lørdag 1. februar 2020

How Much Could a New Virus Damage Beijing’s Legitimacy?

A month into the coronavirus epidemic that has swept across China, the details of the Chinese government’s political and administrative response remain highly ambiguous. Reports of information suppression and general mismanagement by the Wuhan city authorities have swirled around the Chinese Internet for well over a week by this point, but relatively few concrete facts can be confirmed. What has been unmistakable, however, is the volume and intensity of social anxiety, much of which has been channeled into open skepticism of governmental activity.

Even a cursory glance at Weibo will reveal an enormous amount of criticism, both veiled and direct, at the official response. Compared to other political challenges that have drawn large amounts of international criticism over the past two years, ranging from the 2018 Constitutional Amendments to the Xinjiang and Hong Kong crises, the current situation constitutes a much more serious threat to the Party-state’s domestic legitimacy. Whereas the domestic response during those other episodes was often muted due to a combination of censorship and apathy, or genuinely pro-government sentiment, the coronavirus epidemic has clearly struck much closer to the public’s bottom line, leading to widespread displays of anger and frustration that one rarely sees these days in the tightly censored world of Chinese Internet expression.