Transparency Matters Less To Beijing Than Control

BEIJING’S FIERCE RESPONSE to the call by Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic was both predictable and along predictable lines.

It has threatened an economic boycott of Australian products by Chinese consumers and accused Canberra of being Washington’s pawn. Beijing sees foreign demands for transparency as hostile and subversive. To it, transparency matters less than maintaining domestically the Party’s reputation for competence, one of the underpinnings of its claim on monopoly power. It will not countenance for one minute any risk to that. Political considerations are paramount, as they were in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan when local officials suppressed early warnings.

A second-order to this is Beijing’s strategic rivalry with Washington. Beijing is attempting to grasp an opportunity to project its diplomatic influence by presenting itself both as having handled the pandemic the better of the two and as being the international leader of the global response, dispatching medics and supplies to the rest of the world. It will not risk an inquiry that could draw conclusions that China had failed to contain the disease early on or had allowed its spread by not curtailing international travel soon enough.

The sensitivities and willingness to strong-arm support were evident in the run-up to the publication of the European External Action Service report that explicitly accused China and Russia of sowing disinformation and distrust over Western nations’ handling of the pandemic and implicitly accused them of deflecting attention from shortcomings in their own responses. The final report was watered down following at least three interventions by Beijing.

However, it was still a sign of how Beijing is finding it more difficult to manage its image internationally than domestically, and how Western perceptions of China’s emergence as a global power are changing. Beijing’s proven formula of a mix of bribes and threats is less effective where it cannot control the flow of information. Hence its new infowars strategy taking a leaf out of Russia’s propaganda book mixed with a dash of US President Donald Trump’s combat tweeting.


Filed under China-Australia, China-E.U., China-U.S.

5 responses to “Transparency Matters Less To Beijing Than Control

  1. Heike

    Isn’t it odd that all China has to do is make demands, and people comply? It’s amazing.

    We Americans waste hundreds of billions of dollars, go out of our way to help everyone with foreign aid we can’t afford, ruinous trade relationships that bankrupt our workers, and subsidizing the wealthy First World nations of NATO, only to get a torrent of abuse in return. Makes one wonder why we bother doing it, and that that money could be far better spent for the benefit of our own people.

    • China Bystander

      The US-led multilateral international order that has prevailed since the end of World War 2 has been the cornerstone of US national security and prosperity across the intervening years. It is based on a combination of the moral force of the American democratic ideal and raw US power. Washington has underwritten the West’s security through its forward engagement within NATO and associated security guarantees based on deterrence. The multilateral agencies such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, have underpinned a global trading system from which US multinationals have benefited the most. In return for this world order, Washington’s allies accept that it sets the rules. Undoubtedly Washington foots more than its fair share of the bill but gets to exercise far more than its fair share of the power in return. This Bystander would be the last to argue against the notion that President of the United States has every right to take his country in the direction of narrowly defending its hard interests by reasserting the primacy of a worldview of international affairs as a world of competing ‘great powers’; America First in shorthand. But amidst that, the achievements and purpose of the current international order risk being forgotten, along with how greatly the United States has benefited from it. — CB

      • The people of the United States have not benefited from it. Our power elite and multinational corporations certainly have. They love playing the game of thrones. But the people have been devastated. The opening of markets and borders enables capital to effortlessly crush labor. Shredding the scarcity value of domestic labor in favor of lower cost foreign labor that serves capital’s desire for lower costs is a recipe for failure.

        “the moral force of the American democratic ideal”

        Huh? Slavery grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional. There is no moral force there, only racism and white supremacy. “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written.” See the New York Times 1619 project:

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