The Chinese Communist People’s Daily Online spoke up on Tuesday for an overlooked class of victims from the U.S. government shutdown: panda enthusiasts deprived of the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam.
“Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute managed to stay open for the first 11 days of the shutdown, which began on December 22, 2018, but was forced to close its doors on Tuesday, Jan. 1, after its prior-year funds ran out because Congress and the White House are unable to reach a funding agreement. The much-loved Giant Panda Cam went black the following day on Wednesday,” the People’s Daily reported.
According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, the live animal cameras “require federal resources, primarily staff, to run and broadcast,” and since they have been deemed non-essential, they “will not stream live until the federal government reopens.”
The People’s Daily found the geopolitical significance in this abrupt cessation of real-time panda activity monitoring:
The unfortunate situation is that until a deal is reached to end the shutdown, panda fans will be unable to enjoy the 24/7 live broadcast of resident giant pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and Bei Bei chomping on bamboo, playing in trees, and tumbling in the grass.
This may seem like a trivial matter. But for some, the loss has been unbearable, and they are calling for an end to the shutdown so that they can get on with life and enjoy watching the pandas.
Some people have even called it a step too far and are outraged at the US government for being unable to do its job and reach a deal.
Alas, the People’s Daily did not see fit to quote any of those people. It did, however, quote some Chinese commenters who took advantage of the situation to mock American charges against the Chinese state:
On the English-language website of People’s Daily Online, one reader joked that China might need to place a guard around the pandas for safekeeping and possibly live stream it to the world.
Another reader wondered if the giant pandas will be detained for “spying” and, if so, be put in a CIA black site because they may feel threatened by the intelligence of the pandas.
Some even went further and joked that the US government might use the opportunity to comb through panda waste for alleged “technology theft.”
The Communist paper wrapped up by using the U.S. government shutdown to tout the wonders of Chinese authoritarianism, under which the cameras pointed at pandas and humans alike are never turned off:
The loss of the Zoo’s panda cam, while relatively minor in terms of overall impact of the shutdown, is just another sign that US democracy has become what American scholar Francis Fukuyama and others have labeled as a “vetocracy” — meaning the US government has become dangerously ineffective.
Zhang Weiwei, a Chinese professor at Fudan University who has debated Fukuyama on such issues, has argued that the separation of powers in the United States has its weaknesses, as many vested interest groups fight against each other to block reform initiatives that are necessary for the country. As Professor Zhang has pointed out, it is getting harder to build a social consensus within the Western democratic countries. And as a result, the Western system of democracy has become more and more problematic.
That is China’s ideological sales pitch in a nutshell: authoritarian rule is more effective than democracy because maximum leaders get things done. Whatever one might think of democracy’s flaws and the reasons for them – Fukuyama’s point about “vetocracy” is far more nuanced than the People’s Daily presents it, and slipping into Chinese-style autocracy is one of his major concerns – a temporarily blacked-out panda cam seems like a modest price to pay for the freedom to disagree.
Fortunately, thanks to the wealth and innovative spirit of free-market capitalism in a representative republic, Americans have more than one panda cam to fill their needs. For example, the Panda Cam at the San Diego Zoo was up and running as of 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, affording a spectacular view of a panda’s posterior as the animal snoozed away the afternoon in a tree.