May 19, 2024
A Reckoning
As in a house infested with termites, China has exploited a rickety rules-based order already under assault on many fronts, including from the Trump administration.
As in a house infested with termites, China has exploited a rickety rules-based order already under assault on many fronts, including from the Trump administration.

The coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in China in December 2019, shows no signs of abating. As of March 7, the World Health Organization reported 101,927 confirmed cases globally, with 80,813 of these in China, resulting in 3,486 deaths to date — the vast majority of them also in China, with a significant concentration of these in Hebei province, where the outbreak initially occurred. While various theories of its provenance have been advanced, given the Chinese government’s lack of transparency, we may never know the true cause.

What we do know from this lack of transparency is that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) mask has slipped, and the emergence of COVID-19 and its aftermath represent a microcosm of a wider CCP modus operandi. As China enters its fifth decade since the implementation of Deng Xiaoping’s economic liberalization policies, Deng’s admonition that China should “hide its strength and bide its time” has given way to a more aggressive China on the world stage. As its role in a developing global pandemic reveals, the CCP is more interested in controlling the narrative than in public health (both domestically and globally). What we do know of its behavior in the wake of the virus’ appearance — draconian measures including mass quarantines, an already pervasive surveillance regime being stepped up, the aforementioned lack of transparency (including early attempts to downplay the existence and severity of the outbreak), and attempts to obfuscate the source of the virus — confirms what China “hawks” (long a lonely minority in Western policy circles) have long believed. China is an increasing threat to harmonious international relations, and it risks upending an already fragile rules-based order.

While China as an existential threat to global comity may only now be dawning upon the cognoscenti, it has been a long time in coming.

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