Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and China’s Communist Party Central Committee forced 170,000 Party officials and military leaders on Sunday to watch Xi deliver a speech via teleconference on the chaos nationwide caused by the ongoing outbreak of Wuhan coronavirus.
The virus – officially given the cumbersome name “COVID-19” to attempt to disassociate it with its country of origin – has infected nearly 80,000 people as of Monday and killed over 2,600, most of them in China. Wuhan, the city where the virus first began to spread in December, is currently on lockdown, forbidding people to leave the house outside of government-controlled trips to buy food and other basic supplies. Every province of China has documented cases of the virus and a study released last week indicated that Beijing was wrong to conclude that the virus originated in a wild meat market in the city.
“This is a crisis for us and it is also a major test,” Xi reportedly told the viewers, which included county Communist Party officials from the entire nation and senior military leaders. Xi urged them to learn from the “obvious shortcomings exposed” by the virus the South China Morning Post noted him saying, and then offered vague, simple commands such as telling the Party to “resolutely curb the spread of epidemic” and “increase the rate of treatment and cure” in Wuhan.
Outside of Wuhan and its Hubei province, Xi insisted on placing major emphasis on containing the virus in Beijing, where he lives. The Morning Post noted that he and the senior leaders of the Communist Politburo were the only ones in the broadcast not wearing sanitary masks.
The newspaper did not list any shortcomings that Xi may have specifically identified. Among the failures of the Chinese government since the outbreak began were not telling hospital staff in Wuhan to quarantine patients because the virus is contagious, arresting doctors who warned other health professionals that they had reason to believe the virus was dangerous, and pouring more resources into silencing criticism of the government over the response online than into actually combatting the outbreak.
Radio Free Asia (RFA), which uses dissident reports on the ground, reported last week that the situation in Wuhan has worsened in part because of the number of healthcare workers who are fighting the virus themselves after testing positive for it. At least three of Wuhan’s high-profile doctors have died in the ensuing outbreak. The highest-ranking doctor, Liu Zhiming, was the director of the city’s central hospital. Li Wenliang, the first doctor identified to have died of coronavirus, was arrested and humiliated by Wuhan police after posting a warning to a closed doctors’ group on WeChat that he believed the virus was contagious. Chinese propaganda attempted to portray him as a Party hero, but his death triggered significant outrage nationwide against the government. The third doctor, Peng Yinhua, appeared in Party propaganda because he had delayed his wedding to stay in Wuhan and help treat patients. Peng was 29 years old.
RFA cited several anonymous sources in Wuhan who said they had seen other hospital directors and doctors struggling to work while sick with coronavirus. It added that the outbreak appears to be worsening because health workers simply do not have the equipment necessary to protect themselves.
RFA has also called into question on several occasions the official government death count, noting that sources in Wuhan have evidence of constant cremations at city crematoria. The Epoch Times similarly reported this month that Wuhan is cremating hundreds of coronavirus victims a day, an unsustainable rate if the official death toll is accurate.
At press time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed 79,407 cases of coronavirus and 2,622 deaths, the overwhelming majority in China. The virus has spread to nearly every continent; South Korea and Iran are believed to have some of the highest numbers of patients.
Instead of mentioning these concerns, Xi praised the communist system, claiming the out-of-control circumstances in China are somehow proof of the supremacy of communism as a political system.
“The effectiveness of the prevention and control work has once again demonstrated the significant advantages of the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics,” he reportedly said, also predicting that China’s economy would thrive despite the virus rendering most manufacturing impossible.
The Global Times, a Chinese government propaganda outlet, called the “meeting” – which did not require Xi to actually meet most of the attendees – “unprecedented,” “historic,” and “remarkable.” It applauded Xi, citing Chinese “experts,” for organizing the meeting, without addressing the actual outbreak response.
“President Xi understands very well the frontline situation, which is also impressive,” an unnamed “Party secretary” reportedly told the Global Times after listening to Xi’s speech. Similarly, the government-controlled Xinhua news agency claimed that the speech elicited praise from “scholars and observers around the world.”
While Chinese media repeatedly referred to the event as a “meeting,” there is no evidence anyone but Xi spoke at it, suggesting it was more of an address to a closed number of people.