China’s celebrated billionaire property-developer Ren Chiqiang did not hold back in his response to the teleconferenced speech by President-for-life Xi Jinping on February 23 about the status of COVID-19: “I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes’ but a clown prince who stripped naked and insisted on being emperor.” The late Dr Li Wenliang was arrested in Wuhan in December last year after alerting people on his microblog to the danger of the novel coronavirus. Dr Li’s crime, according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), was spreading rumours to fellow medical practitioners. In reality, of course, Li was being truthful, not only about a new viral respiratory illness, but also the People’s Republic of China: “I think a healthy society should not just have one voice.”
This essay appears in Quadrant‘s just-released May issue.
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How we respond to the pandemic of 2020 will tell us a lot about our long-held biases. The subject of our fury turns out to be, more often than not, what we already believed is wrong with the world. Gail Collins, an opinion columnist for the New York Times, decided on February 26 that her readers should call COVID-19 “the Trump virus”. A more helpful suggestion, perhaps, might be to rename Collins’s four-year-long malady Trump Derangement Virus (TDV). Elizabeth Lopatto, also suffering from TDV, had this to say in the Verge on March 12: “The best thing he can do for the country, to speed its response to the novel coronavirus, is to resign and let someone capable take over.” Peter Wehner, a day later in the Atlantic, announced the potential good news about the COVID-19 that those who have contracted TDV are so desperate to hear: “The Trump Presidency is over.”
For the rest of us, though, potential good news would be more along the lines of a medical cure. Various solutions have already been mooted, although the general availability of a single-purpose vaccine might be as much as eighteen months away. At his March 19 White House briefing, President Trump touted a promising, if not scientifically verified, medicine usually used in the treatment of malaria and severe cases of arthritis: “Now, a drug called … chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. Now, this is a common malaria drug … it’s been around for a long time, so we know that … if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.” Scientists and scientific journals were quick to note that hydroxychloroquine has not been subjected to “thorough rigorous clinical trials” with regards to COVID-19, even if anecdotal evidence points to its effectiveness as a cure and, conceivably, a preventive measure. Trump, pointedly, made his comment in the context of his support for the Right to Try Act, passed into law in May 2018. This law empowers patients in desperate straits and “unable to participate in a clinical trial” the right to “access certain unapproved treatments”. The widespread distribution of hydroxychloroquine, if properly monitored, is actually “beyond”—Trump’s word—the Right to Try Act, because chloroquine has been available for almost eighty years. There is the added factor that the supervised distribution of hydroxychloroquine, or a comparable undocumented treatment for COVID-19 such as HIV medication Kaletra, could in itself serve as a clinical trial.
Any rational person who has not contracted Trump Derangement Virus but is sensibly fearful of contracting COVID-19, especially if their work brings them inescapably into daily contact with the general public (as mine does), took some solace from President Trump’s remark—as we washed our hands for the hundredth time that day and wondered once again if our fate would be to end our days on a respirator (or not as the case may be), our every breath like inhaling a lungful of broken glass. The odds of survival are good for those who do not smoke and do not have a compromised immune system, but we do not need NBC’s reporter Peter Alexander, asking at the March 20 White House briefing if President Trump’s remarks about the potential benefits of hydroxychloroquine were giving a fearful world “false hope” and stopping them from getting on with COVID-19 prevention. Trump’s sharp response drew the usual virulent anti-Trump propaganda from a mainstream media and social media that has been virulently anti-Trump since he became the Republicans’ leading presidential candidate in the second half of 2015.
If you are a political pundit, paid or amateur, and every one of your predictions has turned out to be wrong, starting with Election Day 2016, why do you assume that you are right that the pandemic of 2020 spells the end of the Trump presidency and the triumph of your shrill partisanship? After all, history tells us that a national emergency is more likely to bolster the approval of a national leader than undermine it, notwithstanding the almost intolerable levels of stress that he or she must endure in order to experience that honour.
The hard reality is that Collins, Lopatto, Wehner and Alexander and their kind are no more likely to be right about Virusgate than they were about Russiagate. To put it another way, the idea that Donald Trump is an agent of the Kremlin seems no less irrational than that he is a boon (deliberately or otherwise) to COVID-19. Trump might be overstating the matter when he claims that he imposed travel restrictions on China back in January 31 against the advice of all the experts and all Democrats, and yet it remains an incontrovertible fact that he pulled the right lever at the right moment. Meanwhile, it is an irrefutable fact that many experts, including the World Health Organisation, did not agree with Trump’s decision and that many Democrats, including, crucially, Joe Biden, were hostile to it. During a campaign rally at the time, Joe Biden had this to say: “In moments like this, this is where the credibility of a president is most needed, as he explains what we should and should not do. This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia, and fear mongering.”
