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  • Eleanor McCoy

The Coronavirus Epidemic shows the cracks in China

Updated: Feb 27

The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is the newest epidemic to hit the 21st century world. Originating in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 has infected over 75,000 people internationally, and killed approximately 2,628 over the span of approximately two months. In 20% of patients, the virus destroys their lung cells from the inside out.


In response to this epidemic, Xi Jinping (President of the People's Republic of China and general secretary of the Communist Party of China) issued the largest quarantine in human history, shutting down 15 cities and locking down 46 million people. Travel restrictions have been issued across China and the world as a whole.


China’s rapid response to COVID-19 is in part due to its governmental structure. President Jinping assumed office in 2012 and abolished term limits in 2018, cementing his role as President of China without any way to remove him from office.


Xi Jinping has had an iron grip over China since 2012. Multiple scandals haunt his presidency, from the Hong Kong protests in 2018 to jailing two Communist Party officials convicted of corruption in April 2019. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, an impending trade war with the United States had undercut Xi Jinping’s autocratic grasp over China.


COVID-19 has demonstrated that Jinping’s iron grasp over China is continuing to falter. Jinping has been subject to international outcry after expelling three Washington Post journalists from China. The journalists were planning to publish an opinion piece titled “The real sick man of Asia”, and their press credentials were revoked after Jinping’s government accused the journalists of “derogatory slander”.


International outcry over the expulsion of three journalists parallels Jinping’s failure to reign in the scandals that swirl around his rule. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus shows that even though China can build a hospital in ten days, health workers are getting infected at an alarming rate. Changes to who qualifies as being infected with COVID-19 reflect growing public skepticism over the effectiveness of Jinping’s government to control the virus.


Growing skepticism of Jinping’s ability to lead is not limited to international circles. The surveillance state, where free speech and media within China is curtailed, has only accelerated the epidemic. A young doctor, who warned colleagues of a mysterious new illness (now known to be COVID-19), was silenced by police, due to fears of “mass hysteria” if news of the disease spread.


Social activists and journalists within China who have criticized Jinping’s government are placed under house arrest, censored, and some have outright disappeared. Their crime? “Disturbing the social order”, according to one journalist who was apprehended. No action was taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the earliest days of the epidemic, all to preserve “social order”, i.e an autocracy.


Jinping censorship of information allowed COVID-19 to spread, and the continued censorship of Chinese and international journalists only exacerbates what is already obvious: China’s surveillance state is costing the nation thousands of lives. Restricting crucial information for the prevention of an epidemic, just to preserve Jinpings’s image of a perfect China, is one of the causes of the spread of COVID-19.


COVID-19 has shown that Jinping’s iron grasp over China is only growing weaker as time goes on. The virtual autocracy, disguised as a republic, immensely leapt backward in its foreign policy goals. Silencing domestic journalists, kicking out foreign journalists, and being unable to cure health workers heightens the COVID-19 epidemic.


Jinping may remain in power through the end of this epidemic, he may not. But this epidemic has made one fact clear. If the discovery of the virus had not been hidden, if journalists and activists had not been silenced, the spread of the epidemic could have been contained more efficiently. Jinping's government has made the massive spread of COVID-19 possible.



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