Date: 17 March 2020 Author: Paweł Paszak
China, the coronavirus and “the twilight of the West”
Since the beginning of March 2020, the pace of the increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19 in China has slowed down, inducing the authorities in Beijing to announce the victory in the “civil war” with the virus. The trip of Xi Jinping to Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, was a symbol of the new beginning. Gaining control over the coronavirus spread in China launched an intensive propaganda campaign aiming to clear the Party’s image of the guilt for the pandemic and to stress the effectiveness of its leadership.
The stop of the coronavirus spread in China released large resources of goods and created a diplomatic tool used in the states which are still struggling with the pandemic. On the one hand, medical supplies given/sold to Italy, the United States, Iran and other states are supposed to improve the relations with these states, but on the other, they constitute an important element of the establishment of the domestic endorsement. As the situation improved, PRC started creating a message about the leading role of Xi Jinping and the Party in the effective reduction of the biggest threat to public health since the times of SARS. Such narration stresses the superiority of the Chinese model of emergency management based on far-reaching social control and central leadership of CPC. From this perspective, western countries with their liberal democracy mechanisms are not able to take measures as effective as authoritarian China. The victory of China in the struggle with the coronavirus is to prove the superiority of the path chosen by the Middle Kingdom and the progressive erosion of the model adopted by the West. This message places emphasis on the weakness of the democratic states’ institutions and the lack of driving force of organisations such as the European Union. The campaign conducted in accordance with these theses is to convince the Chinese society that despite mistakes made at the turn of December and January, “socialism with the Chinese character” is the optimal model of the state administration.
The rhetorical layer is enhanced by dramatic relations from the western states and information about medical equipment sent abroad. On March 16, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba company, donated 1 million face masks and 500 thousand coronavirus tests to the United States. The Chinese government also agreed to make contracts with the Italian authorities for the supply of 10 thousand pulmonary ventilators, 2 million face masks and 20 thousand protective suits. The supply of 20 million three-layer face masks, 3 million N95 masks, 10 thousand thermometers and 2 million medical aprons reached Iran as well.
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Material aid is supposed to prove the change of roles which happened in recent decades. China is no longer the receiver of development aid and a state whose success depends on favour or disfavour of western companies. In the moment of crisis, China, being one of the biggest producers of medical equipment may be in a privileged position as one of the global leaders. From the perspective of the Middle Kingdom’s identity, for whom “the century of humiliation”, domination of the West and competition with the USA constitute important reference points, recent events are of great importance. Problems of the European states with preventing the spread of the epidemic may contribute to the improvement of the Party’s image which, at first, suffered from the delayed response to the first cases of the disease and attempts to hide them. In spite of initial forecasts, the success achieved by the Chinese society and problems of the West may contribute to the legitimisation of CPC. The crisis which, according to many beliefs, was supposed to destabilise the power of CPC may, in fact, lead to its stabilisation and create an opportunity for Xi Jinping’s environment to its centralisation.
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