The Coronavirus Is a Disease of Chinese Autocracy
When China’s leaders finally declare victory against the outbreak of the new and deadly coronavirus, they will undoubtedly credit the Communist Party of China's leadership. But the truth is just the opposite: the party is again responsible for this calamity.
CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – An outbreak of a new coronavirus that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan has already infected over 4,000 people – mostly in China, but also in several other countries, from Thailand to France to the United States – and killed more than 100. Given China’s history of disease outbreaks – including of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and African swine fever – and officials’ apparent awareness of the need to strengthen their capacity to address “major risks,” how could this happen?
It should be no surprise that history is repeating itself in China. To maintain its authority, the Communist Party of China must keep the public convinced that everything is going according to plan. That means carrying out systemic cover-ups of scandals and deficiencies that may reflect poorly upon the CPC’s leadership, instead of doing what is necessary to respond.
This pathological secrecy hobbles the authorities’ capacity to respond quickly to epidemics. The SARS epidemic of 2002-03 could have been contained much sooner had Chinese officials, including the health minister, not deliberately concealed information from the public. Once proper disease-control and prevention measures were implemented, SARS was contained within months.
We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.
To continue reading, subscribe now.
Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.
Already have an account or want to create one to read two commentaries for free? Log in