The world must not mimic China's authoritarian model to fight COVID-19

Once Xi woke up to the coronavirus threat, he declared war not so much on the virus as on the Chinese people themselves, using high-tech surveillance and social control to monitor every move, every action. As leaders in other countries pleaded with their people to stay at home and self-quarantine, his Communist authorities moved with lighting speed to lock down 60 million Chinese in the Hubei province—most of who had no idea that an epidemic was brewing, thanks to aggressive censorship. They also mobilized the country’s omnipresent army of monitors to keep tabs on every move of every Hubei resident without any regard for individual privacy or human rights.

They required popular apps like AliPay and WeChat, China’s Venmos, to install software to track users’ movements. China Telecom color-coded phones in traffic-light red, green, and yellow, based on their risk of carrying the virus. This let guards at train station checkpoints know who to let through and who to stop.

Pharmacies were told to take the temperature of anyone who bought cold medicine and notify authorities of the results. Every apartment building and every residential complex implemented something called “closed management.” Using private cars was banned, and residents were barred from leaving the complex without permission, which was given for only a few hours a day to one family member to purchase essentials. Meanwhile, 300,000 “grid workers”—paid employees of the Communist Party and volunteers—patrolled the streets and guarded complexes. Those who didn’t cooperate were promptly reported to the local police.