After the first confirmed case of 2019 novel coronavirus was reported in Tibet, the virus has spread to the entirety of China. This is far more ferocious than the SARS epidemic.
Before Wuhan was locked down, 5 million people had traveled from the Chinese city to other parts of the world. No one knows how many potential time bombs are hidden among those people.
Despite leading 19 task forces, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has left the hard work of annihilating the virus to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強). This is clearly a political power struggle over who should be the scapegoat.
Locking down cities and tens of millions of residents is clearly a desperate move aimed at cutting losses, leaving people in the locked-down cities to fend for themselves.
It has been three weeks since the lockdown of Wuhan, yet the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force (PAP) are still sitting on their hands. The PLA and PAP are Xi’s most valuable assets, and Xi must be remain in firm control of both.
The PLA and the PAP are the two pillars of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime and China’s most effective forces, while Li’s anti-epidemic team only includes Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi (趙克志), but no members of the Chinese Central Military Commission. This means Xi wants to reserve his strength and will not rashly invest his bottom-line resources.
Past dynastic transitions usually occurred together with natural and human-caused disasters, most commonly civil unrest and pestilence. The last Ming Dynasty emperor, Chongzhen, blamed civil and military officials for misleading him, as weak morale, combined with a plague among his troops, allowed Nurhaci — considered the founder of the Qing Dynasty — and his 200,000 mounted soldiers to defeat the 1 million-strong Ming force.
In the 14th century, one-third of Europe’s population died after the Crusaders brought the plague home with them.
Xi might have been called a “country bumpkin,” but surely he must know all this.
The PLA has only allocated small logistics resources to take over medical institution management and field troops have not been involved in city lockdowns, to their detriment.
Apart from advocating patriotism, the CCP propaganda department has ignored the opposition and hostility caused by villages sealing off roads to protect themselves. This is reminiscent of what happened in connection to the Mutual Protection of Southeast China during the late Qing Dynasty, when some local governments refused to carry out the imperial decree.
As of yesterday, the CCP had confirmed 42,638 cases of coronavirus infections and 1,016 deaths — about one-10th of expert estimates — mostly in Wuhan. If the epidemic spreads to first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the casualties and economic losses would become unbearable, and it is only a matter of time before the PLA is deployed.
However, fighting a war and combating a spreading virus are two different things. In war, the targets are visible and it is clear who the enemy is. On the other hand, a virus is invisible and indiscriminate. An army is normally an isolated group of people who eat, sleep, survive and die together. Once it joins the front-line fight against the virus, it will become its main target.
The army is unlikely to be deployed in the fight against the virus in the short term, but if the outbreak spreads and endangers the CCP regime, PLA deployment will be inevitable. History shows that once the virus captures the army, it might be the death knell for Xi’s regime.
Chen An is a senior media worker.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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