3 April 2020

Defending the indefensible: the hard left, China and Covid-19

By Paul Stott

These are the facts. In December 2019, a series of hospital admissions began to be noted in the People’s Republic of China. As deaths followed, a new type of coronavirus, Covid-19, was identified. From the epicentre of Wuhan in China, Covid-19 spread across the world, whilst China fought to suppress knowledge of the scale of events.

Although the virus had likely been identified in November 2019, in early January Dr Li Wenliang was disciplined for “spreading rumours” by calling for colleagues to wear protective equipment. He has since died from the illness he sought to publicise. As late as January 18, Wuhan was home to its annual mass banquet, where patriotic dishes such as ‘one belt one road’ (vegetable salad) and ‘motherland in my heart’ (meat and cucumber) were prepared by as many as 40,000 families. Since the case of Dr Li garnered international attention, another whistle-blower, Dr Ai Fen, has gone missing. Her fate is unknown.

Such methods are ingrained in the DNA of the Chinese Communist Party. For much of the British left however, this matters little. In their analysis, backward, isolated little England is contrasted with the towering economic achievements of China. In criticising China, we also risk echoing the ‘real enemy’ – Donald Trump and the United States.  When Communist China says only imported cases of Covid-19 are still to be found in Wuhan, this is believed without question by the ‘daily paper of the left’, the Morning Star, which has declared victory in the ‘people’s war’ against Covid-19.

Here in the parallel universe of the hard left, concerns seem to centre on the West’s ‘media war’ against China. Although the Morning Star has contained articles about China and Covid-19 every day this week, with titles including ‘In defence of Chinese people and their revolution,’ there is no mention of Dr Li and Dr Ai – their names conveniently erased from history.

Who are the other players in awe of China’s supposed brilliance in the fields of technology and medical practice? George Galloway’s new Workers Party of Britain has wasted little time in joining up with the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), or CPGB (ML) for short. Ranjeet Brar is a member of both, but on 15 March was introduced on Galloway’s Russia Today ‘Mother of All Talk Shows’ under the title of NHS consultant, physician and surgeon.

The show was another glimpse into the upside-down world of the far left: China’s approach was praised, and Beijing’s dubious Covid-19 statistics accepted at face value. The claim of China’s Foreign Ministry, that coronavirus was brought to Wuhan from America, was given an airing, even though it appears to have originated on a conspiracist website usually  devoted to 9/11 ‘truth’ material.

Those with a taste for the minutiae of the far-left, will be unsurprised at Brar’s recent prominence. His father, Harpal Brar, was an indefatigable member of the Stalin Society, as well as being the founder of both the CPGB (ML) and the group Hands Off China. In 2009, Galloway spoke at a Hands Off China event to mark 60 years of Communist China. Joti Brar, Harpal Brar’s daughter, combines the role of Vice-Chair of the CPGB (ML) with her role as Deputy Leader of the Workers Party of Britain. According to the Workers Party, all we need to do to combat Covid-19 is to learn from the “heroic efforts” of China.

The Morning Star and the Workers Party of Britain are not alone in this folly. Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon seemed outraged at any suggestion the UK government might at some point cast a critical eye on China’s handling of this pandemic.

Figures on the centre-left are not immune from arguing that China will be used as a distractor flare by governments looking to avoid examination of their own failings. Take this intervention from David Miliband, criticising the “UK spin on China”.

Then there is the claim that if we criticise China’s government, people of Chinese heritage in this country will be targeted by racists. As we saw with Brexit, those making such arguments seem to have very little faith in the rest of us not to suddenly turn into a bunch of cudgel-wielding racists.

Across the British left, this technique is well worn. Focusing on actual or perceived responses to a problem handily avoids participation in debates about the problem itself. This is a trick parts of the left mastered in the Cold War – attending primarily to the excesses of some of those opposed to communism, rather than the crimes of the Soviet Union or Mao’s China. It was an instinct which returned in the era of jihadist terror, where debates about the dangers posed to our freedoms by Islamism and the security threat from Islamist violence, proved to be terrain the left preferred to avoid.

Although it may not look so now, there will be a time, after Covid-19, for a full assessment of events. And a reckoning. The core problem, going forward, is how to respond to the People’s Republic of China and its governing Communist Party. Once again, the British left, of whatever stripe, looks determined to be on the wrong side of history.

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Dr Paul Stott is a Research Fellow in the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society.

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