Xi’s dream of world order has been ruined by the COVID disaster

This is scientific misconduct and the Chinese authorities know it. A high-profile US study from Johns Hopkins University found that the risk of serious illness or death from omicron in those who were either unvaccinated or never exposed to the disease was “similar to that of the ancestral lines” (except Delta).

These include the original Wuhan strain, but also the Kent variant, which killed large numbers in Britain’s second wave early in the vaccine’s rollout.

A new preprint from the Berghofer Institute in Queensland states that the BA.5 subline of Omicron targets the brain and in mice “demonstrates increased neurovirulence compared to previous subvariants of Omicron”. It has not yet been reproduced in human studies.

At this moment, tearing down the borders and hurling planeloads of infected travelers out into the world comes close to a hostile act, given the known risk of new variants emerging. Tests showed that 62 of the 120 passengers on a flight from Beijing to Milan on December 26 tested positive.

The UK government is taking a huge risk by allowing flights from China at a time when the National Health Service is already stretched and the virus season is at its peak. This is reminiscent of the first deadly weeks of complacency after the Wuhan outbreak in early 2020.

The amazing thing about China’s Big Bang reopening is the near-total lack of preparation. The regime has gone overnight from confining people to their apartment blocks to stamp out a single case in the city, to the opposite absurdity of forcing infected workers to return to the factory floor for the greater cause of GDP.

Little was done in advance to close the vaccination gaps. By mid-December, nearly a quarter of those over 80 had never received a vaccine. A third of those over 60 had the original two doses of patriotic vaccines but no booster shot. None have received Western vaccines with better potency and cellular memory, even as part of a mix-and-match.

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“If China had said that zero-Covid is just a temporary measure to buy time until people get vaccinated and communicated policy accordingly, they would be in a far better position now,” said Prof Ben Cowling of from the University of Hong Kong in an analysis for The Lancet.

But the Xi government did not do this. Instead, it claimed to have defeated the virus by tracking every infection with omnipotent surveillance. It led people to think vaccination was not necessary. China has just 3.6 intensive care beds per 100,000 people, compared to 34 in America or 29 in Germany. The ratio of nurses is a quarter of the western level. The regime has spent heavily on testing, isolation camps and quarantine facilities – which are largely useless at this point – and neglected the hospitals.

Global opinion has stopped believing in the fairy tale of China’s perma growth.

Fifteen years ago, I took part in a panel discussion in Davos with a leading Chinese demographer who predicted that his country’s aging crisis would be so overwhelming that the elderly would be sent on ice to die — figuratively speaking, mass euthanasia.

Let’s hope we don’t see this Darwinian culling in action. Airfinity consultants concluded last month that 1.3 million to 2.1 million could die, but that was based on a maximum infection of 279 million. Feng Zijian, former deputy director of the China Center for Disease Control, reckons the infections are closer to surpassing 800 million, or 60 percent of the population.

Whatever the bleak record, the coming weeks will change the world’s view of Xi’s China, and it coincides with a shift in economic perception: global opinion has stopped believing the fairy tale of China’s perennial growth. The onlookers of the international system – what we used to call non-aligned countries – no longer see it as inevitable that China will oust the US as the economic and regulatory hegemon by mid-century. The Saudis may be increasing their geopolitical bets on China, but others are quietly hedging.

The economic rot started before Xi. The party leadership misinterpreted the Lehman crisis of 2008 as a fundamental crisis of American laissez-faire capitalism and a vindication of state-run Leninist capitalism. But it was China that suffered the deeper damage. The effect was that reformers casually warned that China would fall into the middle-income trap if it clung too long to an exhausted catch-up model.

China's economy was already ailing before the latest wave of infections.

China’s economy was already ailing before the latest wave of infections.Credit:AP

Xi has finished work and more or less guaranteed the collapse of China’s growth rate by subjecting the productive part of the economy to the same sledgehammer methods used against COVID.

His attack on tech companies and private companies – installing party commissars at all levels of management – systematically undermines the market dynamics promoted by Deng Xiaoping 40 years ago. But that is the logic of a totalitarian party that lives mainly for its own survival. It cannot abandon the state-owned industrial giants that serve as the patronage machine for cadres and levers of political control; Nor can it allow commercial fiefdoms like Jack Mas Alibaba to become rival centers of power.

It was a bad year for China and the alliance of autocracies. Iran is past the pre-insurgency point. Russia has been exposed as a second-rate military power with a dysfunctional political culture. The West has demonstrated the vast reach of its economic, financial and naval power – almost irresistible when the entire G7 acts in unison – and has demonstrated the superiority of its military technology and signals intelligence. Disagree if you dare.

Was Francis Fukuyama so wrong after all in The End of History? Liberal democracy may not be the final state of human political progress, but it may have more staying power than the dictatorships of this century.

https://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/xi-s-dream-of-world-order-ruined-by-covid-disaster-20221230-p5c9gf.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_business Xi’s dream of world order has been ruined by the COVID disaster

Brian Lowry

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