Would coronavirus demonstrate the superiority of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" when it comes to dealing with a major crisis?
The Morning Star (and Communist Party of Britain) certainly thought so in late January/early February. And for a while it looked as though they might have a point.
In a piece entitled "The Planned economy vs the coronavirus" (30 Jan, republished from the US Stalinist paper People’s World), C J Atkins noted: “The World Health Organisation is praising the Chinese government’s quick response to the crisis… The scale of that commitment is now ramping up in a massive way - showcasing the ability of the country’s socialist state to marshal resources rapidly and efficiently in the service of public health.”
A few days later (2 Feb) Morning Star Foreign Editor Steve Sweeney noted “China is set to open a new hospital in Wuhan to deal with the coronavirus today, just 10 days after construction began… Work began on the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan Hospital on 23 January and Chinese state media said that the last brick was laid yesterday morning… It has an area of 25,000 square metres, and 1,400 staff will operate the facility.”
It really did look as though China’s authoritarian, top-down system was dealing with the crisis with an effectiveness that a liberal western democracy would have found impossible. This looked like being a brilliant vindication for the Morning Star (which regularly carries uncritical reports repeating the regime’s propaganda) and the CPB (whose general secretary Robert Griffiths, calls himself a “big fan”of China).
But strangely, since comrade Sweeney’s report on the near-miraculous creation of the 1,000 bed hospital in ten days – which was true, by the way – the Star had no more to say until a report this Monday repeating the regime’s claim that new cases were falling – the opposite of the truth, as it turns out.
The explanation is not difficult to fathom: since late January, when the World Health Organisation and even some of the mainstream western media, were praising China’s “unprecedented” and “decisive” response, a new picture has been emerging:
It turns out that although the first case of coronavirus was reported on 8th December, the Wuhan health authorities took over three weeks to issue a notice. Between 3 and 16 January, the authorities falsely claimed there were no new cases and no evidence of human-to-human transmission, the key driver of any epidemic.
And even after that, on January 18, the city’s Baibunting district mass banquet was allowed to go ahead, further spreading the infection.
It then emerged that a doctor, Li Wenliang, had warned an online chat group on 30 December, of a new illness spreading in Wuhan, only to be reprimanded by the police and made to sign a document stating that his warning constituted “illegal behaviour.” At least seven other medical professionals were warned over “rumour-mongering ” and “disrupting social order.”
Then, of course, on Friday 7 February Dr Li died of the virus. It was front page news in most bourgeois papers while in China social media has been awash with posts mourning the death of a martyr. It wasn’t even mentioned in the Morning Star.
The Chinese authorities are terrified of anger spilling onto the streets. Hundreds of millions of users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo have shared pictures of Dr Li and the words to ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’, a song about revolution from Les Misérables.
On past form the government will blame local officials and sack a few sacrificial lambs. But the real problem will remain – the lack of free speech and the absence of a civil society capable of exposing corruption and efforts to bury bad news.
But there is some good news: the Morning Star’s Steve Sweeney reports that the government has developed the Wuhan Neighbours mobile phone app which means:
“If you need to see a doctor, your community will arrange a car to send you to the hospital through volunteers. At the same time, the system will track your progress: hospitalisation, treatment at home, discharge, death, etc.”