|As President Xi Jinping was chosen the leader of China, he quickly established himself in power and then moved into the category of “emperor for life” to become the new Chairman Mao. Becoming general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission consolidated his position of total control. However, his invincibility has been challenged by the Coronavirus. The author was on the nearby periphery of the virus from January 14 to February 7. That period of time was chosen to visit Hanoi, Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City. The focal point was the lunar new year on January 25. During the week preceding the Vietnam lunar new year of Tet, most every government official is in place to receive guests. The following week in Japan is a major sumo tournament which provides a logic for Japanese business associates to be in Tokyo at that time. Most importantly, the lunar new year period is the most popular time for the most populated country in the world to travel abroad.
The Coronavirus was dismissed by the totalitarian China regime and not designated as a global health emergency at a January 23 meeting by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, on January 28, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, who had previously praised the Chinese government for their handling of the potential pandemic, reversed his position and declared a global health emergency. Considerable speculation exists that perhaps China has Tedros pretty much under their control. Even his meeting with Xi on January 28 gave the appearance of uncertainty on the part of Tedros as to whether he should prostate himself or bow to the emperor. Looks like he settled for a curtsey handshake.
Had the emergency been declared early, it would have made a significant difference in the number of infected Chinese leaving for their popular trips abroad to their favored destinations of Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Nikkei Asian Review has been a major source of information on this new viral version of SARS which also originated in China. However, every day in Bangkok, one is confronted by the front page of The Bangkok Post which carries the daily Coronavirus statistics as shown below reflecting those as of February 6. The status as of this writing is in excess of 75,500 reported cases and greater than 2,500 deaths representing a dramatic increase in just over two weeks. As some 11 million Chinese tourists come to Thailand annually and tourism represents some 17% of GDP of Thailand, the economic impact of Chinese staying home as well as other nationalities will be very significant.
One interesting observation is that the ratio of fatalities to reported cases suggests that medical care in China is not able to cope with the disease. The first Coronavirus concern was raised by Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, who warned on December 30 that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was thought to be a source of the new illness. Li was contacted and admonished by local authorities for raising false alarms. He died on February 7 from pneumonia caused by the virus.
The food market in Wuhan, shown below, are places where wild animals such as bats and pangolin are slaughtered in close proximity to domesticated seafood and animals. One theory is that as Wuhan has a government center to develop biological warfare weapons, the Coronavirus was tested in bats at the government laboratory and somehow the infected animals made their way to the market. It is also understood that the SARS epidemic in 2003 originated in a different location though it had a similar biological warfare laboratory. Could it be the emperor shot himself in the foot?
Hospital space is inadequate to accommodate the demand with many infected cases refused admission and confined to their homes where they infect their family members. The Government is building a new facility in Wuhan and sports arenas have been set up to provide space for patients, though most westerners would not be familiar with bunk beds in an infectious disease ward.
There has been an ongoing debate regarding the effectiveness of masks to prevent the infection from spreading. Most knowledgeable medical practitioners indicate that they inhibit the spread of the infection from those already infected though the porosity of the masks is too great to prevent inhalation of the virus. Nonetheless, the mask business has gone off the charts resulting in shortages which are exacerbated by shortages of workers and material in China. Similarly, they are worn throughout Japan and Southeast Asia by most people, including flight attendants, with some airlines cancelling food and beverage service. It is sad not to be able to have a glass of wine as you fly in a world succumbing to a pandemic mentality. Moreover, to encounter hordes of Chinese wearing masks in airports is unnerving.
Another interesting bit of the emperor’s control is the monitoring and control of those Chinese outside of the country. There were a number of Wuhan guests at the hotel where we stay in Bangkok that had been in Bangkok long past the infection period though they were summoned back to Wuhan by the Chinese government via WeeChat application on their phones. They all left and cancellations to a vast number of Thailand hotels soared as a direct indicator of the impact on tourism.
Although the fatality statistics continue to grow, they pale in comparison to those of a typical flu season. However, the impact on the world economy will last a long time into the future. Not only does China represent 17% of the world economy, the current ghost town of Wuhan is home to 11 million people which is a major supplier of component products to the economies around the world. Therefore, the economic impact extends far beyond that of China to the commerce of the world. World oil prices took an immediate dive due to implied reduced oil demand by China. By the way, the U.S. is the world’s largest oil producer. Oddly, coffee prices have slumped as China is a major coffee purchaser. The impact of China on the global economy comparing the time of the SARS outbreak in 2003 to that in 2018 is shown below.
Initially, Xi Jinping was advised to maintain a low profile throughout the course of what was originally believed to be a containable event. However, Coronavirus has gone viral in the worldwide media causing him to look totally ineffectual. Therefore, he has been stepping out in Beijing wearing his mask though no one believes he will be seen in Wuhan in the near future. In fact, it is most likely he would not be well received there.
Without doubt, the effective dictatorship of Xi Jinping has been severely crippled. Therefore, we could imagine he is looking over his shoulder at the others around him he has snubbed and stepped on. In the beginning, he began a massive anti-corruption campaign as a means to imprison his adversaries. As most of them were corrupt, it was a pretty straightforward process.
However, at this point in time, it is becoming evident that the “emperor has no clothes.” We will see whether his “Belt and Road Initiative” to develop infrastructure in some seventy countries to provide China logistical control of raw material distribution will help him keep his non-existing pants up. Fortunately, in some countries, effective dictatorships can be overcome through the democratic electoral process. However, in China that is not the case though, hopefully, the Communist Party will choose someone who poses a life with less evil. On the other hand, the emperor does head the Military Command.