“The Left Have Become China’s Useful Covidiots,” reads the non-subtle headline of an article recently at The Telegraph in Britain. Judging from certain comments, it seems some Leftists have, so to say, slightly derailed from the track of reality into the wonderland of ideology: they have been able to praise the Chinese government just to scold the British one; to reject the idea of China’s lies as a Rightist conspiracy; and even to deny the Chinese origin of the virus, for this would be “stigmatising”.
To be fair, being enamoured with the Red dictatorship during these Covid times is not a feature unique to the Left. Until not long ago, The Telegraph itself—with many other authoritative outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post—had an agreement with the state-run China Daily to publish “news” content favourable to Beijing.
There is no doubt that the Chinese government initially looked bewildered when hit with what the world started to call the “Chinese Chernobyl”, in reference to the nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. But, where Chernobyl, and the collapsing lies about it, helped accelerated the demise of the Soviet Empire, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime and its president, Xi Jinping, appear to have recovered their position, combining a muscular domestic response, which has at least got control of the information flow about the scale of the coronavirus in China, with a charm offensive at the international level.
China’s charm offensive has been especially notable in Italy, the first country in Europe to be harshly and abruptly hit by the virus, where sympathy toward China and its model against Covid-19 has bridged politicians, intellectuals, and common people.
One of the country’s most prestigious newspapers, Corriere Della Sera, has pointed at China as “the model to follow”.
According to a recent poll, an absolute majority of Italians view China as a friend, while a plurality would prefer an alliance with China rather than with the US. The same survey shows that, for an astonishing 45% of Italians, Enemy Number One is Germany, followed by France (38%). All this happens while the strongest coalition partner in the Italian government, the populist Five Star Movement, is exploiting the outbreak to further advance the “One Belt, One Road Project” signed with China last year, which opened Italy’s doors to considerable investment from Beijing even in key (and sensitive) infrastructure.
This is the backdrop to the buzz and propaganda aimed at both sides after Rome received (read: bought) medical material from China. This propaganda machine reached an unintentionally hilarious peak when the Chinese Ministry of Foreign affairs doctored videos to claim that Italians thanked China by singing its national anthem from their balconies.
The ultimate intent, however, is not funny at all, and emerged quite explicitly in the letter a top Five Star figure sent to an Italian newspaper on 19 April: distance Rome from the European Union and bring it into Beijing’s arms. And Brussels itself is not immune from this Covidiocy epidemic.
Under threat of Chinese economic retaliation, the EU dropped any reference to Beijing’s “global disinformation campaign” and to the fake news it spread specifically against the US and France from a report focused on these exact subjects. The document was transformed into a more general look at the dissemination of state-sponsored falsehoods related to the coronavirus in order to dilute the focus on China. According to a co-author of the report, who wrote a formal letter of protest to her superiors, the EU is “self-censoring to appease the Chinese Communist Party.” That a report intended to expose liars bent the knee to the biggest liar of them was a serious blow to EU credibility generally, and to its counter-disinformation operation, “EUvsDisinfo”, in particular.
US President Donald Trump, the world leader ostensibly most assertive in confronting China, has been wavering between pugnacious declarations and a quest for appeasement with a relevant trade partner. Even Trump’s most militant move, stripping the World Health Organisation (WHO) of US funds over its political subjection to China, was partially walked back within hours.
Speaking of the WHO: the report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Covid-19, which rejected any contribution from Taiwan while praising the Chinese response as “perhaps the most ambitious, agile, and aggressive disease containment effort in history”, is an astonishing whitewash of the CCP regime’s malicious behaviour and, at best, irresponsibility in letting the contagion explode. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus went as far as to laud the “very rare leadership” of Xi Jinping.
Humankind should indeed hope that such a leader is “very rare” for the sake of its own survival. It still remains unclear whether the virus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory, as the Washington Post suggests, citing the US intelligence. What is certain, though, is that the regime’s decision to initially dismiss and conceal the outbreak cost the world billions of Euros and thousands of human lives. According to research by the University of Southampton, had China started to tackle the spread of the virus just three weeks earlier, it would have avoided 95 per cent of infections around the world—basically, the whole pandemic.
Unfortunately, the “very rare leader” has been busier with deceiving the international community by hiding the emergence of the novel coronavirus, denying human-to-human transmission (the WHO ignored such warning they received from Taiwan as early as in December), censoring researchers, and physically getting rid of the doctors, nurses, lawyers, journalists, and bloggers who, having dared raise the alert or protest against the regime’s conduct, have now vanished into thin air.
These are only a few victims of the virus-related abuses by the Communist dictatorship. In fact, in all this debate about the “Chinese model”, missing is any serious discussion of human rights and the rule of law. Besides the continuous gross violations perpetrated by the regime, such as interning millions of Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps and enjoying “global leadership” in detaining political prisoners, the Covid epidemic has added a new twist to the repression. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its latest Index, has identified a “clear correlation between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic and a country’s ranking”. Directly on China, the Index states that Beijing, “which is trying to establish a ‘new world media order’, maintains its system of information hyper-control, [and] the negative effects [of this system] for the entire world have been seen during the coronavirus public health crisis”. Overall, RSF calls China “the world’s biggest jailer of journalists” and ranks it among the four worst countries in the world for media freedom (177 out of 180).
Journalists and doctors are not the only victims of this systemic oppression: during the lockdown, entire neighbourhoods and buildings have been sealed off with chains and barricades, even preventing inhabitants from going looking for food. Footage has shown people being welded inside their apartments with iron bars. And how to forget the horrific case of Yan Xiaowen, a mentally handicapped 17-year-old boy who was left alone to starve to death after his father was forcibly transferred to a containment centre.
Looking at China as a model in this situation is no different to those who looked at Right-wing military regimes, such as General Pinochet in Chile, as guarantors of public order. Or, to put it in even clearer terms, it is like thanking the arsonist who burned your house down.
Thankfully, the mood of complacency toward the CCP regime seems to be changing in the West.
Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have stepped up pressure on Beijing to tell the truth about the real origins and early management of the virus. Australia is demanding an independent inquiry, and Canberra has held its nerve despite Chinese threats of economic sabotage. Some American states have even been suing China’s government for “lying to the world”—a line authoritatively endorsed in a comprehensive legal report published by the British think tank, The Henry Jackson Society.
What are other international actors awaiting before taking measures against a powerful, unreliable, and dangerous dictatorship, whose misconduct has inflicted such grave damage on the entire world?
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.