It is only fair to acknowledge that my own reaction to the pandemic of 2020 reveals a lot about personal long-held biases. It has been my bias, since witnessing the 1979 Democracy Wall Movement, that not only the people of China but the people of the entire world would be better off if they “quarantined” themselves from the Chinese Communist Party. I have variously argued that we stop kowtowing to Beijing and stage an Aussiexit. Before the advent of COVID-19, I maintained—in “China and its Australian Apologists” (Quadrant, October 2019)—that apologists like former PM Kevin Rudd and Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence do Australia a tremendous disservice when they intimate that criticising Beijing might raise the spectre of racism: “Again, are not the Hong Kongers Chinese? Are not many of the pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne expatriates of Chinese descent? Rudd, like so many Western Sinologists, has fallen into the trap of conflating China with the CCP.” The same sleight of hand is at work now. How much was the delay around the world (including the regions of China itself) imposing travel restrictions by up to a month—up to a month!—until late January/early February 2020 due to the machinations of Xi Jinping’s Communist Politburo? And still Beijing and the politically correct brigade in the mainstream media cry “Racist!” every time President Trump refers to the “Wuhan virus”.
My wish – which might turn out to be as unlikely as the Russiagate and Virusgate fantasies of the mainstream media—is that one day the city of Wuhan will be associated with not only COVID-19 but also with the end of the communist dynasty in China. Emperor Xi, not unexpectedly, has done his very best to deflect all the blame rightly coming his way. Xi’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, recently suggested on Twitter that the US military introduced the COVID-19 to Wuhan, miraculously transmuting the Chinese virus into the American virus: “When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! The US owes us an explanation!” PRC propaganda outlets and overseas diplomats appear to be engaged in a concerted effort to persuade the world that COVID-19, unlike the virtual entirety of America’s pharmaceutical supplies, was not necessarily made in China. Conspiracy theories must always have a victim, and the intended victim of this Beijing malevolency happens to be the biggest victim of Beijing’s imperialist-Leninism. So-called “liberals” or the PC brigade in the West remain entirely clueless. By reconfiguring COVID-19 as “the Trump virus”, Gail Collins has—objectively speaking, as Orwell would say—done some useful heavy-lifting for the Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.
Professor Anne-Marie Brady, in New Zealand, is a brilliant and brave Sinologist who has put herself at great risk critiquing Xi Jinping and Co in series of books as well as on her informative Twitter account: “Brady’s employer, Canterbury University, recently hired a security consultant to protect her office. New locks were fitted, CCTV introduced, and encryption software installed.” We might contrast her trajectory—that is, becoming a target for intimidation by Beijing—with that of Kevin Rudd, currently at Harvard University writing a biography of Xi Jinping, which will no doubt “get the balance right”.
Brady is warning the world that China’s Communist Politburo is going for broke in the blame game and has commenced a campaign of frenzied disinformation: “The Xi government is following a very aggressive foreign policy now, engaging in what Mao Zedong called ‘the tongue war’, the propaganda war.” China’s state television is accusing the United States of a myriad of intrigues and treacheries, including leaving the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention in 2001 so it could, presumably, create COVID-19. No doubt there is enough anti-America animus in the world for Beijing, at the very least, to obfuscate the truth.
The Communist Politburo has entered into a throwdown war with Donald Trump, mockingly referring to him as “Captain America”. Why was Captain America so slow in addressing the perils of COVID-19? Because you arrested Dr Li Wenliang and others like him in December 2019 for attempting to reveal its pandemic character, we might answer. Because you pressured the WHO into postponing its announcement about the true nature of the novel coronavirus until January 24, we might add. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the talking points of Xi Jinping and someone like Hillary Clinton in “the tongue war”. China’s diplomats are now praising her for scolding President Trump’s use of the term “Wuhan virus” to describe the Wuhan virus. As an aside: the “19” designation in COVID-19 stands for 2019. Leaving aside Beijing’s tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory about the origins of the new strain of virus, “19” can only mean one thing—Wuhan, December 2019.
A video collage of Trump-hating celebrities singing John Lennon’s 1971 pop hit “Imagine”—“Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do”—was sprung on me by a young workmate. I thought, at first, this assortment of mawkish luminaries had all contracted COVID-19 and were, à la Rita Wilson’s playlist, entertaining us from their respective quarantine stations. I pitied them for maintaining their utopianism in the current circumstances but allowed for the fact that imminent respiratory malfunction, at least for some of them, was in the offing. You can imagine—no pun intended—my astonishment when the young colleague corrected me. These feted celebrities, it turned out, were not unwell, at least not in the physical sense, but simply imploring the rest of us, existing outside in virus-land, to remain committed to their PC principles of globalism—or what Beijing calls “the World of Great Harmony”. But it is hard to un-imagine the People’s Republic of China and its deleterious effect on our world. The CCP subjugates mainland China in the fashion of an underworld mob. Its military wing, the PLA, triumphed in a civil war way back in 1949. Since then the Communist Politburo has never allowed the people of China to have a say in government. American celebrities can fantasise all they like about the wonders of internationalism, but the reality is that a felonious cult—eschewing health and safety concerns at every turn, deceiving and compromising the WHO and every other international body it interacts with, silencing all domestic criticism, constructing a despotic surveillance state, operating a “one voice” media service and so on—rules over China. The CCP, as a consequence, is a danger to everyone, not excluding the captive (and indoctrinated) people of China or mawkish American stars singing an off-key version of “Imagine”.
