From the deplorable treatment of African citizens in southern China to the export of faulty medical equipment, or the official endorsement of conspiracy theories blaming the US military for the outbreak, most of the Communist party’s efforts to control the international narrative have backfired.
Some assume the west’s chaotic and early response allows China to step into the global governance vacuum. Even allowing for questionable data, China has so far reported under 5,000 deaths, versus almost 30,000 in the US and nearly 20,000 each in Italy and Spain. But Beijing’s attempts to take advantage of the situation are more likely to leave it isolated and distrusted on the world stage when the crisis recedes.
Wang Jisi, a legendary scholar at Peking University, says the virus fallout has pushed Sino-US relations to their worst level since formal ties were established in the 1970s. He describes bilateral economic and technological decoupling as “already irreversible”.
The shift has been striking in the UK too, where influential Conservatives have called on the prime minister to be tougher on China, the British press has become more critical, and intelligence agencies have promised to focus on the threat from Beijing.