COVID-19 has hurt the Chinese government’s standing on the world stage. Taking full responsibility will save face; no amount of spin will.
COVID-19 Originated in China
The earliest stages of the outbreak offer the clearest facts, before any political implications could distort the data. The emergence of COVID-19 has been carefully traced by qualified experts in the fields of virology and immunobiology to Wuhan, China.
What’s more, COVID-19 was predicted by scientists who have been warning the world to expect an outbreak from that quarter for over a decade.
This is all a matter of public record around the world, where political leaders can no more control the press than they can control college kids on Spring Break.
China’s earliest efforts to suppress- not the spread of the outbreak- but information about the burgeoning health crisis is also a matter of public record everywhere outside China.
The heartbreaking story of the hero doctor who tried early in the crisis to warn public officials and was punished by the government, only to later die of the virus himself, is as tragic as it is illustrative of a regime with strict control over the media.
Yet, the Chinese government is now trying its best to win the coronavirus propaganda war. Blaming it on the U.S. may be fine in China, with no non-state owned media outlets to challenge that narrative. The rest of the world will not be so easily brought into line.
There is no getting this genie back in the bottle for Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Taking full responsibility for its mistakes- and admitting the fatal flaw in a fully state-owned media- is the only way out of this crisis for the Chinese government.
This has already hurt China’s long-term prospects more than any member of the Chinese authority could have guessed. Some of the ramifications will take years to undo, if indeed they can be undone.
COVID-19 Hurt the Chinese Government in China
In a communist country, the government’s power lies in its ability to create a better quality of life for the citizens of that country than the citizens think they can create for themselves.
Major failures like the ones Chinese officials demonstrated, especially in their early efforts to silence workers in the medical field who were warning of a fast-spreading, deadly new virus will not be forgotten.
Especially in places like Hong Kong.
Hong Kong isn’t the only place where people will be looking at the Chinese government in askance after its disastrous handling of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Hurt the Chinese Government in the Global Marketplace
When push came to shove, American and other international companies doing business in China- like 3M- came under the purview of the Chinese government and were co-opted by the state.
This fact is not lost on companies currently operating in China; but this fact especially will not be lost on companies thinking of operating in China.
China’s cheap labor market might be attractive, but if the cost of doing business includes the risk of losing everything when your company is seized by the government, investors will think twice.
Especially as there are so many other countries with political climates far friendlier to foreign companies who also can offer cheap labor markets.
COVID-19 Hurt the Chinese Government with the U.S.
During the outbreak, it hasn’t escaped everyone’s notice that the U.S. over-dependency on goods produced in China has become a threat.
And not just to U.S. economic interests.
From hand sanitizer to generic drugs to protective face masks, the U.S. is almost completely dependent on China for vital medical supplies. The fear that China’s government might exploit this dependency is not new. And the U.S. is far from alone.
The U.S. wasn’t able to get these goods when its citizens needed them most. Any country with vital supply lines that depend solely on China will be looking for ways to diversify in the near future as a matter of national security.
Because it wasn’t an accident.
This is from an official communication from the Chinese government released to state-controlled media, on the subject of trade with the U.S. during the COVID-19 health crisis:
“If China retaliates against the United States at this time [for the travel ban], in addition to announcing a travel ban on the United States, it will also announce strategic control over medical products and ban exports to the United States.”
“According to CDC officials, most masks in the U.S. are made in China and imported from China. If China bans the export of masks to the U.S., the U.S. will fall into the mask shortage, and the most basic measures to prevent new coronavirus can’t do it.”
It only gets scarier from there and includes the chilling information that the U.S. is 90% dependent on drugs from China and the phrase “the United States will fall into the hell of the new coronavirus pneumonia epidemic.”
Trump has already moved to diversity America’s medical supply line, with an executive order that aims to curb U.S. over-reliance on China for medical products.
In the wake of coronavirus, and especially in Bejing’s clumsy handling of the crisis in its early stages, manufacturers are already starting a mass exodus.
With that in mind, it might be time for the Chinese government to make a consider making a lucrative trade deal, now.
While one might still be on the table.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)