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China’s zero-Covid policy
The Middle Kingdom’s ongoing pandemic containment strategy remains a conundrum, at least for this observer
When the Omicron variant of Covid-19 appeared at the beginning of this year, it was seen, at least by some, as a much-needed exit ramp for leaving the pandemic behind. Evolving as such viruses do, becoming more infectious yet less virulent, Omicron supposedly marked the end of the crisis. Covid-19 had become endemic, just another of the seasonal colds and sniffles that periodically afflict the human population from time to time. Lots of people got Omicron, including, anecdotally speaking, various of my friends and acquaintances, and it really did appear to have become a relatively mild affliction for all but the severely immunocompromised.
As the spring progressed, Omicron appears to have reached China, and the response there was a massive lockdown in the Shanghai region. At the time, it didn’t make sense to me. Surely the pragmatic Chinese would be aware that a zero-Covid containment strategy at this point was hardly necessary and likely to be futile, akin to trying to extinguish the common cold. At this point, whatever its origins, it was a genie we would never get back in the bottle, right?
There had to be more to the story. Maybe behind the scenes there were unpublicized fears that the outbreak was not the relatively benign Omicron but an ethnically targeted bioweapon, the kind of thing which appear to have been under development in various US-funded bioweapon labs in Ukraine. Or perhaps China, by disrupting global supply chains which depend on the port of Shanghai, was responding asymmetrically to the economic war launched by the collective West against Russia in response to the latter’s military operation in Ukraine. Pure speculation on my part.
As someone who takes a keen interest in all things China from a distance (never been there, don't speak the language), I’ve found that once one has a basic grasp of the Marxist-Leninist ideological underpinnings of the Chinese system of governance, the Confucian legacy that infuses the culture, and the historical context (especially the Century of Humiliation), in combination with objective news and analysis from such astute China watchers as Godfree Roberts and Jeff J Brown, that one can see that China follows an internal logic and trajectory that makes sense. Most of the time. Except for Zero Covid.
Several weeks ago, a China-based Canadian journalist, Alex of the Reporterfy channel on YouTube, joined The Duran geopolitics podcast for a discussion of current affairs. It was shortly before the 20th CPC National Congress was to take place, where China’s long-term strategies are unveiled. At the 42-minute mark Alex began talking about what was on peoples’ minds in the run-up to that important event (my quick transcription, edited slightly for length and clarity):
Everybody is wondering: when is this country going to open up? It’s really affecting many municipalities. Companies need to get out and rebuild international relations again. Travel needs to get moving again. You might say, China is closed, no big deal, right? It is a big deal. Ask neighboring Thailand which used to get 57% of its tourists from China. Xi has to come up with a detailed game plan on opening this country. Lot of focus on that. All eyes are there. The entire country is looking for that one answer.
(At the time of this writing, I don’t know whether any announcements were made regarding Covid-19 strategy at the Congress.)
The German Substack writer Eugyppius, who in the past year emerged as one of the most eloquent critics of Western Covid strategy, published a horrible take a few days ago: “The People's Republic of China Has Become A Zero-Covid Hell”. Such Covid critics have excoriated the way the Western legacy media reported in lockstep fashion the prevailing Covid narrative, vigorously suppressed dissenting voices, yet these same observers take at face value the reporting of the very same corporate media when it comes to China. Their China hawkery and Sinophobia is reaffirmed, they find “proof” that China is participating in, if not outright leading, a grand global pandemic conspiracy. Par for the course, Eugyppius bases his dreadful commentary on a report from The New York Times, an outlet whose reporting on China is singularly untrustworthy.
It’s a perspective that is profoundly mistaken and ill-informed. Thing is, I don’t know how to defend China’s stance here. It has become increasingly evident that our lockdown and containment strategies here in the West were woefully misguided and terribly destructive. Yet China persists. Why?