Chinese President Xi Jinping | Qilai Shen | Bloomberg File photo
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Ever since he assumed the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping has repeatedly announced the Middle Kingdom’s intention to occupy a position of global influence by the middle of the century. Over the past eight years, China has steadily manouevered itself into leadership positions in international institutions, has deepened its stranglehold over global supply chains and has animated old and new geopolitical conflicts. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan and China’s domestic and international response to this pandemic has forced the world to confront the grim realities of Chinese leadership.

Research indicates that had China taken proactive measures to contain and suppress the pandemic earlier in December 2019, the number of #Covid19 cases could have been mitigated by up to 95 per cent. 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.


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As a political regime centred around the absolute inviolability of the Communist Party, China’s domestic reaction should surprise nobody. In many ways, the CPC’s international response reflected the idiosyncrasies of its domestic politics. China delayed notifying the WHO and in permitting it to inspect the situation in Wuhan; released vital genetic information to the international community a full week after it was isolated; and allowed millions of individuals from Wuhan to leave the city unscreened, many of whom then travelled the world. Countries which received much of that traffic are now grappling with more deaths than they can handle.

We know that China was certainly aware of the scale of the health crisis: in the early days of the outbreak, General Secretary Xi was conspicuously missing from state media reports, despite claiming to have addressed the Party about the outbreak in early-January. This would have happened only because of the uncertainty surrounding China’s efforts to contain the virus.  He was made the focal point of the response after his ‘Ides of March’ visit to Wuhan when the CPC was confident that it had the situation under control.

On cue, China’s international response changed gears. The prevailing theme that now dominates Beijing’s state-controlled media is one of China “buying time” for the international community to react—a claim that attempts to deflect attention from the CPC’s and the Chinese State’s failings. Laughably, Chinese officials now appear to be engaged in an authorized and concerted misinformation campaign, with several diplomats and even the MFA spokesperson ludicrously claiming that the US Army was responsible for smuggling the ‘Virus’ into Wuhan.

Beijing’s industrial prowess and control over critical supply chains, including medical supplies, have also added a geo-economic element to the pandemic. It has raced to be seen as providing public goods when other powers are faltering. Like the proverbial Fifth Horseman who is hard to please, past experience informs us, however, that aid and largesse from China is highly contingent on limiting criticism of China and refraining from trying to hold it accountable, leave alone answerable for its many sins of omission and commission. The Belt and Road formula has gone viral – literally.

To put this in context of the Covid19 outbreak, China’s ambassador to the Philippines threatened to retaliate by cutting imports if Manila did not lift its travel ban in early-February, despite an overwhelming global consensus that restricting travel would contain the spread of the virus. In March, a Xinhua editorial loudly hinted that China may withhold life-saving medical supply chain ingredients from the US amidst the deadly outbreak should political tensions rise.

Barely three months into a new decade, the international community is now confronted by a prolonged public health emergency whose contours and impact are not even vaguely known at the moment. An equally paralysing and fearful consequence is the global economic slowdown as a direct result of China’s irresponsible domestic and international behaviour. A less than inspiring response to the outbreak in the US and much of Europe will likely whitewash China’s offences against the international community in the short term, but the long term implications will last.


Also read: US-China battle heats up again as coronavirus disrupts global strategic order


After China’s entry into the WTO, scholars asked whether China would be a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. While the answer has been definitely negative for some time now, China remains well-positioned to claim leadership over the forces of globalisation and the norms and institutions to manage a new wave of connectivity. The right question to ask now is: Can China be a responsible hegemon?

The US was confronted with this question as well in the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War. The international order Washington built and sustained with its allies was certainly not equitable or just. But it was organised around the basis that the common interests of the American people were dependent on the well-being of the international community. It could be argued that the US too was a hegemon and the world lived under American hegemony. Yet it was an accountable hegemon, constrained by American democratic traditions and open to corrective pressure at home and abroad. Its democracy in the words of some was allowed to be penetrated by others including foreign interests and its policies were shaped and sometimes gamed by external actors who could lobby the Congress, engage with its media and be part of the academic and research ecosystems.

China’s global interests, like its domestic interests, stem from a primal survival instinct: preserving the legitimacy, upholding the authority and ensuring the continuity of the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Communist Party. The global outbreak of the made in China novel coronavirus irrefutably demonstrates that the CPC is more than willing to endanger the health of the international community to promote Beijing’s irresponsible hegemony.

As the world irrevocably drifts towards isolationism as an instrument of survival and the Iron Curtain makes a reappearance rebranded as ‘Lockdown’, there couldn’t be a more dismal and grim start to a decade that will increasingly be defined by China’s amoral leadership.

The author is president, Observer Research Foundation (India). Views are personal.

The article originally appeared on the ORF website.

