The very rigidity of the political system built by the Chinese Communist Party hampers the country’s ability to handle the highly contagious Omicron variant with nothing but a game of lockdown Whac-A-Mole.
China’s mastery of censorship, propaganda, and social control controlled Covid-19’s initial proliferation, enabling Beijing to proclaim its successful response amid international discussion about the virus’ origins. But censorship is a double-edged sword that now isolates Beijing’s political elite and hampers the upward flow of timely and accurate information from the ground.
This information demise – censorship and undermining of the truth – is costing China dearly.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Shanghai, the jewel in China’s economic crown.
Eventually, the Shanghai government returned to the Wuhan gambling book and closed the metropolis with 25 million people. Zero-Covid literally involves locking some people inside their homes, mass testing, sending the infected to quarantine centers, and limiting most of the social interaction in an attempt to stop the spread of the community.
“This pandemic has become a political issue that uses so much manpower, resources and money, just to solve this flu-like disease. What other country do you think is doing this kind of epidemic prevention now?” asked the official of the recording.
The answer is no. Few countries, even the most autocratic, have the surveillance network and social control mechanisms to impose something like zero-Covid.
The state throws itself into any attempt at political organization that may challenge its grip on information and power. Officials could not stop people shouting from rooftops and posting smartphone videos, but the protests were not amplified by the mainstream media, which is kept tightly in check.
The flow of information in China is essentially top-down. Accurate grassroots reports, especially those that put the regime in a bad light, rarely penetrate politicians.
President Xi Jinping is now so identified with zero-Covid that it would be a huge political downturn to change course as he positions himself for an almost unprecedented third term at the 20th Party Congress this fall.
It has contained the spread of the disease and so far has projected a picture of government competence.
But as the shutdown in Shanghai has shown, it has all cost the economy and the individual welfare and freedom of ordinary Chinese citizens.
Some of them may be happy with the trade-off. But even in China’s censored information landscape, it seems that an increasing number of people are not.