China is no role model for coronavirus containment - or anything else

Since the explosion of coronavirus cases in Wuhan, the Chinese government drastically cracked down to stop the spread of the potentially fatal virus. But what about just prior to that?

A WORKER SPRAYS disinfectant in Sea World, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Saturday. (photo credit: AJENG DINAR ULFIANA/REUTERS)
A WORKER SPRAYS disinfectant in Sea World, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Saturday.
As the coronavirus rapidly spreads, many countries are looking to China as an example of the drastically needed measures to get the virus under control. Meanwhile, China is busy deflecting blame in a desperate PR attempt to save face. China is no role model for any state to emulate, and the country should be held accountable for its role in the spread of the virus.
From the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, I’ve been in favor of drastic government measures as a preventive step to slow the spread of the virus. I still believe that shutting down schools and public places and limiting all forms of travel and social activity are the best possible measures. However, I am hesitant to look to China for any guidance given its appalling human rights record and well-documented dishonesty with the international community.
The first problem with looking to China as an example is that we are taking its word that the country has the virus under control. That is a massive assumption given the Chinese government's history of covering up all manner of abuses and scandals.
The second problem is that China, as an oppressive authoritarian regime, is uniquely positioned to completely shut down human activity in an attempt to thwart a biological outbreak, using whatever measures it sees fit.
The third issue is that China bears some responsibility for the current crisis. Instead of owning up to that, its government officials are contributing to conspiracy theories and casting blame on the United States in an almost laughable attempt to deflect that responsibility.
Since the explosion of coronavirus cases in Wuhan, the Chinese government drastically cracked down to stop the spread of the potentially fatal virus. But what about just prior to that?
At the beginning of December, the first patients were diagnosed with what later became known as the coronavirus. China knew the virus was potentially fatal, even reporting it on CCTV, Chinese state-run television. But when Chinese doctor Li Wenliang published data online about the unusual and rapidly spreading virus, the Chinese government arrested him and other doctors, claiming they commited “illegal acts of fabricating, spreading rumors and disrupting social order.”
Doctors and health workers were forbidden from making any public statements, even when Chinese doctors treating the disease, such as Dr. Li, died of coronavirus themselves. Dr. Li, the first whistleblower, was forced to sign a “confession” for spreading false rumors just prior to his death. Nonetheless, China continued distributing contradictory reports to cover up the severity of the virus.
China was also criticized in early January for refusing to provide information on the virus, even well after its government shut down the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan for “disinfection.” As rumors exploded on social media, China began actively suppressing information online, blocking relevant hashtags and interrogating journalists for covering the story, while simultaneously issuing public warnings to low-level officials “not to under-report cases.”
MEANWHILE, CHINA refused CDC and WHO offers to help and refused to allow them to travel to Wuhan to assist. As the virus spread to hundreds in other countries in Asia and fatalities began to occur, China enacted draconian quarantine methods that included shutting off entire cities, ending public transit, closing schools, and even shutting off all passport and visa services to its own citizens.
As the international spotlight intensified on China, including criticism from major networks like CNN, the Chinese government suddenly released doctors accused of “spreading rumors” who initially published the data about the virus, even calling them “brave” in the state media.
Yet despite knowing the risks and that the virus was rapidly spreading around the world, China reacted aggressively to the cancellation of flights at the end of January, criticizing the United States. Incredibly, it has now launched a PR campaign to blame anyone but themselves for the coronavirus, using its diplomats and state-run TV to distribute nonsensical reports and rumors.
On February 11, a video was posted on the state-run Chinese network New China of an Italian-Chinese woman with a sign that read: “I am human not a virus. Hug me.” While this is of course, heartwarming, the fact that China would be promoting hugging strangers as late as February 11 is appalling. Now, Italy is living in a nightmare in which people are literally on lockdown with family members who have died next to them and nowhere to bury the victims. It should also be noted that the “hug me” video was shared after Italy had declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus.
The carelessness with which China treats human life in its own country should serve as a warning to the rest of the world when it comes to China’s “concern” for human rights. For the Communist regime, stopping coronavirus isn’t about humanity, it’s about saving face. Even now, numerous reports have estimated the fatalities of coronavirus are far higher as bodies are being cremated in Wuhan without cause of death being listed.
This is far from the first time China has both been dishonest about a biological health crisis (SARS), or cracked down on whistleblowers on health-related issues, like the Chinese dissidents who exposed illicit blood sales and the subsequent AIDS crisis in Henan. China has heavily invested in state surveillance and oppression of the press, and any form of dissent across the board meets with brutal and barbaric persecution.
Is it any wonder the regime claims coronavirus is under control? As Ai Weiwei writes, “Questions about a virus – what happened and why? – should be empirical questions that have determinable answers. But not in China, where the problem is not even lack of knowledge so much as lack of a system in which knowledge is possible.”
The Chinese government wants all the credit for helping other countries in this crisis, and none of the responsibility for how it began or spread, or how China handled it in the first place. Instead of accepting blame, it is shifting it away, including by launching a fake news campaign to demonize the United States. The Chinese government is relentless, corrupt, secretive and horrendously oppressive. While some level of cooperation is necessary to stop the disease, Chinese Communist Party leaders are the last people we should be trusting when it comes to fighting this pandemic.
The writer is CEO of Social Lite Creative and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.