Srikanth Kondapalli

After nearly three years of the world’s strictest Covid restrictions, snap lockdowns, border controls, repeated PCR tests at ones own cost, and strict quarantine procedures, China abruptly announced on December 7 the lifting of all restrictions in the pandemic-hit country. It is typically Mao style ‘leadership’, by China’s ‘new Mao’, Xi Jinping – swinging a country of 1.4 billion suffering Chinese from one extreme to the other – from ‘Zero Covid’ to ‘zero control’, marked by an ‘if you protest against my policies, go fend for yourself’ message from the Great Leader.

If that were not enough, China’s National Health Commission has now even stopped providing reliable data on the nationwide spread of infections and death toll even as reports from other sources suggest that millions are infected, and thousands are dying every day. In the past nearly three years, China has claimed that its death toll is only about 6,000 and there were only 1.6 million infections in the world’s most populous country.

This, at a time when the US reported more than a million dead and India, half that number. On December 24, China’s NHC reported about 4,000 infections — and no deaths! — across the country, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Simulation studies conducted by Airfinity estimate, given the low immunity levels in the Chinese population, that between 167 million to 279 million infections could erupt across the nation over the next few months, which could lead to between 1.3 million and 2.1 million deaths, mostly of the elderly.

The ‘you are on your own now’ policy came following nationwide protests in late November against Xi’s oppressive ‘Zero Covid’ policies, which led not to the containment of the pandemic, as the Chinese government had claimed all along, but to widespread police brutality in enforcing restrictions, a rapacious pharmaceutical lobby that was raking in the moolah, costly but ineffective home-based Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, a false sense of “vaccine nationalism”, and increasing unemployment.

In June 2020, China’s ‘white paper’ on its Covid policies had boasted of its “open, transparent and effective” policies. This year, it was still showcasing how it was building hospitals rapidly, transferring medical professionals to infected areas, vaccinating most of its people, its quarantine procedures, and how it was helping the Chinese people. As late as October, the 20th Communist Party Congress, where Xi secured a third term for himself, reiterated his ‘Dynamic Zero Covid’ policies.

China’s sharp U-turn reflects its authoritarian nature, which in the past claimed millions of lives during the Great Leap Forward and other political pogroms. The cynical political leadership hardly had a Plan B to put in place, no checks, and balances, nor did it consider any alternative proposals.

Mao once famously remarked that if there was a nuclear war with the US, 300 million Chinese would die, but the other 300 million would pounce on the adversary! The attitude of Xi’s China remains the same.

It was China’s lax approach in the months from October 2019 to January 2020 that caused the pandemic across the globe, with over 5 million Chinese fanning out domestically and overseas in the months prior to the Wuhan lockdown.

This resulted in international demands for China to take responsibility, compensate victims globally, and apologize to the world. A similar specter is rising with hundreds of millions of infections in China itself now. Several countries have begun curbing travel flows to and from China.

China would do better to jettison its ‘vaccine nationalism’, pursue transparent policies, shut down any destructive genetic modification programmes,

align with global research and policies on healthcare, import life-saving drugs, increase hospital beds and health professionals, and most importantly, give accurate data on the numbers infected and dying to its own people and to the world.

Given the change in weather, the spread of flu this season, and the expected travel of hundreds of millions of Chinese for the Spring Festival,

the sharp shift in policy without any preparation is likely to worsen an already horrible situation.

Instead of seeking to distract domestic and international attention from the ongoing catastrophe by militarily threatening Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India, Xi must focus on helping his own people.

India needs to constantly review the China situation. While strengthening our own border controls, New Delhi should also extend medical support to the people of China in their hour of grave need, something its own government is unable or unwilling to do.

The article was originally published by Deccan Herald as Xi’s Revenge on January 1, 2023.

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Editor and Authors

  • IMPRI

    IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

  • Srikanth Kondapalli

    Dean, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

  • Samriddhi