Only 37 days after municipal authorities downgraded Beijing’s public health emergency response to level three, a new cluster of coronavirus cases forced China’s capital to switch back to level two on 16 June.
One of the many side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has resulted in a world where racial tensions and xenophobia have been reinforced. In the past few months, we have witnessed xenophobic attacks on people of Asian descent in Europe and America, and mistreatments of Africans in Guangzhou, China.
The Covid-19 pandemic overturned the world as we knew it as much as governments resorted to extraordinary measures to stop infections and disease spreading. China was the first country to rely on such extraordinary measures, implementing strict lockdowns and employing sophisticated control technologies throughout the country.
As the editor-in-chief of China’s state-controlled tabloid “The Global Times” took to an op-ed to criticise Wuhan’s local party officials and central health authorities, international observers began to wonder whether they were confronting sophisticated propaganda aimed at laying responsibility away from the Politburo or whether the government was letting controversial material slip to blow off (some) discontent in a controlled fashion.
As the Covid-19 pandemic strikes hard, protests in Hong Kong appear to have abated. Distant seem the days when yellow umbrellas and balaclavas saturated global media. And yet, just like at the start of what has now come to be known as the 2019 “global protest wave”, Hong Kong remains at the frontline of political contestation worldwide.
There will be two reasons why the convening of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC) will be unique this year. The first is that it will be the first time this meeting has been delayed from its March slot since the 1980s, when it started to be held with something like regularity as part of the Deng era institution building reforms. The second is that it will be the first that might turn out to be genuinely revealing and information. The cause for both of these happens to be the same: COVID-19.
George Orwell’s predictions in 1984 came several decades too early, but they hit the mark. In a heartbeat, Orwell’s dystopic digital authoritarianism might have translated into reality, to the point that nowadays we no longer cast a curious look at the tracking apps on our phones or the video surveillance cameras in shops or buses. This is particularly true for China, where social surveillance has deeper philosophical roots than in Western societies.
Popular mobilisation is one of the key recurring elements that have characterised Chinese politics since Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and has entered Beijing’s political grammar as a well-established practice. It has featured prominently even after the reform era initiated by Deng Xiaoping, for instance after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
During the last four decades, China experienced impressive economic growth, becoming one of the leading powers of the global economy. After a century of humiliation imposed by Western and Japanese colonial powers, today the country is demonstrating a strong desire to achieve its national rejuvenation (guojia fuxing).
When thinking about the most controversial external actor in the Western Balkans from Brussels’ perspective, one tends to look east. Russia has long been labelled the most influential (and problematic) external actor in the region.
The coronavirus outbreak has inflicted damage on China’s international prestige, prompting it to engage in a global public diplomacy campaign aimed at repairing its image and improving its soft power credentials.
Although the Chinese authorities have so far not explicitly said that the donation of masks and other protective equipment to developing countries is part of a formal, coherent strategy, the Chinese government has put significant effort into activating its diplomatic machinery, seemingly taking a leading role in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Africa.