J Michael Waller / Center for Security Policy / March 31, 2020 – In a fine piece of reporting, the New York Times has published a detailed investigative report that spells out why the Chinese Communist Party – especially with Xi Jinping’s consolidation of control over it – is responsible for the global coronavirus pandemic.
Steven Lee Myers’ story, published March 29, itemizes with care and clarity how the CCP itself is to blame for the spread of the virus from Wuhan to kill thousands in a global pandemic.
Everyone should read it very carefully. The report shows that the Trump Administration is right to saddle the CCP and the CCP alone with full responsibility and liability for the deadly plague.
The Times reports that Chinese Communist authorities allowed physicians to build a “fail-safe” system after the SARS virus outbreak of 2002, to alert officials and the public to future public health dangers and to prevent CCP officials from interfering.
Xi Jinping’s consolidation of personal control over the CCP in recent years destroyed that apolitical, scientific fail-safe system.
Read between the lines. The New York Times’ otherwise excellent review uses “Beijing” as a journalistic metaphor for “Xi Jinping” and his centralized “Chinese Communist Party leadership.” Apart from that, the reporting is straightforward and comprehensive. Let’s take a look at the main points that Meyers delineated in the Times. The quotes are of Myers:
- China had a warning system until Xi Jinping centralized control. “After SARS, Chinese health officials built an infectious disease reporting system to evade political meddling,” the New York Times reports. [Comment: Then Xi Jinping came along to centralize everything under his personal control.]
- Local authorities feared upsetting Xi Jinping. “But when the coronavirus emerged, so did fears of upsetting Beijing,”
- Whistleblowers circumvented CCP information controls. “The central health authorities first learned about the outbreak not from the reporting system but after unknown whistle-blowers leaked two internal documents online,” according to the New York Times.
- Key information omitted. “Even after Beijing got involved, local officials set narrow criteria for confirming cases, leaving out information that could have provided clues that the virus was spreading among humans.”
- CCP’s ‘triumphant narrative’ obscures ‘squandered time.’ “This triumphant narrative obscures the early failures in reporting cases, squandered time that could have been used to slow infections in China before they exploded into a pandemic.”
- Xi’s centralized CCP forced the rules not to be enforced. “‘According to the rules, this of course should have been reported,’ Yang Gonghuan, a retired health care official involved in establishing the direct reporting system, said in an interview. ‘Of course they should have seized on it, found it, gone to understand it.’”
- CCP is squarely to blame for most infections and deaths. “Aggressive action just a week earlier in mid-January could have cut the number of infections by two thirds, according to a recent study whose authors include an expert from Wuhan’s municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Another study found that if China had moved to control the outbreak three weeks earlier, it might have prevented 95 percent of the country’s cases.”
- Wuhan doctor is regretful for silence. “‘I regret that back then I didn’t keep screaming out at the top of my voice,’ Ai Fen, one of the doctors at Wuhan Central Hospital who spotted cases in December, said in an interview with a Chinese magazine. ‘I’ve often thought to myself what would have happened if I could wind back time.’”
- Xi Jinping blames everybody else. “China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has sought to move quickly past the early failings and shift attention to the country’s drive to end the outbreak. The Chinese government has been widely castigated for its initial mistakes, which have become a top talking point of President Trump. The central leadership has focused blame on local bureaucrats, including for censuring doctors who warned others about the infections. It promptly dismissed two health officials and, later, the party secretaries for Hubei Province and its capital, Wuhan.”
- Chinese doctors, leaks, and reporters ‘reveal the depth’ of CCP ‘failings.’ “Now, interviews with doctors, health experts and officials, leaked government documents, and investigations by the Chinese media reveal the depth of the government’s failings: how a system built to protect medical expertise and infection reports from political tampering succumbed to tampering.”
- CCP ‘censors closed that window.’ “Others tried to fill the void of information when the early warning system failed. The medical community found other, informal ways to alert others, disclosing government directives and hospital reports on the internet. During a rare burst of relative transparency early in the epidemic, Chinese journalists did much to expose the problems, but censors closed that window.”
- CCP overrides all safety safeguards. “The government has vowed to fix flaws exposed in the disease surveillance system, but similar promises were made after SARS. Fresh efforts to repair the system now could also falter under a political hierarchy that leaves experts — doctors, even public health officials — unwilling to take on local leaders. In China, politics often ends up overriding the very safeguards created to prevent interference in the flow of information.”
- China health officials said in 2019 that there would be another epidemic. “Last year, health officials exuded confidence that China would never again suffer a crisis like SARS. In July, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention held what it called the nation’s biggest infectious outbreak training exercise since the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003, showcasing the strides that the government had made since the virus killed hundreds and traumatized the nation. . . . ‘Who knows what the next one will be?’ said Feng Zijian, a senior disease control official who helped design the exercise, according to the center.”
- Chinese hospitals have to answer to Communist Party. “In theory, doctors could have reported such cases directly, but Chinese hospitals also answer to Communist Party bureaucracies. Over time, hospitals often came to defer to local health authorities about reporting troublesome infections, apparently to avoid surprising and embarrassing local leaders. That deference may not have mattered much most of the time. Now it gave officials in Wuhan an opening to control and distort information about the virus.”
- Political decision made not to inform public. “‘The local health administration clearly made a choice not to use the reporting system,’ said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who studies policymaking in China. ‘It is clear they were trying to resolve the problem within the province.’”
- Officials passed the buck within the Party. “Word of the outbreak started to reach disease control officials in Beijing after rumors and the leaked documents began to spread online. The national center for disease control has pointedly avoided saying in announcements that it had been notified by Wuhan, instead noting that it had ‘learned of’ the outbreak. Local officials have hedged over when and how they told Beijing.”
- Central CCP downplayed the problem in early January. “When the central government became involved, local officials outwardly welcomed the expert investigators sent by Beijing. Officials described the infections as nothing too serious. ‘They said that the illness was quite light, not much different from seasonal influenza, and there’d been no illnesses among hundreds of people with close contact,’ Zeng Guang, a Chinese epidemiologist who visited Wuhan on Jan. 9, said of his talks there, according to the China Youth Daily. ‘They sounded very relaxed.’”