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Does the Coronavirus Threaten Mr. President?

Does the Coronavirus Threaten Mr. President?

Monday, 10 February, 2020 - 11:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

At night, he wanders alone in his spacious office. The stab did not come from his party comrades, as no one dares to. None of the generals, whom the president awarded medals, rebelled. They knew the price.


Bad luck is the worst enemy… It is when a blow strikes you where you wouldn’t expect it… and when your opponent is an unknown demon.


There is no point in mobilizing the party or army against it.


Everything was stable. The “Chinese Dream” was advancing according to plan and with the accuracy of a Swiss watch. It had survived the latest tests. It did not allow Hong Kong’s turmoil to draw it into an angry decision. The big boxer loses if tested in small rings.


He passed another test. He realized that Donald Trump was a tough player. It is difficult to speculate about his upcoming move in bilateral relations. He chose to avoid a trade war, taking into consideration the possibility of Trump staying for a second term. It doesn’t matter what happens along the road. What’s important is what happens at the end of it.


Everything was stable. The Chinese prepared themselves to live long under his shadow. In 2018, texts, which did not allow the president to stay for more than two consecutive terms, were abolished. This means that both Trump and Vladimir Putin will leave before him.


The party always supported and honored him. His thought became enshrined in the party’s constitution. This privilege was not bestowed to Mao Zedong’s heirs. Even Deng Xiaoping was only honored after his death.


He had an exceptional image abroad. The most prominent periodicals that admired the strength of Putin in recent years, put the Chinese leader in the top position of “the most powerful man in the world.” Power and responsibility were evident in his words in and outside the Davos forum, especially when the Communist leader defended globalization and the free flow of goods in the face of advocates of protectionism and the construction of walls.


At the same time, the Belt and Road Initiative continued its breakthroughs, awakening memories of the Silk Road, but this time on board the Huawei and Alibaba train and crowned with commercial and technological successes.


He walks alone in his office. He informed his people and the world that his country was capable of confronting this unprecedented crisis. He mobilized everything, from the military to the medical personnel, laboratories and scholars. But what would happen if the epidemic broke out, for example, in the city of Shanghai, which has a population of 25 million? What will it mean for its residents and the world? The ability to build a huge hospital in ten days is not enough.


Reports flowing into his office distressed him: Wuhan with its empty streets and panicked residents locked in their homes. An increasing daily death toll and news of the spread of the coronavirus in 30 countries. Many countries evacuated their nationals and called on their citizens not to visit China. Millions of people were photographed wearing masks. On its latest cover, Time magazine portrayed the president with a mask on his face. There are more painful scenes. Passengers moving away from Chinese people boarding the train. Chinese restaurants void of any customers.


Another issue concerns Xi. The question that has been repeated in some western circles is whether countries erred when they practically agreed that China would turn into the “factory of the world”, and that any closure of its factories would lead to a shortage of basic commodities needed by others.


Another question is, was Europe wrong to hand over to China the role of the “world’s pharmacy”, as it produces drugs or materials necessary to manufacture medicines that the world uses on a daily and frequent basis?


It is not just about electronics, cars and fabrics. It is a long list of goods. Any setback of the Chinese situation would affect its production and delivery operations.


He was annoyed by angry comments that emerged on social media after the death of ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, who was the first to warn of the spread of the virus. The doctor lost his life due to the virus, turning him into a hero.


In a climate of general panic, people with malicious intentions can always find an opportunity to transform a virus like corona into a political virus that raises the question of the eligibility and efficiency of the system and its concern for people’s health.


Expressions of anger at the internal level are not a source of concern for him. Social media, like all citizens, is subject to strict control. The anger of the people can also be absorbed by sacrificing a number of officials and holding them responsible for wasting three weeks during which the virus could have been contained before it became worse..


The most difficult test is abroad. The coronavirus has severely damaged the image of the Chinese system. Due to a health problem, the system was placed in the morgue in more than one capital. The most dangerous of these questions is whether the world had the right to be dependent on the “Chinese factory”. Will some countries realize the need for diversification rather than relying on almost one hub, especially if it is governed by a propaganda machine capable of silencing facts and figures to protect its image?


The Chinese dragon was dealt a powerful and costly blow. Bad luck is the worst of enemies. Until now, the losses cannot be counted. The harm to the president’s image cannot be predicted. In his office, Xi recalls well what US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during the crisis. The latter described the Chinese Communist Party as the greatest threat to the world, because, under Xi’s leadership, it was trying to impose values that contradict Western democracy.


There are three men in the “Mighty Club”. The first overcame impeachment threats and went on to demand a second term backed by economic figures. The second is managing the most difficult coexistence between armies and wars on Syrian soil. The third, “the most powerful man in the world”, is busy trying to prevent the coronavirus from turning into a political virus that would eat away at the reputation of the world’s second biggest economy.


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