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The Pitfalls of the “Ming Dynasty” for Mr. Xi – The Storm Caused by the Collapse of Zero COVID-19

習近平氏に明王朝の落とし穴 ゼロコロナ破綻が招く嵐

秋田浩之 wrote . . . . . . . . .

China’s “Zero COVID” Policy is continuing. A lockdown was taken place in Shanghai, and houses, shops and subway stations were closed in various districts in Beijing. The Chinese government has also decided to strictly limit unnecessary and unurgent departures. The city blockade in Shanghai is set to be lifted in June, but there are no signs that the policy will stop.

There is growing voice among US and European hygienists that China’s approach could lead to a major outbreak of infection, rather than contain the new coronavirus.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros said on May 10th that China’s Zero-COVID policy is unsustainable. Control infection while coexisting with COVID to some extent like major countries is a better choice.

Of course, the Zero-COVID policy has its own merit. Compared to the United States, where the death toll has exceeded one million, the number of infected people and deaths in China is much smaller. It is worthy of praise for preventing the fragile medical system from collapsing and saving people’s lives.

However, since the highly infectious Omicron type appeared in the fall of 2021, it has become extremely difficult to contain the virus by force… Sticking to the Zero-COVID policy can have dire consequences.

Enemy threatening the Communist Party system

With very few infected people in the population, the proportion of people without immunity is also high. A British infectious disease expert said, China is virtually 19 years old, with no one infected with COVID. Extremely vulnerable to new variants. China should adopt transition to “live with COVID” while using US and European vaccines that are effective against mutants.

However, Xi Jinping, instead of revising the Zero-COVID policy, is willing to continue.

On May 5, just before being criticized by the WHO, Mr. Xi said at the Party Political Bureau Standing Committee, “I have doubt and deny Japan’s epidemic prevention policy. As the consensus of the leadership, we also confirmed this. We have succeeded in a defense battle in Wuhan. We can definitely win in the bigger Shanghai.”

Xi’s sticking to Zero COVID isn’t just because of epidemics.The virus is an enemy that threatens the Communist Party system and believes that this “war” must be won.

Two years after the COVID spread from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China suppressed the infection by blocking the city. He argued that the Communist Party rule was superior to the democratic system, with the US and Europe struggling to respond. If I gave up on the containment of COVID now, I would have lost the political war with the West.

When Mr. Xi digs deeper into the true intention of sticking to the Zero COVID policy, he comes to a special view of history.

Learning from “Zero Pest”

Xi may refer to the Ming dynasty as a model for state governance. It is a dynasty established by the Han Chinese and lasted for about 300 years from 1368. Actually, just before the launch, Black death (plague) is rampant and was in the midst of causing great disaster in China.

Takashi Okamoto, Professor of Kyoto Prefectural University, who studies Chinese history, “Zero pest was a policy of the Ming Dynasty at that time. Building on that success, the Ming dynasty builds a huge controlled empire.” Okamoto analyzes that this historical fact also influences Xi’s style of governance.

“Ming dynasty deal with recession and infectious diseases at the time of inauguration using policies such as restricting movement and trade. Even if the infection subsided and the world economy started to move again, the Ming dynasty continued to have strong central control and adopted a policy close to isolation. Mr. Xi may be learning from that line.”

However, if the Zero-COVID policy is continued as it is, not only will the risk of an outbreak increase, but the stability of governance may be impaired. In late May, students at a university in Beijing were angry at strict behavioral restrictions and had a series of protests. The impact on the economy was also great. Production, retail and employment deteriorated across the board in April.

Policy mistakes fear swelling

In a democratic nation, people’s will works, and mistakes in the policies of the leadership are corrected by the change of government. However, the Communist Party cannot easily change the policy of its leaders. The aides who want to be praised by the top will inflate policy mistakes. This is another fear.

Chinese expert Shin Kawashima, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said, “Mr. Xi ruled out living with COVID and said Zero COVID, but in reality he didn’t even say that he should eradicate it to zero. Aides, government and party leaders are competing to eliminate them in various places. The policy decided by the top cannot be flexibly revised, which amplifies the contradiction. This is the disadvantages of a Communist Party system.”

If the Ming dynasty is the model, Mr. Xi should learn from that failure. Extremely strict central control helped to strengthen the emperor’s power, but of course it also produced a reaction. The opposition and dissatisfaction of the private sector, whose freedom was restricted, increased, and it became a magma that broke the foundation of the dynasty.

Professor Okamoto says, “The power line that Mr. Xi has continued for 10 years may increase the risk of causing similar confusion.” Even if the Xi administration wins the virus by the Zero-COVID policy, if excessive tightening ignites people’s anger and shakes the stability of society, it will be useless. The end of the Ming dynasty implies such a danger.


Source : Nihon Keizai Shimbun


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