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Wuhan Epidemic Highlights Deficiency of China’s Political System

A World Journal editorial commented on the problem of China’s political system as reflected in the Wuhan epidemic.

“First, there is a huge problem in the top-down system: On the evening of the 20th, Xi Jinping delivered a speech on CCTV regarding the new coronavirus, requiring local governments to do a good job of prevention and control to maintain stability. After his speech, great changes took place in the entire Chinese officialdom. Wuhan and other parts of the country immediately released the information on new infections, and the figures kept jumping every day. It was in sharp contrast with the downplay and cover-up of the epidemic that was in place before Xi’s speech.”

“Xi Jinping spoke because the truth could no longer be covered up. Why was there such a huge change before and after the speech? It is because the central government exercises strict control and implements a top-down system. Any major event must be reported level by level. Lower-level officials have no decision-making power and must report to higher authorities in order to obtain approval. Wuhan’s municipal health bureau has no right to declare the epidemic situation and must report to the provincial government; the governor and the Party chief of the province then report to the central authorities and finally the report reaches Xi Jinping’s confidants. Xi’s confidants have to be well prepared before deciding how to inform Xi. Usually the lower-level officials choose to report what their superior like to hear. Such a top-down system and lengthy reporting process is the reason why Xi was briefed a month after the outbreak of the virus. This shows how the delays in the decision-making process have caused the epidemic to spread rapidly.”

“Second, the politicization of health care is an issue. In a free and equal society, physicians and nurses each have their own specialties and make their own judgments about conditions. However, under the Chinese Communist system, professional judgments on medical care must give way to politics. Officials should first consider whether the news will cause social unrest. Then they have to consider whether the news will cause their superiors to be dissatisfied. That would affect their careers. When the medical process is politicized, the facts of the situation are not the basis for decision making. Hence all decisions will go bad. This is the reason why the Wuhan municipal government downplayed and covered up the epidemic before Xi Jinping’s speech.”

Source: World Journal, January 26, 2020