One of the most baffling aspects of the current crisis is how surprised so many people have been that a communist dictatorship with a track record of industrial scale censorship and deceit wasn’t falling over itself to share data and exercise anything resembling contrition.
To be sure, China did act quickly and decisively – against the doctors and journalists who raised the alarm. The CCP initially assured the WHO that the virus could not be transmitted between humans. After months of reporting oddly low numbers of infections and deaths it finally admitted it had deliberately undercounted cases. Wuhan wasn’t put on lock down seven weeks after the first cases were announced. It took six days for government authorities to even tell their public there was a pandemic.
Just like the Soviet Union in April 1986, at every stage the Party officials obfuscated, delayed, deflected, cover-up and lied about the unfolding disaster. The danger to its citizens and the world was a distant second to maintaining the prestige and infallibility of the Communist State apparatus.
China’s government, with its unique sensitivity to the colonial subjugation and humiliation in the 19th Century, has a near pathological aversion to showing anything that could be construed as weakness or failure.
Arguably more troubling was the depressingly predictable moral relativism from elements in Western progressive circles. Rather than criticise a Left-wing government for its failings, the first instinct was to compare the actions of the CCP to the US government – as if a failure to stockpile ventilators was equivalent to arresting doctors and making impertinent journalists disappear. The fact that the WHO and so many in the West fought so hard to obfuscate any reference to China is very telling. Telling too is how readily the WHO let itself be led around by the nose, taking as gospel every statement emanating from the Chinese regime.
Our parent’s generation was exposed the realities of one-party dictatorships through dealing with the Warsaw Pact. Their parents had the very real and tangible exposure to the one-party dictatorships of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Yet we’ve allowed ourselves to believe the lie that China’s one-party state regime is no different from a Western liberal democracy. Part of this is purely transactional in its genesis. For three decades we’ve glutted ourselves on affordable technology, disposable fashion, and cut-price appliances. At the same time Western chancellors could keep selling China our treasury bonds to maintain the levels of debt financed social spending now demanded by voters as a minimum. We told ourselves that the Chinese government would eventually improve its appalling human rights record if only we didn’t force the issue.
I’m old enough remember when Free Tibet was the cause célèbre among western artists and singers. Western leaders would jostle to have their picture taken with the Dalai Lama. Yet Hollywood and prime ministers dropped these like stones when it became clear keeping China on-side mattered more than virtue signalling.
We turned a collective blind eye to the systemic torture, to the forced abortions, to the re-education camps, to the censorship, to the suppression, to the religious persecution. We’ve lately tried to tell ourselves that Huawei is no different from Nokia, despite its links with the Chinese intelligence agencies. From Silicon Valley multinationals to the punter on the streets of Bolton, we partook in what Sir Humphrey would have called an act of moral maneuvererability.
The second part of equation is more nebulous but perhaps more dangerous. In the wreckage of the Second World War Europe lost faith in itself. The continent that gutted itself twice in a generation no longer believed it had anything useful or moral to give to the world. What Douglas Murray describes as an existential tiredness set in. From the top down, European governments, writers, thinkers, artists and academics imbibed the mindset of managed decline and took every opportunity to make Europe’s new role that of perpetual penance. Give up, give in, get of out the way. This was the new mantra of the Progressive West – we must always be judged by our worst aspects, while everybody else is judged by their best. It’s why the West was so utterly incapable of forming a coherent response to Putin’s Russia when it started to behaving a like 19th Centre Great Power. It’s why Saudi Arabia gets a free pass on human rights. It is why Turkey can embark on a policy of neo-Ottoman expansionism. And it’s why our dealings with China are so hopelessly lopsided.
It’s not that Western Europe can’t stand up for itself – it just doesn’t particularly want to.
Who can self-loathe furthest and fastest is the metric by which Western liberals compete and gauge one another’s social and moral standing. To be of the West is to be born into Original Sin. To be outside of the West is to be just that little bit better.
And the Chinese politburo has played on this with a gleeful and ruthless cynicism.
When the world returns to something resembling normality the path of least resistance would be slip back in to muted acquiescence and dependence. Yet there are signs that business as usual may, at least, be postponed. The US state of Missouri plans to sue China for its role in the pandemic. The government of Japan has launched a $2.2b initiative to help Japanese manufactures to move their production away from China. India, unburdened by history, is making no qualms about where it thinks blame lies. German tabloid Bild has risked the wrath of the CCP by openly blaming it for the outbreak. The ruling British Conservative Party has formed the China Research Group, equivalent to the influential Eurosceptic ERG.
Twenty-two million Americans are out of work. Trillions in liquidity have been wiped out. GDP worldwide have taken depression level hits. Spousal and familial abuse has increased. Suicide rates linked to unemployment and isolation have increased. Routine medical checks and referrals aren’t happening leaving us a time bomb of mental and physical health issues. We won’t know the final death toll for months, maybe years. The CCP didn’t cause COVID-19, but nobody outside the most grovelling apologists think it did anything but hinder the world’s response solely to preserve the image of Communist Party.
You don’t reward the arsonist because they helped you put out the fire