The words of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersons are disingenuous to say the least, and one often gets the distinct impression that they are trying to lead their listeners down the garden path.
US Ambassador to China Richard Burns recently said that China’s “dynamic zero” policy toward containing COVID-19 had stifled foreign investment.
In response, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said that the policy was created and implemented to prioritize the lives and physical health of China’s 1.4 billion population, and that it was “an expression of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) and the Chinese government’s principle of putting the people first, putting lives first.”
These pompous words are not convincing to anyone.
When cities were either wholly or partly locked down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Shanghai in April and May, officials and healthcare workers, out of excessive pandemic prevention regulations, stood aside and watched as people with acute or chronic conditions deteriorated, or even died, because they could not access necessary early treatment.
As far as these officials and jobsworths are concerned, keeping the pandemic under control is the be-all and end-all of “putting the people and people’s lives first,” while treating any other diseases does not rise to this measure.
So long as the population did not perish as a result of the pandemic, the officials were not overly concerned, and did not really care whether anyone succumbed to other diseases or to starvation from not being able to afford food.
Is this what they call “putting the people first, putting lives first”?
Wang also said that China has gone through four stages of pandemic prevention, from emergency containment of outbreaks, track and trace, precision control and whole-of-society pandemic response, and is now in the scientific precision and dynamic-zero stage.
However, the so-called whole-of-society pandemic response, including citywide static management, comprehensive personnel polymerase chain reaction testing, and forced entry and sterilization of properties, are essentially tormenting the people, and there is nothing scientific nor precise about it.
The concept of dynamic zero would be better described as “dysfunctional zero,” as people throughout China are being subject to disruptive conditions as officials implement this pandemic control policy.
The presence of SARS-CoV-2 has not been reduced to any form of zero, and in fact it is the people’s trust in the local government that has deteriorated to vanishing point, whatever farcical notion the Shanghai City Government would have people believe.
It is amazing that the ministry spokesman could keep a straight face as he reported that in the first half of this year, the figures for China’s year-on-year growth rate for imports and exports was 8.3 percent, and that year-on-year foreign investment had increased 17.3 percent.
The truth is that the Shanghai lockdown from late March through early May had a deleterious effect on foreign investment intentions.
It would have made more sense for Wang to have provided separate foreign trade, import-export and foreign investment figures for April and May, but he chose to provide figures for the entire first half of the year.
Even the figures for January through May are suspect.
Foreign media have called into question the veracity of China’s official import and export figures, and even China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Web site has criticized local governments for cooking up the figures of businesses attracted to their regions.
Using statistics to obscure the truth is a consistent ploy of Chinese communist officials, and Wang is certainly no exception.
Then there was the time he said: “The excellent pandemic control is the foundation of economic and social development, and the optimum environment in which to conduct business.”
I would like to ask the spokesman: What is this “excellent” pandemic control of which you speak?
In China’s largest metropolis, Shanghai, this year’s lockdown and the subsequent period, this “excellent” pandemic control response forced foreigners to leave China in droves, and expatriates returned home no longer wanting to return to Shanghai. Even locals have decided to jump ship and have moved elsewhere in China. In some cases they have gone overseas.
The Shanghai lockdown has been devastating to small and medium-sized enterprises, and those that have weathered the storm have nevertheless sustained heavy losses.
For Wang to have the nerve to say that this is “the optimum environment in which to conduct business” truly defies belief, and shows him to be utterly incapable of knowing shame.
Wang would also have us believe that he is confident that Beijing’s policy will keep the pandemic at bay, stabilize the economy and provide for safe and secure development.
Because they are obligated to adhere to the “dynamic zero” policy, local officials throughout China are protecting their own jobs, and in the process of implementing the policy, it is almost impossible for them to avoid resorting to extreme measures.
This is especially true when the central government makes minor tweaks to the policy in response to serious dissatisfaction by the public. As it refuses to change course altogether, as time goes on the situation goes from bad to worse.
China has tried to control the pandemic through a “zero COVID” policy of excessive measures for a long time now. While this approach might keep the pandemic under control, Beijing must manipulate figures if it is going to maintain a fiction of economic stability.
As far as “safe and secure development” is concerned, we have already come to the point where “development” has had to take second place to “safe and secure,” but here “safe and secure” refers not to the well-being of the people so much as the job security of officials.
Chinese foreign ministry spokespersons play an important role in the “diplomatic war” between the US and China, as well as between Taiwan and China, so it is of paramount importance to call them out when they utter such lies. This should be a major part of the response to China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
Lin Rongjie holds a doctorate in history.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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