China: Coronavirus and Dictatorship

By Miguel Sorans, a leader of Socialist Left (IS) Argentina, and the IWU-FI

The coronavirus epidemic, which has its epicentre in China, has a major global impact because of its seriousness in terms of loss of lives. But also because of the economic consequences, it will have for the masses of the world. China is semi-paralysed. World trade will be affected and there will be a further drop in production.

The multinationals will want to make the people of the world pay that cost. Also, the crisis of the coronavirus shows the social reality of China and the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party (CP). The regime censored the first warnings of a doctor and accused him of “severely disturbing the social order”. Weeks later, he died infected by the virus. This delayed the response to the epidemic. Neither Chinese capitalism nor the global capitalist-imperialist system guarantees an adequate response to this humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions.

This month, it went public the coronavirus epidemic began in the city of Wuhan in December, but it was only in January that Chinese government authorities acknowledged it. The city of Wuhan has 11 million inhabitants and is the capital of Hubei Province. The largest quarantine in history is taking place there because Hubei has 56 million inhabitants.

So far, the epidemic has not been stopped and has already exceeded 1,400 deaths in China, according to the official figures of the regime. The average of 100 deaths per day on the eve of the epidemic jumped to 242 on Wednesday 12 February. As of today, the authorities speak of over 64,000 people affected. There is still no vaccine. With an epicentre in China, it has spread to Asia and some countries in Europe.

The severity of the epidemic, although in numbers it may still seem low, has already surpassed the deaths of the previous SARS epidemic (2003) in the country. It may seem simple to say that this epidemic is the fault of Chinese capitalism. But capitalism, because of the growing misery it provokes, creates the conditions for the emergence of these new epidemics and for making them worse.

The causes of the emergence and development of this disease in China, such as SARS, bird flu, and now the coronavirus, must be sought in the social crisis that has been growing in that country since the return to capitalism.

Based on data that have become known about the origin of the disease, it may have emerged in the populous public markets of Wuhan, where live animals are sold: from chickens and pigs to other birds and reptiles. They killed them there once sold. Foxes, bats and snakes, too. Some of these animals may have transmitted the virus. The Chinese government has justified these practices, which are unhealthy and prohibited in many parts of the world, as an ancestral “cultural” one. When in reality this market, which occurs there and in other parts of the world, results from the misery and inequality of the people. A tradition that comes from the miseries and famines generated by capitalist exploitation.

The emergence and worsening of this epidemic show the true face of today’s capitalist China, which imperialism and the bourgeois media have been praising as an example of the “modernity” of capitalism. Most of the world’s left and centre-left, including Chavism, Lulism and Castroism, praise it and claim it is an example of a supposed “market socialism of the 21st century”. When in reality they revealed the contradictions that capitalist China is experiencing today and its tremendous social inequalities, with some 400 million rich and upper-middle-class people, compared to over a billion workers, women and peasants who are exploited and live in overcrowded and miserable conditions.

The coronavirus epidemic also occurs in a deterioration of the Chinese health system because of the privatisations that have taken place in the restoration’s heat at the end of the 1980s and 1990s. With the 1949 revolution, the system was state-run and free. Since the capitalist restoration, “45% of the country’s urban population and 80% of the global population have no health insurance, recently admitted by Vice Minister of Health Gao Qiang” (Andres Oppenheimer, Cuentos Chinos (Tall Tales), page 61, Editorial Sudamericana. 2005).

The Chinese government and the media have wanted to show “a certain efficiency,” announcing that they installed a hospital in 10 days. But it was only a desperate improvisation seeking to counteract the deterioration of public health that people denounce clandestinely in China.

The doctor who alerted and was censured dies from the virus

The seriousness of the coronavirus epidemic is further evidenced by the repressive and censorial management of the CCP dictatorship. That is why the data on deaths and infections are highly dubious. The only source of information is the deceitful Chinese dictatorship. But more and more denunciations and protests are spreading via social networks

The highest point that triggered the growth of the Chinese people’s protests is the case of censorship and repression of the ophthalmologist Li Wenliang. In December, this 34-year-old doctor, who worked at Wuhan hospital, was the first to warn of the presence and aggressiveness of the virus and sent messages to his colleagues warning of the seriousness and dangers that were developing. December 30 was the first alert that was not taken into account. To make matters worse, days after the early warning were known, officials from the public security office (police) showed up to warn this doctor that he was “committing a serious offence. They forced him to sign a note in which they accused him of making “false comments” and of “severely disturbing social order” (Clarin, Argentina 7 February 2020). Unfortunately, the doctor had already got the virus and died in mid-January, which had a tremendous impact. Today he is being considered a national hero by the Chinese people as his struggle becomes known.

The dictatorship, by denying this warning, probably worsened the epidemic. Such was the impact of these events that the central government had to remove the leaders of the Communist Party from Hubei Province and the city of Wuhan to contain the people’s hatred.

The coronavirus and global capitalist neglect
Not only is the action of the Chinese dictatorship repugnant. This is part of the negligence of the world capitalist-imperialist system that aggravates every form of response to prevent the spread of the epidemic and losing lives in the world.

There is a dispute between the various capitalist countries, and in particular, the pharmaceutical multinationals and private laboratories, to be the first to discover a vaccine on their own and to hold a patent and profit from the sale of that product. For example, “the British pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) has already developed a project. The race is fast and the first one will take the biggest prize” (Clarin, Argentina, 5/02/20)

This dispute has reached such a point that the director of the World Health Organization (WHO) himself, the Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, accused “some rich countries of withholding information about cases of coronavirus, demanding greater international solidarity to fight the epidemic in China” (idem, 5 February 2020). The WHO has estimated that a vaccine cannot appear before a year and a half.

Beyond the peak of the epidemic, and hopefully the lowest possible, there will be a worsening of the current capitalist economic crisis. Giant China is semi-paralysed. World trade will be affected and there will be a further fall in production. The multinationals will try to make the people of the world pay that cost. The people must be prepared to fight back.