Xi Jinping Demands Obedience to Battle Coronavirus, Shifts Blame to Local Officials

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses a gathering at Soltee Hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sa
Bikash Dware/The Rising Nepal via AP

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Saturday published the text of a speech dictator Xi Jinping gave to the party central committee last week that provided some insight into how the Communists are attempting to manage the political fallout from the coronavirus epidemic. 

In the speech, Xi claimed he has been managing the virus response from the beginning, a rebuttal to broad public anger that he has been invisible for most of the crisis. Xi used the epidemic as leverage to demand total obedience from his subjects at a moment when popular discontent with his rule has reached an all-time high, shifting blame for the outbreak and various abuses of public trust to lower-level local officials.

China’s state-run Xinhua news service summarized key points from the speech (referred to as “the article”) on Saturday:

The article stresses the importance of securing success in the prevention and control work, pointing out that the outcome of the epidemic prevention and control directly affects people’s lives and health, the overall economic and social stability and the country’s opening-up.

Resources for treatment, prevention and protection must be sent to the front line of the battle against the epidemic and priority should be given to meet the needs of frontline medical staff and patients, according to the article.

All-out efforts should be made to improve the admission and survival rates, and reduce the infection and mortality rates, the article says.

The article underlines the need to safeguard social stability, the promotion of public education and communication, as well as ensuring a stable economic performance.

It also stresses improving the country’s emergency management system and capacity of handling urgent, difficult, dangerous and important tasks.

The state-run Global Times conjured up some “analysts” who were floored by Xi’s magnificent speech and praised his “transparent” leadership on the coronavirus, even though the big political story in China over the past two months has been Xi disappearing and leaving Premier Li Kequiang holding the virus hot potato:

Analysts noted that Xi, the leader of the Party and the country, is leading the fight against the COVID-19 in a very transparent and responsible manner, directly addressing public discontent and meeting people’s expectations. It is very rarely seen that a speech by the president at a senior-level meeting included so many details, direct instructions and harsh criticisms on the problems, especially during the fight against the virus.

At the very beginning of the article, Xi noted that he has made requirements on work to prevent and control the COVID-19 on January 7 since the outbreak started while presiding a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. 

Chinese experts said that the CPC Central Committee is playing the most significant role in this war on the virus which needs to mobilize a country with a 1.4 billion population.

“COVID-19” is the medical terminology for the virus. The Chinese are working very hard on getting the rest of the world to stop referring to it as the “Wuhan virus,” for obvious political reasons.

The Global Times especially liked the part of Xi’s speech where he demanded even greater levels of obedience from all quarters of Chinese government and society, blaming any perceived deficiencies in China’s virus response on clumsy local officials who did not follow Beijing’s orders quickly and completely:

The article noted that “Party committees and governments at all levels must firmly obey the centralized leadership of the CPC Central Committee,” epidemic prevention and control is not an issue only related to medical care, but works of all aspects. It is a comprehensive war, and all effort must lend support to winning this battle in preventing and controlling the epidemic.

The implementation of the CPC Central Committee’s instructions at all levels is generally good, the article noted, but also stressed the need to strengthen areas of weakness and close loopholes exposed by the current epidemic.

Shen Yi, head of Fudan University’s Cyberspace Governance Research Institute, said that the article shows an honest and transparent attitude, as a very serious problem that was exposed since the beginning of the outbreak is that “a few officials at local level governments didn’t effectively implement the instructions from the CPC Central Committee and also didn’t reflect the real situation at the time.”

“The CPC Central Committee is aware of a situation on January 7, but due to this kind of problem (inefficient implementation), it caused some loopholes and mistakes, and fortunately the Party has a strong capability of self-correction, and now the damage over the credibility of the government has been generally fixed and recovered,” Song said.

CNN suspected the “situation on January 7” described in the new Communist Party virus mythology was a reference to the massive banquet that was regrettably held in Wuhan just as the virus was exploding out of control. The first two weeks of January were a particularly grim chapter in the tale of the coronavirus, as it represented the last efforts of Chinese officials to pretend the situation was completely under control and the virus was not particularly dangerous.

Under gale-force political spin pumped out by Xinhua and the Global Times, the new story is that Xi was secretly in control the whole time, but idiotic local officials (and an equally foolish team of researchers dispatched from Beijing that claimed the virus was under control on January 11) botched Xi’s orders and misinformed him.

Ultimately, however, the awkwardness of sharing some of the blame with Hubei officials might be preferable to admitting that Xi and those around him were potentially unaware or ill-informed about what was really going on.

The Associated Press thought the new mythology made Xi and other top CCP officials vulnerable to criticism that they knew how dangerous the Wuhan virus was but did not take firm action until the epidemic was so huge that it could no longer be ignored:

The disclosure of his speech indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak’s potential severity at least two weeks before such dangers were made known to the public. It was not until late January that officials said the virus can spread between humans and public alarm began to rise.

Zhang Lifan, a commentator in Beijing, said it’s not clear why the speech was published now. One message could be that local authorities should take responsibility for failing to take effective measures after Xi gave instructions in early January. Alternatively, it may mean that Xi, as the top leader, is willing to take responsibility because he was aware of the situation, Zhang said.

Bloomberg News found it “perplexing” that Xi would attempt a wholesale rewriting of coronavirus history, producing an altered timeline that most Chinese citizens know is false. Skeptics are greatly underestimating the CCP’s ability to force its citizens to believe in edited versions of history, and the ability of Communist leaders to pin blame for their shortcomings on underlings. A great many local officials will be scapegoated to make Xi’s new timeline stick, with some of them probably ending up in prison or worse, but there will be plenty of replacement officials to take their places.

On Monday, Xinhua pumped out supplementary propaganda to cover Xi’s flank, portraying the international community as dazzled by Xi’s leadership and claiming the epidemic makes China look more responsible and transparent to the world community, not less. Amusingly, Xinhua had to turn to the general secretary of the Egyptian Communist Party to get a really good fawning quote about China’s “really impressive,” “resolute,” and “decisive” measures to battle the virus.

Chinese state media on Monday claimed the Wuhan virus outbreak is coming under control, with fewer new cases reported for three consecutive days following a huge spike in new infections last week. Premier Li Kequiang said on Monday the threat of a pandemic has been “averted.”


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