China: Absentee Xi Jinping ‘Did Not Sleep Well’ as Coronavirus Pandemic Worsened

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Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency published a glowing profile on Tuesday of the work dictator Xi Jinping allegedly did to contain the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, heaping praise on Xi for leading teleconferences and giving “important instructions” to underlings.

Xi notably vacated the political spotlight for months following the initial revelation in January that Communist Party scientists had identified a novel form of coronavirus in the central city of Wuhan. After a brief public appearance in Beijing at the height of the outbreak in Wuhan hundreds of miles away, Xi visited Wuhan in March, after local officials had contained the virus. He similarly made visits to provinces like Zhejiang and Shaanxi, far from the most severely affected, that made it into Xinhua’s coverage of his activities.

In keeping with Chinese Communist Party autocratic tradition, Xi has not faced journalists or given the public an opportunity to address the pandemic with him directly since it began. More often than not, Xi spent 2020 barricaded in his presidential offices, leading online meetings or engaging in friendly phone calls with some of the world’s most powerful people. Xinhua emphasized the latter as evidence of his work ethic.

“The COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] epidemic changed Xi’s schedule. People familiar with his work said Xi dedicated himself to leading epidemic control efforts and gave instructions every day at the height of the outbreak,” Xinhua claimed. “Xi did not sleep well on [Lunar] New Year’s Eve as he shouldered the heavy responsibility to fight the epidemic.”

Xinhua gave Xi credit for devising “general principles” in fighting the virus such as “remaining confident, coming together in solidarity, adopting a science-based approach and taking targeted measures.” Among other platitudes Xinhua cites as evidence of Xi’s exemplary leadership were “time calls for resolute action” and “science and technology hold the key to ‘eventually prevailing over the outbreak.'”

Xinhua also attempted to credit Xi for his visits to various allegedly affected areas. For example, Xi toured Beijing, the city he lives in, in mid-February, at the height of Wuhan’s coronavirus horror. The local Beijing outbreak hit its peak in June.

Xi visited Wuhan on March 10 and declared the pandemic in China over.

“Eight days after Xi’s visit, the city reported no new cases for the first time,” Xinhua noted – a fact highlighting that Xi had largely missed the worst of the outbreak. Reports citing Chinese government documents indicate that the first case of Chinese coronavirus identified surfaced in mid-November 2019 and that Wuhan doctors were aware of a new medical phenomenon as early as December 2019.

Wuhan police arrested doctors and health workers sharing safety tips against infectious disease in January, attempting to keep news of an outbreak from spreading. The secrecy resulted in five million people leaving Wuhan, with no way of knowing if they had been exposed to the virus, for Lunar New Year.

Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang, who disappeared from the public eye entirely in January, told reporters he knew of an outbreak of an unknown disease early in the year but could not issue any public warnings because senior Communist Party officials did not let him. Xi, the nation’s highest-ranking senior Communist Party official, has never publicly addressed Zhou’s remarks.

While the Party silenced Zhou, reports indicate that Xi Jinping was pressuring World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an ally of the Party’s and not a medical doctor, not to declare the disease spread a pandemic. Beijing and Tedros have both denied the reports.

Popular outrage against the Chinese Communist Party had reached such heights in March that police reportedly locked Wuhan residents in their homes at gunpoint to prevent them from jeering Xi during his visit. Residents had booed and heckled Vice Premier Sun Chunlan during her visit a week prior.

“Walking between apartment blocks, Xi looked up and waved to residents under lockdown who stuck out their heads from their windows and balconies to greet him,” Xinhua recalled on Tuesday, omitting the controversy surrounding Sun. “‘Let’s keep it up! Hold on for a little longer!’ Xi said.”

Above all, Xinhua credited Xi for what it called ‘unprecedented ‘telephone diplomacy'”: phone calls with other world leaders and powerful figures:

Xi wrote back to Tedros and Bill Gates and exchanged letters with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra, Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen and Mongolian Prime Minister Ukhnaa Khurelsukh.

Xi exchanged verbal messages with Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Xi sent a verbal message to Pakistani President Arif Alvi and exchanged messages with Bounnhang Vorachith, general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee and president of Laos.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Xi has conducted unprecedented “telephone diplomacy,” having more than 60 phone conversations with over 50 foreign leaders.

Xinhua did not elaborate on what, if anything, the phone calls accomplished.

China claims to have documented just over 90,000 coronavirus cases nationwide at press time, and less than 5,000 deaths – dubious numbers given the Communist Party’s lack of transparency over the pandemic from the beginning and reports that the number of bodies processed in Wuhan funeral homes at the height of the pandemic was much higher than official death rates indicated.

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