The Party insists it has a superior approach. Fumbling democracies must restore trust before it’s too lateby Isabel Hilton / November 21, 2020 / Leave a comment
On 18th November, 12 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the People’s Republic of China, bringing the cumulative total to 86,398. More than 81,000 of those victims had recovered and 4,634, according to the official toll, had died. On the 18th, like any other day in recent months, normal life continued throughout most of the country: people went to work, ate out, went to cinemas, studied at schools and colleges, shopped and moved around, unrestricted by lockdown constraints.
By that November day the United States had passed the dreadful milestone of 250,000 Covid-19 related deaths in around nine months: a toll four times the number of US dead in the ten years of the Vietnam War, seven times the US dead in the Korean War and two-thirds of the total US casualties in WW2.
Europe is in the grip of a new wave. That same day, the UK reached nearly 1.5m total cases since March and more than 50,000 deaths—ten times the Chinese fatalities in a population only a fraction of China’s. As Beijing boasts of rapid economic recovery, the UK continues to suffer a deadly combination of deepening economic pain, a bungled pandemic response and stop-start lockdowns from which only the still-distant promises of a vaccine offer the hope of relief. Increasingly the question is not what will happen to Christmas 2020 in the UK, but whether it will ever feel like Christmas again.
China certainly had a rocky beginning. Wuhan officials suppressed evidence of the early outbreak even within the country itself, which fatally delayed its pandemic response—events that showcased the worst aspects of China’s political system and unleashed a storm of recrimination that lingered into the first weeks of Chinese government action. Reports emerged of a disabled teenager who starved to death when his carer father was forcibly detained, and of the death of Dr Li Wenliang, punished for speaking out; harsh realities beneath a façade of propaganda.
But today Beijing can claim that normal life and economic activity have largely recovered, while outside the country’s borders incompetent or uncaring governments have lost control and failed to protect their citizens. This has become a pillar of the case the Chinese Communist Party is making increasingly insistently: that China’s autocracy is simply a better system of government that not only…