[January 26, 2020] The new Coronavirus began to spread faster than determined Chinese censorship could hide it. A theme promoted on this leadership blog is that when senior leaders fail, people suffer the consequences. Another theme is that socialism and communism are ideologies that restrict the free flow of people, information, and ideas. This new virus began in China, and as predicted, the communist government first attempted to hide it.
I’m taking a couple of days to break from my political profile mini-series. This past week I posted profiles of those running for U.S. President. We’ve not heard from any of the presidential candidates about the epidemic in China, a disease that would have been contained if not for the restrictions the communist government initially imposed. Leadership means forthrightly addressing significant, complex problems. Those who fail to do so are examples who lack the character to be an effective leader. It is now clear that certain Chinese officials were negligent.
At the center of the epidemic is the Chinese city of Wuhan (approximately 11 million population).1 In a show of real leadership, several countries are working to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan and surrounding affected areas.2 The problem, however, is that the Chinese government has put infected areas under lockdown. This effort to quarantine the population is too late to contain it fully. Much of the world has discovered more cases, alongside China are the U.S., Japan, South Korea, the UK, and others.
The reason Chinese authorities initially hid knowledge of the virus is unknown. What we do know is that China and other nations with authoritarian governments commonly restrict information to the public. These restrictions are for several reasons. First, any major problem reflects poorly upon the government and its purpose. Second, authoritarian ideologies revolve around the idea that an individual’s best interests are indistinguishable from society’s best interests. Third, the notion of individual freedom is incompatible with these ideologies.
Modern-day China, more than almost any other country, severely restricts its citizens’ freedom of speech and expression. China has a tightly controlled news media and requires published information to be from official government sources and to be vetted through the state. These controls, in part, explain why information about the new deadly Coronavirus was slow getting out.
Authoritarian governments also tend to be slow acting. Some have argued that the reason is political corruption. We will see more about this problem over the next few weeks as the virus continues to spread.
- As a side note, Wuhan has a population about the size of London, England. Yet I have been unable to find any American who ever heard of it, much less able to locate it on a map. This is a level of our education system that we know so little about the largest nation on Earth.