of the outbreak in response to widespread social panic.
While the Chinese government has now switched tack from its initial response, taking large-scale action to try and limit the spread of the disease, one questions the actual efficacy of such measures. Such measures seem aimed at putting on a show of dramatic action more than anything and could have high human costs.
For example, it is to be questioned whether blockading the city of Wuhan—a blockade likely on a scale perhaps never before seen in human history—will actually be successful in curbing the spread of the disease. This blockade is already too late to prevent the spread of the disease outside of the city, was carried out in a haphazard manner in which the actual blockade took place eight hours after it was announced, and may prove a disproportionate response that sacrifices the health of Wuhan residents, in confining the healthy with those infected. With over 11 million residents, Wuhan has more residents than over 120 of the world’s 200 or so countries.
Limits on travel were later expanded to thirteen cities in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, and to the province as a whole. This suggests that the disease is spreading faster than the CCP is able to contain. This will also likely raise logistical issues regarding feeding the province or providing the province with necessary supplies, with price gouging having already begun.
Generally speaking, it would not be surprising if the CCP is wholly willing to abandon the residents of Wuhan—or even the province of Hubei as a whole—in order to maintain political legitimacy. Health crises such as the outbreak of the Wuhan Coronavirus or SARS threaten the political legitimacy of the CCP in ruling China, seeing as the poor handling of health crises provokes public outrage against the party, and raise issues about the CCP’s claims to political legitimacy regarding the effective, efficient governance of China on the basis of a centralized, non-democratic decision-making processes.
At a time in which the Chinese economy is sharply affected by the US-China trade war and at a time in which growth has been slow, the Coronavirus outbreak is expected to have negative effects on the Chinese economy. If SARS is any precedent, the Chinese GDP could be lowered up 1% or more. Rising economic discontents is likely to contribute to further anger with the CCP in China, for example, in the form of labor unrest. However, the wider effects of this are still unknown.