If … it becomes clear that the pandemic originated in failures of the Chinese state, the damage to its model of government will be irreparable.
At the same time, the West would be faced with the uncomfortable fact that Xi Jinping’s China is a totalitarian regime. Secrecy and cover-ups are normal in such systems. Only in 1990 did the Soviet state formally accept responsibility for the Katyn massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in 1940, carried out by operatives from its security services, under orders from Stalin issued in March of that year. By the time of the admission, the Soviet regime was on the brink of collapse.
The opposite is the case in China, where Xi continues to extend the state’s powers of surveillance and control from a position of strength. The systematic destruction of freedom in Hong Kong, along with a near-genocidal assault on the Uighurs and other minority peoples, has jolted Western perceptions of what was seen as a state gradually evolving towards liberal norms. Yet that it has mutated into a new kind of totalitarianism has not been fully accepted, and the implications for the West have been evaded.
Here an important contrast needs to be noted. Despite loose talk about another cold war, China’s challenge to the West is much different from that posed by the former Soviet Union, and arguably much greater. The USSR had very little involvement in Western economies. China, on the other hand, is integral to their continued functioning. Any major disruption in the country would produce an upheaval in Western capitalism. Some argue that the West should decouple economically from China. Certainly, Chinese involvement in sensitive areas such as nuclear power should be terminated.
But there are big risks in breaking off economic relations, assuming it is any longer possible. Xi’s tilt to Han nationalism would likely be exacerbated. If Taiwan was forcibly absorbed, the West would struggle with acute shortages of the semiconductors on which it depends. The global market would be broken.
These are frightening prospects, and for all the calls for a thorough investigation into the origins of Covid it may well be that Western governments would prefer that no direct responsibility for the pandemic be assigned to the Chinese state. [Continue reading…]