Jim Geraghty at National Review has an excellent takedown of the Chinese government’s culpability in creating the pandemic that has, for all intents and purposes, brought everything to a grinding halt—and killed thousands in the process. In the article, he cites news stories that detail how the ruling Communist party and its despotic leader Xi Jinping obfuscated the seriousness of the viral outbreak by intimidating and even arresting medical professionals who tried to sound the alarm, and then allowed the disease to spread by initially refusing to acknowledge the problem and quarantine potential carriers of the disease. To top it all off, Beijing then tried to hide its negligence by erasing the evidence, ordering the destruction of virus samples so that it would be harder to trace back to its point of origin in the city of Wuhan. In doing so, Chinese authorities virtually guaranteed that the disease would spread far beyond their borders and infect the rest of the world.
Geraghty rightly concludes:
The Chinese government is much more effective at stopping the spread of information about the coronavirus than stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Pardon me, the “Wuhan virus.”
We are in this mess in large part because of the decisions of the Chinese government. And once it’s safe to come out, we’re going to face some extremely consequential decisions about how we choose to treat the Chinese government after their catastrophic secrecy, coverups, blundering, and disregard for human life around the globe.
Another question, however, is how did we even get here in the first place? More specifically: How did China get into the position where it could spread coronavirus to the rest of the world, while its government felt compelled to cover up the outbreak until it was too late?
A big part of the answer to the first question is globalism. Engagement with the Chinese has been a priority of both Republican and Democrat administrations over the last few decades, with politicians on both sides of the aisle justifying the liberalization of trade with a totalitarian one-party state as a way of incentivizing their government to open up and show a greater respect for human rights. As an added bonus, our industries would have access to a growing Chinese middle class, who would buy our goods just as we bought theirs.
It didn’t quite work out that way, however. Instead of allowing greater freedom for its people, Beijing tightened its grip on power and became even more oppressive, routinely jailing dissidents and persecuting those whom the government had deemed “undesirables,” such as Muslim Uighurs and practitioners of Falun Gong. At the same time, China engaged in currency manipulation to make the importation of foreign goods less financially viable and engaged in wholesale theft of intellectual property, giving their manufacturers an unfair edge over competitors who had spent many years and millions of dollars developing those properties. This arrangement also had the effect of hollowing out the American manufacturing sector, as Western companies moved the bulk of their supply chains to China—a state of affairs so bad that as of today, nearly all of the antibiotics and other drugs that Americans depend upon are made there.
Which leads us to the answer to our second question. It is precisely because China has grown so much richer as a manufacturer of cheap goods that Beijing felt so compelled to lie to the world about the Wuhan viral outbreak, at first denying the scope of the disaster and then covering it up. Simply put, Xi Jinping and his communist cohorts were protecting their bottom line. They understood that if word got out about the virus, the same Western companies that had made them so rich might get nervous and decide to reassess their close relationship with China, and perhaps over time try to diversify their partnerships. Better to keep the rest of the world in the dark than take that kind of risk.
So China carried on as usual, not even informing its own people of the dangers they faced. They kept their borders open, and allowed people to come and go. And then the virus got out, as viruses always do when nations don’t take the most rudimentary precautions to contain them.
So in a very real way, the Wuhan virus—with all the death and economic peril that it brings—is a very real consequence of the Western world’s shortsightedness when it comes to China. Perhaps if our elected leaders had understood the folly of believing they could negotiate in good faith with a dictatorship that practically uses slave labor to produce its goods, that engages in forced organ harvesting and maintains a system of gulags that would have met with Stalin’s approval, then perhaps we wouldn’t turned China into the world’s factory—and China, in turn, wouldn’t have thought to bamboozle us over the Wuhan virus instead of asking for our help.
It’s long past time we reassess that relationship.