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Isolated At World Health Assembly, Xi Jinping's Bigger Challenge Is Coming At Home

Proposals by top Chinese Communist Party leaders at the upcoming National People's Congress put question marks at the way COVID was handled in its initial days

World Health Assembly

CHINA stands completely isolated at the ongoing World Health Assembly (WHA) - the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO) - with over 120 nations of the 194 member body seeking an 'independent, scientific, and impartial' investigation into the origins - both causative and geographical - of the COVID-19 virus that has claimed over 3,00,000 lives and left over 4 million infected worldwide. Having seen through China's obfuscation and possible collusion, the Assembly also wants to scrutinize the role of WHO itself under its now controversial chief Dr. Tedros.

Having sensed its isolation, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping readily accepted the resolution seeking the two investigations, and sought to put a balm of billions of dollars by way of COVID aid to the world in a show of characteristic Chinese transactionalism. Off the world stage, China has been using every rule in the book to browbeat the world into not investigating the role of the Chinese in the COVID-19 contagion turning a global pandemic.

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Chinese diplomats have called Australia an American 'attack-dog' despite being its biggest trade partner, have succeeded in silencing small nation-states burdened by Chinese debt like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan to not support the WHA resolution, increased military adventurism in South China Seas, and closer home pushed a more aggressive patrolling policy along Sikkim and Ladakh boundaries with India. One would say that's typical of China's Middle Kingdom complex. But things might be turning hotter in Beijing than outside for Xi Jinping.

On May 22, China's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC) would meet for its third annual session. A day before that the apex political advisory body of the Communist Party of China - the National Committee - would confabulate for the agenda of the NPC. Media reports suggest many members have some tough questions on the handling of the virus by the authorities in Wuhan, the capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei, where it all began.

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Chinese daily Global Times - seen as the tabloidy voice of the Chinese government - reported discomfiture of many leaders at the manner in which the public health system responded in the initial days of the contagion. The newspaper quoted Zhang Boli, an NPC deputy, as claiming that the local doctor who had first reported influenza-like illness - later classified as COVID-19 - to the authorities on December 27 was not taken seriously by the Wuhan city government. According to Boli, the local level bureaucracy lost crucial time in reporting and investigating the new illness with the speed that it should have been. Another NPC deputy Huang Xihua was quoted as pointing out deficiencies in rapid emergency response in the initial days of the contagion, in the same report.

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Trying to read the tea leaves on China a few days back, India's former Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who also served as our Ambassador to Beijing, wrote of two 'extraordinary petitions' targeting Jinping in the context of the contagion that disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared on the internet. Ren Zhiquiang and Xu Zhangrun, both members of the Establishment according to Gokhale, held Jinping personally responsible for the devastation caused in China and around the world as a result of the poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read Gokhale's piece here.

This still does not mean that Jinping's project to be President for life is under any challenge. After opening last month, most trade and macroeconomic parameters have shown a smart recovery for China. As the COVID pandemic goes past the peak of the Bell curve globally, and the banality of life takes over, retribution might be forgotten, even if the spreader-in-chief is not forgiven. But between the WHA resolution and the NPC questions, a new understanding of China is emerging that would shape a new world order that might not keep the Kingdom in the Middle.

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