For a regime as paranoid about not repeating the mistakes of the Soviet Union, the CCP came shockingly close earlier this year. The parallels to Chernobyl (1986) are unmissable. In both scenarios:
- local officials belatedly alerted the central government for fear of retaliation
- authorities lied and covered up numbers of people affected
- the central government punished scientists that issued warnings
The initial cover-up of the outbreak undoubtedly exacerbated the spread of the pandemic. With the epicentre of the virus having continuously shifted westwards, Xi may have found time to catch a breath. Yet the CCP’s early mishandling of the crisis laid open once again a fatal weakness of ‚Totalitarianism with Chinese characteristics‘.
The increasing Xi-sation of the CCP is increasingly built on the pillars of opacity and lies. Flexible and decentralised decision-making processes – once the secret ingredient of China’s rise – have become largely absent. An empire as big as the Middle Kingdom demands flexibility, debates (‚loyal dissent‘) and decentralised agency. However, Xi’s demands for loyalty have perturbed the complex balance.
As Niall Ferguson argued: „The history of civilisations is arrhythmic“. The current tranquility in the Forbidden City shouldn’t delude us. The fates of the Roman Empire, the Ancien Régime, and the USSR have accentuated that the history of civilisations is capable of violent accelerations.
With the dilemma of Hong-Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang & Tibet – not to speak of the many problems revolving around the shadow-banking system or the OBOR initiative – all being far from resolved, more problems requiring flexibility and constructive debates loom on the horizon.