The Political Effects of China’s Biological Chernobyl
Much truth is revealed in a crisis. The continuing and ever-worsening effects of the coronavirus epidemic in China, and now the world, spark political facts about the true nature of the regime—how the country is really run—and why it caused a challenging problem to become a global catastrophe.
First, the incompetence and the cover up are symptoms of the Leninist/Soviet/Maoist form of communist government. This type of regime is unable to address the problem because to do so threatens the legitimacy of the regime. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was the masterclass of Soviet incompetence and cover up. The local officials are aware that failure or problems will lead to their sacking, so they suppress negative information and deceive. Everyone knows this and participates in this with unforgivable consequences in this case. China's political system has been laid bare.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must suppress because failure or disasters threaten the legitimacy of the regime, which cannot be seen to fail as it is anchored to performance. It is a dictatorship that rules as omniscient and unassailable. According to the CCP, its "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is superior to any other political system. Its response is a Soviet-style heavy handed manner—stopping movement, building new hospitals in days, firing lower level officials. But the incompetence and corruption which are inherent to a Communist government ensure that these measures to fight the epidemic will never work.
The lies and deceit of the regime threaten its legitimacy and compel the regime to continue to lie and cannot accept fault for the horrific consequences which its actions caused. Few people believe the lies, but they cannot overthrow it.
Importantly, this may be changing, this could be a catalytic event, like the increase in the price of bread in Paris in 1789, or the unrest in Russia that brought Bolshevism in 1917. One more lie on the heap of lies that finally causes the collapse. The helpless victims in Wuhan have already expressed to the CCP that they do not want Xi Jinping's "China Dream," they just want their health back.
Additionally, the fear of an epidemic concentrates the mind and compels media attention to the failings and true nature of the regime for most Chinese people in a manner that other odious actions, such as the wide scale human rights abuses, including the suppression of freedoms, or Muslim re-education camps for Uighur and Kazakhs also reveal but have not compelled a similar level of response. Or the decades of cheating on trade agreements or the rules and norms of the global trade regime. Lamentably, it still appears that most of the American elite are not familiar with the regime, but see it in a benign light, as a trading partner, and we may recall Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg remark that Xi is not a dictator.
Finally, China's governing model has failed miserably. China has pretenses to lead global governance. This catastrophe demonstrates this absurdity, and the world is an unwilling witness to the consequences. We can only imagine the adverse effects if dishonesty and deception about natural disasters, and epidemics were the order of the day. This is an opportune moment for the Chinese people and the global community to recognize the pernicious nature of Xi's government. It is also to appreciate the value of freedom and democracy. Were China able to use the crisis to adopt democracy instead, then Chinese people to have political freedom and improve their society, to say nothing of increasing the government’s accountability to the Chinese people rather than the CCP.
Bradley A. Thayer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas San Antonio and is the co-author of How China Sees the World: Han-Centrism and the Balance of Power in International Politics. Lianchao Han is vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, Dr. Han was one of the founders of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. He worked in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, as legislative counsel and policy director for three Senators.