China's Totalitarian State Kicked Into Overdrive To Fight Coronavirus – So Why Didn't It Work?

Chris York

Entire cities on lockdown. Armies of engineers mobilised to build entire hospitals in just days. The Kafkaesque tracking and surveillance of those who might be infected.

Faced with a crisis like coronavirus Covid-19, there are tools available to a totalitarian state like China that simply wouldn’t be options somewhere like the UK.

Yet there have now been more than 70,000 confirmed infections on the mainland, and all but five of the 1,775 deaths globally have occurred in China.

So why haven’t the country’s extreme measures worked?

Sarah Cook, senior research analyst for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House, told HuffPost UK: “If you look around the world, China is the only country so far where this has really gotten out of control.

“Granted, other countries had more notice so they were able to start containing the virus from a smaller scale, but that is exactly the problem.”

“The political system in China is actually making it harder to deal with this crisis in a way that reduces public panic.”

What is China’s political system?

China’s political system is vast and complex. In essence, though, it is a one-party communist state.

That party is the Communist Party of China, which exerts full control over the country and exercises power through a network of regional and local party offices as well as the state-run media.

Local officials are elected by the public but the people really in charge – President Xi Jinping and the Politburo (the Chinese equivalent of the cabinet in the UK government) – are not democratically elected.

There is an unwritten social contract between the Chinese public and its government that the state will provide security and economic prosperity and in return the people will let those in power remain in power.

How does it react to crises?

In a one-party state, the reputation of that one party comes first. 

The communist government’s rigid structure has long favoured officials that toe the party line and suppress...

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