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China, Communism, Pandemics: Statism, Secrecy, and Negligence on Trial

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

As the world struggles to avert economic and human catastrophe due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more world leaders and average citizens are beginning to seriously question China's lackluster initial response late last year and how it contributed to the escalating crisis. The mounting questions and criticisms range from the failures of Communism to harms and compensatory justice.

Many have questioned the role biological labs in Wuhan Province played in the emergence of the Coronavirus. This is reasonable because these labs are part of the Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Center for Disease Control. Hence, the speculation centers around the belief that either the Coronavirus accidentally leaked from one of the labs or it was intentionally released.

My purpose is not to prove which theory about the origin of this lethal pathogen now known as COVID-19 is true. Rather, my interest is to defend the claim that China's apparent secrecy and negligence set in motion global loss, suffering, and financial ruin such that the Chinese government (Chinese Communist Party or CCP) is collectively responsible for catastrophic harms and thus has a prima facie moral and fiscal duty to compensate the victims of a pandemic that they caused and accelerated through inaction, ineptness, dishonesty, and deception.

One of the better articles chronicling the COVID-19 crisis and the Communist Party of China's failure appeared in the Washington Post on February 1, 2020. In the article, Early missteps and state secrecy in China probably allowed the coronavirus to spread farther and faster, Gerry Shih, Emily Ruahala, and Lena H. Sun provide a thorough and compelling account of moral, political, and leadership failures that ushered in our current global crisis. The authors give descriptive accounts that highlight government failure at all levels and public mistrust and misunderstanding that combined to place the nexus of moral accountability squarely on the backs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The following quote captures the crux of the problem in China and the CCP specifically:

Medical professionals who tried to sound an alarm were seized by police. Key state media omitted mention of the outbreak for weeks. Cadres focused on maintaining stability — and praising party leader Xi Jinping — as the crisis worsened.

“China’s public health system has modernized, but China’s political system hasn’t,” said Jude Blanchette, head of China studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “If anything, there’s been a regression.”

The authors continue with their investigation and report the following that occurred sometime after December 31, 2019 thus proving that the government's illicit cover-up was official, extensive, and authoritatively enforced:

While scientists and public health experts scrambled to collect more information, China’s security services tried to smother it.

On Jan. 1, the Wuhan Public Security Bureau summoned eight people for posting and spreading “rumors” about Wuhan hospitals receiving SARS-like cases — detentions that were reported on “Xinwen Lianbo,” a newscast watched by tens of millions.

The police followed up in the state-run Xinhua News Agency with a chilling warning. “The police call on all netizens to not fabricate rumors, not spread rumors, not believe rumors,” the Wuhan authorities said, adding that they encouraged Web users to “jointly build a harmonious, clear and bright cyberspace.”

From the account above, the secrecy and deception is undeniable. Simply put, the actions of the Chinese Communist Party are hostile to and incompatible with the standards, policies, expectations, and conventional practices enumerated by the United Nations, World Health Organization, and all other international regulatory agencies that exist to preserve and protect peace and safety globally. The CCP's intent early on was to suppress public inquiry and the dissemination of information but in doing so created unsafe conditions that allowed viral spread to occur.

The highly acclaimed ethicist and philosopher Sissela Bok, the daughter of two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, is a notable scholar who is well written on matters pertaining to lies, deception, and secrets. In her book Lying: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation, Bok's chapter on Secrets of State makes the following argument and goes to the heart of the actions of China's rogue regime.

For coercive governments, secrecy is essential to every aspect of their exercise of power. These regimes combine control over secrecy with equal control over what becomes public. But secrecy also becomes the central means of resistance and survival of those who oppose such regimes, whether actively or merely in thought. From childhood on, these citizens surreptitiously learn how to reinterpret propaganda, read between the lines, resist indoctrination, evade the secret police.

When a government develops secret police powers or control over censorship, the risks are even greater. Secrecy can then become an end in itself, creating subtle changes in those who exercise it, in how they see themselves, and in their willingness to manipulate and coerce in order to uphold the secrecy and thus shield themselves. To the extent that they have used the cover of secrecy to commit crimes, they reach out for even greater protection.

Her assault on State secrecy, the kind that is hostile to freedom and human flourishing and creates oppressive and inhumane conditions, can and should be used by world leaders to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable because the CCP's secrecy unleashed not only global crisis, but most egregiously it directly caused the deaths of thousands of innocent victims, sickened hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, and economically devastated virtually every country worldwide. No, the CCP cannot and should not be exempt from accountability and investigation. I am convinced that if there is a modern-day case that defines compensatory justice for harms against humanity, the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the Chinese Communist Party satisfies every conceivable requirement, legally, morally, and politically. By the time I publish this post, the COVID-19 pandemic will have totaled 2,000,728 cases globally, 126,776 deaths worldwide, and 26,064 deaths in the United States alone! Fiscally, the UN’s trade and development agency, UNCTAD, projects that the economic loss will exceed $1 trillion dollars!

Before closing, I'll highlight an exceptional commentary by James Kraska at Kraska is a credible authority on international law. He serves as chair and Charles H. Stockton professor of international maritime law in the Stockton Center for International Law at the U.S. Naval War College. His commentary, CHINA IS LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR COVID-19 DAMAGE AND CLAIMS COULD BE IN THE TRILLIONS, is incisive, well researched, and expertly resourced. The quote below is one of his main points and must be taken seriously if accountability is to be properly pursued by world leaders:

While China’s intentional conduct is wrongful, is it unlawful? If so, do other states have a legal remedy? Under Article 1 of the International Law Commission’s 2001 Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, states are responsible for their internationally wrongful acts. This commission’s restatement of the law of state responsibility was developed with the input of states to reflect a fundamental principle of international customary law, which binds all nations. “Wrongful acts” are those that are “attributable to the state” and that “constitute a breach of an international obligation” (Article 2). Conduct is attributable to the state when it is an act of state through the executive, legislative, or judicial functions of the central government (Article 4). While China’s failures began at the local level, they quickly spread throughout China’s government, all the way up to Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He is now being pilloried by Chinese netizens for his failures of action and inaction. The most prominent critic, Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, lambasted Xi for his mishandling of the coronavirus, calling him a “power hungry clown.” Ren soon disappeared.

Responsibility flows from local Wuhan authorities to Xi himself, which are all organs of the state of China, and whose conduct is therefore attributable to China. An “organ of the state” includes any person or entities that are acting in accordance with national law.

I am an instant fan of Kraska as I find his argument plausible, sustainable, and essential for a proper treatment of the CCP's failures. Kraska provides the pathway for accountability, UN Sanctions, and just compensation to countries that China harmed and is now obligated to heal for compensatory damages suffered. To ignore or reject the merits of this argument results in complicity and the abdication of one's duty to pursue justice. This is a moral imperative that applies to world leaders, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations. In the face of all the existing evidence pointing to systemic failure, to absolve China would be one of history's most severe and appalling injustices ever witnessed; denial, uncertainty, and passivity are unthinkable options that must be avoided and rejected outright. Moral courage must dominate all discourse in order for the world to experience true justice and meaningful resolution. The world wants, expects, and deserves China to fulfill its moral duty to undo the damage and destruction perpetrated on humanity. This is our moral expectation.

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