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20 Comments Share Your Views

20 COMMENTS

  1. While it may be a fact that origin of virus is not known China will have to take the blame for its inaction and failure in alerting the world and in containing its spread aided and abetted by WHO . The Chinese society being a closed one with not even a semblance of freedom can never convince the world even if it is innocent

  2. Let us be more honest and less gullible fools. We assume that this virus was lab created. No proof. We believe because of the propaganda. This could also be a virus from forest animals. It could also be a virus planted by some great countries to stem the rise of China. It could be a war to pull down the rate of oil and destroy the economies of oil producing countries. China is growing because they feel the population is their capital and it is being used properly with necessary boosts in their budgets. Where as other economies have inherited another virus like communal. God has given them all the resources but also some inherited viruses which may take centuries to eradicate. Don’t blame China blame your selves for not preparing to do the needful at the proper time. Blame yourselves for not quarantining the passenger from other countries. Blame your selves not screen the Potus security contingent. Blame your selves for gathering lakhs of people for the same.

  3. Very unfortunate to observe that even rationality is communalised.Judgement gets prejudice d.Facts are distorted as per one’s impudent convenience. Super power status can’t be imposed.It is to be commanded.Back stabbing is not heroism.Leading from front is not possible without morality & humanity & human values. Causing disaster,chaos,pain,misery,mass suffering can never adorn world leader ship with respect.History can’t forgive China’s futile attempt of world leadership.

  4. We should make them pay for the lives of our people lost due Its carelessness..and banning everything that comes from their country since its products are all fake and poisonous

  5. What is said in this article, I qoute “The US was confronted with this question as well in the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War. The international order Washington built and sustained with its allies was certainly not equitable or just. But it was organised around the basis that the common interests of the American people were dependent on the well-being of the international community. It could be argued that the US too was a hegemon and the world lived under American hegemony. Yet it was an accountable hegemon, constrained by American democratic traditions and open to corrective pressure at home and abroad. Its democracy in the words of some was allowed to be penetrated by others including foreign interests and its policies were shaped and sometimes gamed by external actors who could lobby the Congress, engage with its media and be part of the academic and research ecosystems”, but I do not agree that USA remains a responsible democratic hegemon. Truth speaks otherwise.
    Look at history of global actions of USA post WWII, it is easy to convince one’s self that USA has lost that opportunity of global statesmanship. Erstwhile Soviet Union or post 1991 Russia as well as present China cannot be the excuse of American’s failure to spread true democracy across the world. Why USA failed?
    Fact is: USA has never had belief in democracy beyonds it’s border. They have camafleged the world and liberal-democrat by adhreing the principles of democracy to highest extent domestically which successfully legitimised their blindness towards autocrats, monarchs and dictators across the world for the sake of so-called strategic interest or order. We hardly find a country where USA helped them to propagate and follow true democracy even by compromising its own interest. Instead USA has protected and helped all non- democratic countries in order to meet its interest and keep its hegemony across the world. Yet across the world, people like USA not because USA will bring democracy and free society for them in their own native country but because of grim hope to be in USA one day in any capacity or for any period in order to enjoy the freedom of true democracy there. This way USA has become a Jurassic Park of democracy in the present world. Americans also enjoy this status. As a result USA fails to become true leader of the world. The Communist China which is not so communist economy any more now appeals to poor nation not because of democracy but purely because of money it brought to their native country. They at least not hoping much from China hegemony. For them it makes no difference when they remain living under non- democratic heads since WWII. Capital wins over freedom!
    Adv. Shakil Akhtar
    Supreme Court of India
    #9717214471

  6. For a start please refer to this Virus as China

    Virus 19.
    We have to quarantine Chinese Influences in the country and the world with full might.

  7. The research paper you link to this article in this line – ” Research indicates that had China taken proactive measures to contain and suppress the pandemic earlier in December 2019, the number of #Covid19 cases could have been mitigated by up to 95 per cent” says nothing of the kind!!! Should I check the rest of the article?!? You can dislike China if you want, but at least be honest.

    • Please don’t blame the author for your own lack of reading and comprehension skills. It is clearly mentioned under ‘Results’ that if NPIs had been introduced 3 weeks earlier, the case occurrences would be less by 95%. Kindly read again. May help.

    • China is a pure lala with a communist mentality. It does not care about anything else but pure business.
      They does not even provide freedom to their citizen..Banning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp..is a small example. If anyone raise a voice against Govt. Disappears. The news which we get of China is only provided by them, there is no way we can get real news out of China.
      Best way to punish China is stopping import from China by India and Global community.

  8. Omg.. conclude the article quickly..
    Whole world knows that China is a country that is known for its Secrets and horrible Global Market conquering ideas even in this crysis.
    They will even try to encash this global crysis.
    Expecting a behavioral change from them is stupid. We should think about “How to make china pay this pandemic.”
    If anyone has ideas, plz share.

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