The world was first alerted to coronavirus in December 2019, but one of the whistleblowers – Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan – was punished for warning other doctors of a new SARS-like disease in a WhatsApp chat. He was reprimanded for “spreading rumours” by Chinese police – who forced him to sign a police document admitting that he had “seriously disrupted social order”. After catching the coronavirus, Li died in early February and caused Chinese internet to overflow with anti-government messages despite the country’s strict censorship. The doctor has been officially exonerated by an investigation into his death, although some argue this did not go far enough as only the reprimand was withdrawn. While the coronavirus threat reached other countries, China’s attempts to prevent news of the disease travelling has been condemned.
Expert on Chinese history and politics – Professor Steve Tsang – says the country’s government opts for secrecy by default.
Mr Tsang highlights how there is a severe lack of transparency in Beijing which likely contributed to the escalation of the crisis.
He told Express.co.uk: “The Chinese Communist Party does secrecy as a matter of course.
“So I think the early stages of the lack of transparency isn’t the result of any particular conspiracy or ill-intention to move – the party doesn’t do transparency as a normal course of action.
“The party is first and foremost interested in keeping the party in power – and under Xi Jinping – to make sure Xi Jinping is always seen to be right and never seen to have made a mistake.
“So if something goes wrong, it is not in the nature of the party to acknowledge it to begin with.”
Mr Tsang also argues that the country’s government was distracted by trade war negotiation with US President Donald Trump, meaning Xi Jinping was reluctant to divert his attention elsewhere.
He added: “So you have the emergence of this potential threat, potential challenge.
“It could be very significant in terms of public health, but it happened at a time when Xi Jinping was focussed on trying to get a deal with Donald Trump for the trade war.
Washington complaints included theft of trade secrets, theft of intellectual property and the forced transfer of US technology to China.
But last year, after months of disagreement, Xi and Trump agreed to a “phase one” trade deal, including a “dramatic expansion of US food, agriculture and seafood product exports”.
Now, all the progress that had been made could be upended after President Trump hit out at China this week.
He blamed Beijing for a lack of transparency over the true extent of the outbreak in China.
James Crabtree, an associate professor at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told CNBC: “US-China relations are at their worst point in living memory for a number of decades probably since the Seventies, at the moment there’s a grand exercise in blame shifting going on, on both sides.”
Published at Fri, 24 Apr 2020 09:06:00 +0000