This is what allowed the virus to spread across the globe. Because the Chinese Communist Party was pretending that there was little to be concerned about, Wuhan was a porous purveyor of the virus. The government only instituted a lockdown in Wuhan on January 23—seven weeks after the virus first appeared. As events in Italy, the United States, Spain, and France have shown, quite a lot can happen in a week, much less seven. By then, mayor Zhou Xianwang admitted that more than 5 million people had already left Wuhan.
If that weren’t enough, we can plumb recent history for an even more damning account. In a 2019 article, Chinese experts warned it was “highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China.” In a 2007 journal article, infectious-disease specialists published a study arguing that “the presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the reemergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.” It was ignored.
The political scientist Andrew Michta has drawn controversy and accusations of racism for stating what any measured overview of the evidence makes clear. “The question about assigning agency and blame is pretty straightforward to answer,” he writes in The American Interest. The Chinese state, he says, is culpable.
But is this a time for blame? Yes, it is. Accounting for responsibility when a disaster happens—particularly one likely to devastate entire countries, leaving thousands dead—is not beside the point, particularly as Chinese officials move to take advantage of the crisis and launch a disinformation campaign claiming that the U.S. Army introduced the virus.
Well before the new coronavirus spread across American cities, the Chinese regime was already rather creatively trolling U.S. publications, expelling American journalists, and “weaponizing wokeness” over anything it perceived as critical of China’s role in mishandling the epidemic. To hear Chinese spokespeople use the language of racism and prejudice is somewhat surreal, considering this is a regime that has put more than 1 million Muslims and ethnic minorities in “reeducation” camps.
Of course, Americans will have to be vigilant against scapegoating Asians in general or the Chinese people in particular. With one of the highest infection rates and death tolls, Chinese citizens have suffered enough. The Chinese leadership, however, is another matter. A government is not a race. It’s a regime—and easily one of the worst and most brutal in our lifetime. Criticizing authoritarian regimes for what they do outside their own borders and to their own people is simply calling things as they are. To do otherwise is to forgo analysis and accuracy in the name of assuaging a regime that deserves no such consideration.