Covid Or No Covid, The Chinese People Keep Supporting Their Government - Plush Ink Covid Or No Covid, The Chinese People Keep Supporting Their Government - Plush Ink

Covid or no covid, the Chinese people keep supporting their government

The Chinese people have historically reposed trust in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for a variety of reasons. Before 1949, this was in hope of delivery from civil war and foreign depredations and subsequently because of the promise of economic prosperity and national glory. An entire generation worked long shifts on the factory floor to drive China’s export-driven economic boom and everyone traded their fundamental rights for the promise of a safe, stable and predictable polity.

The massive covid wave underway in China currently and the CCP government’s shambolic response should suggest to us that this trust is misplaced.

First, capacity with longest name does not translate into capable governance in authoritarian systems. Regimes concerned more about their own survival can seldom sustainably invest in, produce or administer public goods that benefit its citizens. The CCP preferred to institute measures to control and regulate its citizens and to test its coercive capacities through compulsory use of tracking apps, and regular testing and quarantining measures rather than focus on the basic job of vaccinating its citizens adequately. The fact that vaccination rates among elderly citizens have been so low is the result of poor communication from the government and the resulting lack of trust in the safety of the vaccines.

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Second, authoritarian systems are usually winging it. China’s zero-covid policy was sold as being necessary else, as its government calculated at one point, the country “could face 1.55 million COVID-19 deaths”. The death count could now well approach that figure or even exceed it. The CCP’s sudden dismantling of its zero-covid policy — practically overnight and in response to brief but unprecedented protests across the country as well as economic consequences over a longer period — shows that one of the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes ultimately had little grasp of scientific and practical realities. It was neither able to anticipate nor plan for contingencies despite having three years to do so. If domestic policy, where the CCP is all powerful, has proved to be such a mess, there will inevitably be questions about external policy, which involves a greater number of uncontrollable variables.

Third, covering up information or falsifying data is an essential feature of authoritarian systems. It is ironical how such systems seek to retain or regain the trust of their citizens. Since the current covid wave erupted, China has reported deaths only in the double digits so far in an attempt to provide a positive sheen to the end of zero-covid even as open-source data on Chinese social media and from satellite imagery show crematoriums packed and working round the clock. Earlier, Chinese diplomats had also actively put out false news that the covid did not originate in China and followed up by suggesting that the US was the culprit. This was the Chinese government’s attempt to retrieve its image as an efficient economic and political system both among its own population and among the smaller, weaker countries of the world that look upon Beijing as an alternate source of support and opportunity different from the West.

Fourth, while authoritarian systems seek to do damage externally, its effects will inevitably be felt by its own citizens. In January 2020, China allowed its citizens and foreigners living in the country to travel abroad even after officially raising alarm domestically about the new virus and so the virus spread to far corners in quick time. This was irresponsible behaviour aimed at creating the impression that the Chinese government had matters in hand and/or to spread liability. With the failure of zero-covid, the problem that had been postponed has finally come home to roost.

It is not as if the Chinese people are not aware of how they are affected by their government’s actions but history also shows that despite worse cataclysms such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the CCP has seen no serious challenge to its rule internally. Even the protests towards the end of last year petered out quickly. The lack of political choice within China and effective propaganda have constrained its population into believing that they have best of all worlds and that future greatness is inevitable. The CCP has successfully created hostages of Chinese citizens. China’s covid waves will soon be forgotten by its people when the CCP plays up the next foreign threat or promotes the next slogan of national greatness.

Frustration with democratic ways, which can lead to inevitable delays, is often expressed in the uninformed discourse in India, and comparisons are drawn with authoritarian regimes believed mistakenly to be superior and result-oriented. China’s citizens may forget its shambolic handling of the covid crisis, but such glib commentary should take note.

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