American Consequences - February 2021


soon afterward... Hundreds were falling ill in that city that month. Yet China did not publicly acknowledge human-to-human transmissibility until January 20 of last year when Zhong Nanshan, the famed Chinese pulmonologist, at a televised press briefing talked about two such transmissions in Guangdong province and China’s National Health Commission officially confirmed human-to-human spreading. In short, for at least five weeks – and perhaps for five months – Beijing delayed informing the world. If China had said nothing during this period, its actions would have been grossly irresponsible. Worse yet, in January 2020 Chinese officials deceived the international community with a false narrative of non-transmissibility. The WHO, in a January 9 statement and now-notorious January 14 tweet, announced that based on information from China, the disease was not readily contagious. As soon as Beijing was finally forced to admit the human-to-human transmissibility of COVID-19, Chinese officials sought to downplay the severity of the disease, making the case that it would not be as serious as SARS, the 2002 to 2004 epidemic that infected about 8,450 and killed approximately 810 worldwide. By then, however, they knew the current epidemic was far more deadly than SARS. Moreover, Xi, while locking down Wuhan and surrounding cities, pressured countries not to impose restrictions and quarantines on arrivals from China. By preventing travel

in his own country, he obviously thought such measures were effective and necessary in stopping the disease. So why did he lean on others to keep borders open? Xi, in effect, turned an in-country epidemic into a once-in-a-century pandemic. At the moment, over 2.3 million people outside China have died in what could well be described as “mass murder.” China’s leader knew (or should have known) that the result of his actions would be the transmission of disease beyond his borders. Of course, only Xi Jinping knows what he was thinking, but if he wanted to cripple other societies after COVID-19 crippled his country, this would certainly seem the path to take. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that Beijing could act so maliciously? As Cleo Paskal, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told American Consequences , “China’s Communist Party uses an empirical framework called Comprehensive National Power, or CNP, to rank countries.” Beijing, in its relentless campaign to become the most powerful country on the planet, can reach the top by either increasing China’s CNP or decreasing the CNP of others. “If Chinese leaders realize they have an epidemic on their hands that will lower China’s CNP, it is logical to turn that epidemic into a pandemic by restricting the spread domestically while not stopping the spread internationally,” Paskal, also at think tank Chatham House, says, “That way, China’s CNP might be lowered, but so will everyone else’s, and China’s relative ranking


February 2021

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