Vom Krisenherd zum Krisenheld: Chinas Umgang mit COVID-19
Number: 4 | 07/2020 | ISSN: 1862-359X
The onset of the new coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan in late 2019 and the ensuing worldwide pandemic have put massive political pressure on the Chinese leadership. Official communications by the party-state authorities in response to this pressure indicate that the crisis might have a lasting impact on China’s domestic and foreign policy stances.
Parts of the Chinese populace as well as intellectual and party elites have criticised the opacity in dealing with the virus early on. Critics have targeted not only local but also central party-state authorities under the leadership of Xi Jinping.
The switch to national crisis mode has served to contain the disease, as well as internal criticism. Besides stepping up its censorship, the party state has employed the full repertoire of positive propaganda – framing disease control as a patriotic war, with Xi as heroic commander-in-chief.
In late April, domestic mass media started to actively report about international criticisms of China, to discredit United States accusations about the People’s Republic as fake news, and to mirror the offensive behaviour of Chinese diplomats abroad, thereby bolstering the legitimacy of domestic crisis management under Xi.
At the same time, the party state’s external communication suggests that the Chinese leadership’s foreign policy strategy is increasingly following a two-dimensional “united front” logic: while antagonistic notions of strategic rivalry seems to steer relations with the US, political communications vis-à-vis the European Union still appear to be dominated by a tactical benignity.
The German EU Council Presidency is facing a critical juncture in the second half of 2020. The PRC is pressuring the EU to make the choice either to continue multilateral collaboration according to China’s vision of a “community of common destiny for mankind” or to risk ending it by insisting on the existing “rules-based” international order. The Chinese leadership appears to no longer be interested in accommodating the EU’s more differentiated and compartmentalised approaches to multilateralism. Instead, triggering one diplomatic crisis after another in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the PRC seems to be undermining the chances of multilateral collaboration step by step.
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