After 10 years of reign consolidating his ironclad rule and in all likelihood will continue to rule for life, Xi Jinping is now at the pinnacle of power. However in late November, student protests erupted all across universities with wide support from the general public, in a rebuke of Xi’s zero-Covid policy, which he used as a pretense to exert more control over the country.
Xi saw the protests as a direct threat to his rule and if left unmitigated or handled in a hardline manner, they would mushroom and destabilize the core of his totalitarian regime. Therefore, in an attempt to accede to the demands of the students, Xi made the decision to immediately do away with covid restrictions. However, what followed was an explosion of infections.
What made matter worse was there was no contingency plan or a road map for transitioning out of zero-Covid, and victims totally overwhelmed the healthcare system. In the context of Xi’s totalitarian regime, the reversal of a signature policy is an indication all is not well in the Chinese Communist Party.
China’s three years of zero-Covid policy devastated the economy and subjected millions of Chinese to constant testings, quarantines and lockdowns. Against scientific and medical evidence, and refusing to implement any proven public health measures, China was the only major country in the world which asserted zero-Covid was the only way to protect Chinese lives. Harsh and draconian restrictions were arbitrarily imposed on ordinary people, inflicting untold sufferings and loss of livelihood.
Since the start of the pandemic in end 2019, the Chinese Communist Party has engaged in disinformation and propaganda to obfuscate the origin of the virus, which was first discovered in the city of wuhan. The CCP persecuted Dr Li Wenliang who first raised the alarm of the virus outbreak, and shifted blame to the U. S. Army personnel for bringing the virus into china.
For three years, Xi deployed his considerable propaganda apparatus to fan Covid fears, claiming without evidence Western-made mRNA vaccines are not effective and that the only effective response was testing, quarantine and lockdowns. Xi refused to accept foreign mRNA vaccines, despite clear evidence of their superiority.
For better or for worse, the current China is Xi’s china. He will take all the credit for China’s achievements , but whether he likes it or it, he also has to shoulder all the blame for any missteps during his extended reign, including the failure of the zero-Covid policy, in which he has tied himself closely to. This policy was a self-inflicted disaster and he has no one but himself to blame.
Open, free and democratic governments are able to change policy in the face of changing circumstances and new evidence. But totalitarian regimes like Xi’s China will not admit mistakes and accept evidence they do not like. And so for three long years, Xi subjected the economy and Chinese people to immense damages and suffering.
Although dictators can act quickly and decisively, but they can also make huge mistakes because nobody dare to tell them when they are wrong. Party cadres knew Xi would reward those who were loyal to him and so they were likely to err on the side of extreme caution. Importantly too, party cadres knew they would be dismissed and punished for outbreaks, as was the case since the start of the pandemic.
For example, Li Qiang, former party boss of Shanghai, locked down the city of 25 millions, an important financial and business hub, for two months. Despite the high cost to the economy and society, and amid condemnation from the general public, Li Qiang was promoted to the poliboro standing committee, the top decision making body.
As such, in the hope of catching the eyes of Xi, party cadres were outdoing each other in their quest for zero covid. They religiously carried out the execution to the letter, to the extent that, in the latest strings of tragedies, on November 24, Urumqi residents in Covid lockdown were prevented from escaping when a fire started, thereby resulted in at least 10 dead.
Therefore, it is important for leaders to be open to science-based evidence and be willing to change course when they were proved wrong. Sadly, Xi has meticulously cultivated a personality cult around himself as the only all-knowing leader that can bring glory and greatness to China.
But now, it is obvious Xi is regarded by many as anti-capitalism, ruthless, stubborn and out of touch with the common people. With his insistent of zero-Covid and his declaration of a “people’s struggle” against the virus, he looked ridiculous in the face of overwhelming medical evidence that says zero-Covid is not practical and sustainable. His words and actions have exposed to the world that democracy is superior to a totalitarian regime, where there is not even a shred of empathy or responsibility shown by a dictator to the pain and loss suffered by ordinary people.
Xi, the chairman of everything, must learned that there is no way to control everyone and everything. As 2022 draws to a close, it is obvious Xi’s ignorant but deadly decision to arbitrarily impose his zero-Covid policy is one of the biggest economic and social blunders of the modern era.
Photo credit: iStock/Robert Way. Chinese citizens receive Covid-19 PCR test.