17 April 2020

China must pay for its Covid crimes


As John Stuart Mill put it: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

We know in detail that the Chinese Communist Party wilfully withheld evidence about the scope, extent, and ease of human to human transmission of the coronavirus. If the Chinese government were a person, it would surely be guilty at least of manslaughter.

However, there is an even darker interpretation available than this. When I last wrote on these pages about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the middle of February, the coronavirus pandemic had called its basic competence into question. For there is no doubt that the party’s initial response to the plague was bungled. As I wrote then, “public health emergencies typically require timely, transparent, and accurate information from the relevant government to maximise its response” – qualities not normally characteristic of authoritarian states.

Along with others, I speculated if this bungled response would endanger (or at least diminish) the regime itself, much as the Chernobyl disaster indelibly tarnished the reputation of the Soviet government.

Sadly, as it turns out, this assessment has not come to pass. For while the CCP’s initial response demonstrated all the ineptitude you would expect from a corrupt autocracy, so too did the utter ruthlessness with which it has conducted itself since. For it now looks clear that once the Chinese leadership realised just how bad the outbreak would get, it decided the only course of action was to save its geopolitical position by inflicting those same awful consequences on the rest of the world too.

This evil was propagated by obfuscating, delaying the dissemination of accurate information about the virus (through useful idiots like the World Health Organisation), and placing Wuhan in quarantine, even as flights to the rest of the world continued. Indeed, a recent University of Southampton study estimated that 95% of global cases could have been avoided if Beijing had come clean just three weeks before they finally did on January 20.

China decided that if it was to suffer, so must the rest of us. There is no other word for this than evil. Far from doing nothing, we must shout this from the rooftops, and act accordingly. The Chinese Communist Party, and any regime who would do such a nefarious thing, is the eternal enemy.

The Chinese charge sheet

The list of crimes perpetuated by the CCP is long and detailed, starting in early December when Dr Li Wenliang and his colleagues raised the alarm, only to be censored, slapped down and even forced to “confess” to anti-social behaviour. In doing so the regime wasted a precious six weeks when they could have alerted the world to the impending danger.

Caixin Global reported that Chinese scientists had sequenced the virus genome by the end of December 2019, but were ordered by officials to destroy samples and not publish their findings, as it would implicitly acknowledge what we all now know but the CCP want to distract us from—that the virus originated in China.

Likewise, Taiwanese officials warned the WHO on December 31st that they had seen evidence that the virus could be transmitted human-to-human. Not that this stopped the World Health Organisation parroting Beijing’s claims that there was “no clear evidence of human to human transmission” – a claim it corrected just a week later.

The leadership in Beijing were no more forthcoming with their own people than they were with the outside world. On January 18, despite the obvious danger, they allowed a large public festival in Wuhan to go ahead, with tens of thousands of people attending.

After finally admitting the extent of the virus on January 20th, the CCP now used it as a biological weapon. On January 23rd, the regime locked down all traffic in Hubei province, the centre of the plague, to the rest of his country, even as planes were allowed to fly to the rest of the world, spreading the infection. After this, a global pandemic was inevitable.

Even after coming clean about the virus’ existence, the Chinese obfuscated its extent. The basic criteria the Chinese used in assessing how many people had contracted the virus changed constantly, as many as eight times. It is strongly suspected, both by locals and outside governments, that the actual number of deaths may be ten times what the party has reported.

While Chinese authorities assert that 3,200 of their people have died due to this plague, locals estimate the genuine number is more like 42,000. Indeed, MI6 is understood to have told the British government that China was significantly under-reporting both the number of cases and the death toll in both January and February of this year.

Conclusion: Follow the Hong Kong graffiti

Recently, I became aware of the best one-sentence analysis of what the coronavirus means. Scrawled on the walls of Hong Kong as street art it reads: ‘There can be no return to normal because normal was the problem in the first place.’ Normal meant the West viewed China as a friendly competitor, a status quo power, an integral part of the Chimerica duopoly that would provide global governance for the rest of the world in our new era. After the mountain of evidence of Beijing’s callous duplicity in encouraging the spread of the virus, anyone still believing this is either blind, a tool of Chinese economic might, or living on another planet.

China knows it is in a strategic battle with the West; it is time we realised this basic fact, too. Using their comparative advantage of getting through the virus first, Beijing is pursuing its geostrategic interests via ‘mask diplomacy’, soft power, trying to change the basic narrative by offering hard-hit countries medical supplies, both as a showy humanitarian gesture and as a sign of their system’s supposed superiority. Leaving aside that these supplies must be paid for and some are defective, the whole exercise feels like an arsonist expecting gratitude for providing their victim with a watering can.

It’s time for the West to stop meekly acceding to China’s rise and fight it tooth and nail. In the same spirit, we must reject the noxious PR campaign that seeks to obscure Beijing’s role in spreading the virus and visiting economic chaos on the rest of the world.

As for the UK, the pandemic means a complete reassessment of its relationship with Beijing, with much tighter controls on strategic industries such as AI, energy and digital communications. Chinese students’ access to research at British universities must be limited. And the short-sighted and disastrous decision to include state-sponsored Huawei in the UK’s 5G network must be rethought immediately.

The Chinese want to change the geopolitical order, and are well aware they are in a strategic competition with the West. It is high time we woke up, realised the same, and acted accordingly. Evil will triumph if enough good men do nothing. Evil has been shown to have occurred over the coronavirus. It is up to the good men of the West to do something.

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Dr. John C. Hulsman is Chairman of the global political risk consultancy John C. Hulsman Enterprises, and author of 'To Dare More Boldly; The Audacious Story of Political Risk'.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.