It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, far from showing humility for opening Pandora’s box and allowing COVID to escape, Xi has seen the past few months as an opportunity to underline China’s ambitions for its immediate region. Increased flights and sailings around Taiwan by People’s Liberation Army forces, collisions in the South and East China Seas with Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Japanese boats, and now PLA incursions well inside Indian territory may be designed to send the message that not even a virus can halt China’s irresistible forces — and untouchable: so far, not a single PLA soldier has fallen casualty to the virus, despite thousands having been sent to help out in Wuhan, a claim which it is tempting to compare to the boast of the Boxer rebels 120 years ago that their rituals made them impervious to imperialist bullets.
The message for liberal democracies is clear — it was before, but few seem to have read what Xi said in his first speech to the Politburo about ensuring the ‘dominant position’ of Chinese socialism over western capitalism. We need a new China policy, one which recognizes the CCP regime for what it is rather than what we wish it to be. If it is not too late, it might even be one which helps Hong Kong.