[Washington Examiner] 'This is unprecedented': Xi Jinping shifts blame as Beijing boasts of coronavirus crackdown
MUNICH - Chinese authorities are scrambling to protect the reputation of the Communist government as the coronavirus outbreak threatens to embarrass Beijing amid a deepening "systems conflict" with the United States.
"Nothing short of the most comprehensive, rigorous, and thorough measures have been taken," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Munich Security Conference on Sunday. "China's speed, scale, and efficiency all reflect the advantage of China's system."
That effort to salvage a public relations victory from the coronavirus was typical of Wang's defense of the Communist model of government, as he touted their speedy hospital construction and vast effort to quarantine and monitor the cities most afflicted by the virus before rebuking Western officials for their "subconscious" sense of superiority. His confident tone was belied hours later by the rare publication of a Feb. 3 speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was quoted faulting local Communist officials for failing to handle the crisis quickly enough.
"I issued demands during a Politburo Standing Committee meeting on January 7 for work to contain the outbreak," Xi is quoted as reminding his Chinese Communist Party lieutenants. "[We must] inform the people of what the party and government is doing and what is our next step forward to strengthen the public's confidence."
Chinese officials have quarantined tens of millions of people, abruptly applying "wartime conditions" on the areas most severely affected by the outbreak. Xi's speech was published after an outburst of criticism from doctors and political dissidents in mainland China, who argue that the severity of the outbreak stems from the decision by Communist officials to punish the doctors who first warned about the outbreak.
"This is unprecedented," Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post. "It sounds like he is defending and explaining how he has done everything in his capacity to lead epidemic prevention."
Xi has tried to maintain political discipline since the coronavirus outbreak took on emergency proportions, but his remarks acknowledge implicitly that the crisis has turned into a domestic and international public relations problem.
"We have to liaise and communicate with other countries and regions to share information about the outbreak and containment strategies to win international understanding and support," he said. "[We must] inform the people of what the party and government is doing and what is our next step forward to strengthen the public's confidence."
That mandate adds context to Wang's ebullient tone earlier Saturday morning. The top Chinese envoy denounced American criticisms of Beijing and predicted that any economic and social "difficulties will be temporary and short-lived" due to the government's countermeasures.
"The Chinese economy is well-positioned to overcome all risks and challenges," he told the conference. "We are confident that China will emerge stronger from the epidemic as pent-up consumer demand and growth potential will be quickly unleashed."
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