Take, for instance, the allegation that the novel coronavirus has its genesis in the National Biosafety Laboratory in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Steven W. Mosher, author of Bully of Asia: Why China’s “Dream” is the New Threat to World Order (2017), has been a ferocious critic of the CCP ever since he became the first American sociologist to study China’s One Child Policy. The (then) pro-choice atheist was horrified by the barbarity of what he witnessed during that brief time of openness in the PRC, between the demise of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the crushing of the Democracy Wall Movement at the end of October 1979, while Deng Xiaoping’s faction in the party consolidated power. Mosher’s subsequent report brought the ire of an emboldened Communist Politburo down upon him. Stanford University dismissed him from its postgraduate program, thereby sending out an unmissable message to present and future Western Sinologists and educational institutions. Mosher, then, is no friend of Communist China, but he is well informed and his article, “Don’t Buy China’s Story: The Coronavirus May Have Leaked from a Lab”, published towards the end of February, makes a number of salient points. Inevitably, the politically correct commentariat have attacked Mosher for slandering the Chinese people when, in fact, it is they who are conflating Chinese people with the totalitarians who (mis)rule Communist China. This irrefutable point remains: the machinations of the Communist Politburo are so opaque that only an apologist or fool (if they are not the same thing) would trust President-for-Life Xi’s word on the National Biosafety Laboratory in Wuhan.
The extreme contagiousness of COVID-19 means that it will spread throughout the entirety of the world. Those countries that are less able to provide medical assistance, in the form of respirators and anti-viral relief, will be hit the worst. Many of the young might only experience mild systems, but people with compromised immunity systems or are elderly are a different story. This is a made-in-China humanitarian disaster and still we—and by “we” I mean the people of the world, not excluding the people of China—cannot be guaranteed that anything that comes out of the mouth of Xi Jinping is the truth, including his claim that the worst is over in Wuhan and elsewhere in the PRC. It offers some consolation that Australia is supposedly ranked fourth in the world for pandemic preparation, with the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands filling out the top three spots. But what about all the others? Is it possible that the PRC’s Communist Politburo will face up to its recklessness and irresponsibility, or will it double down and earn the title of the rogue regime of all time?
Chris Whiton, writing for the National Interest on March 8, reported that a commentary in Xinhua, a principal propaganda outlet for the Communist Politburo, threatened to restrict the export of pharmaceuticals to United States, after which it would be “plunged into the mighty sea of coronavirus”. Whiton noted that it would actually be in Beijing’s power to withhold from Americans everything from Vitamin C to aspirin on account of the disappearance of a domestic pharmaceutical industry “because of predatory pricing by Chinese firms”. It might be impossible to reason with a full-blown anti-Trump fanatic, but maybe a fair-minded person, irked by the personality of Donald Trump but not driven to derangement, could acknowledge that Candidate Trump’s America First economic nationalism, his scepticism about Beijing’s intentions, was stunningly prescient, and even more so with the advent of COVID-19. Economic patriotism is not about white supremacy but American self-determination. Similarly, each country in the world, including Australia, must be allowed to take proprietorship of its borders, and produce locally a range of critical products, from pharmaceuticals to respirators. The Trump administration has co-ordinated with General Motors to manufacture respirators. Australia, unfortunately, can no longer call on the expertise of a domestic automobile manufacturing sector. Relatively inexpensive cars, televisions, computers, whitegoods, clothes, shoes, toys, stationery ad infinitum serve the interests of Australian consumers, but do they serve the interests of Australia?
Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 might be instructive. Zachary Evans, writing for the National Review, contends that President Tsai Ing-wen moved faster than even President Trump on imposing restrictions on travel from the PRC, which lies on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. Beijing forbids Taiwan from membership of the World Health Organisation but, given the possibility that WHO authorities were slow to confirm the human-to-human contagion aspect of the novel coronavirus, this might have been to Taiwan’s advantage. While the Taiwanese profit from their economic relationship with Big Brother, they remain self-reliant in every way that counts. As more than 95 per cent of the population is of Han Chinese descent, they are immune from accusations of anti-Chinese bigotry. Moreover, the PRC’s long-standing threat (over seventy years now) to wipe out their country means that the soothing assurances of the Communist Politburo—about “the World of Great Harmony”, the non-communicable nature of a certain virus, and so forth—are not taken on face value.
Australia could do worse than adopt the wary outlook inherent in Taiwan First. We might, also like the Taiwanese, resist the urge to hoard and start practising some genuine social distancing.
Daryl McCann, a regular contributor to Quadrant, has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au, and tweets at @dosakamccann. He contributed “Suicide of the West Postponed” to the April issue