Xi: the least incompetent of the autocrats

The National Interest has a story headlined “The Coronavirus Crisis and the Chimera of Authoritarian Competence“. I expected to read about failure of Putin, Bolsonaro, Trump and other autocrats to contain the pandemic. But it was all about China.

China is the only autocracy that has had a serious pandemic and controlled it. Xi has told lies and suppressed info, just like all the other autocrats, but at least he hasn’t denied the severity of the problem and actively undermined measures to control it.

Lots of democracies have achieved the same outcome at lower cost, but the article mentions only Taiwan by name.

What makes it truly bizarre is that one of the authors is a Republican member of Congress. He has had more than three years to observe the chimera of authoritarian competence failing at first hand.

A Twitter thread posted using Spooler

60 thoughts on “Xi: the least incompetent of the autocrats

  1. Well to be fair, one thumb up for Hugo as well. Because if we are going to try to stay away from the us versus them mind frame and cut the Chinese some slack we have to also cut some slack to the Tiawanese, the Tibetians, and the Uyghurs, and opponents of the communist party among the Chinese population.
    But this is what cuting slack means for people who are not directly involved. It is to tell the opponents of the those who wield power in China it is not your job to convince us of the justice of your cause. It is your job to convince those who you think are oppresing you to the justice of your cause. Now of course I know what the standard response to my advice is, we tried that but they are not acting in good faith.
    That is a very plausible accusation. It is also an accusation that I am very familiar with because it is one that I accuse my enemies of.
    But those of us who are not directly involved in a conflict are poorly positioned to make a judgement as to who is or is not acting in good faith. In fact it is even worse, those who are involved in the conflict can often not correctly identify who is or is not acting in good faith. So although I realiize that you should want your cause to succeed those from outside your region who are most likely to support you are those that have something to gain economically from supporting you and such people are not likely to be acting in good faith. That discredits the cause of the liberator, or counterrevolutionary depending upon ones pint of vriew.
    Furthermore in the case of China the Tibetians, Taiwanese, and Uyghurs are dealing with an opponent of well over 1 billion people. The chances of success for any of these groups is small. The cost of supporting them to give them a chance of success, if they deserved it, would be huge. The world has bigger things to deal with in case you haven’t noticed.
    I once heard a saying, if you can’t beat them join them. Those who want to reform the CCP have a choice. They can try from inside the party. They can try from outside the party, and probably get killed in the process. They can go dormant and hope that a more opportune time for their cause comes about. Or, they can try to flee.
    Certianly not to Australia because Australia is reserved for Indonesians, Fillipinos, and Vietnamese and the number of those that Australia can take is limited by its climate. But Austraslians themselves do not get to decide what their carrying capacity is. Though they can öffer their best advice to those who do.

  2. I don’t think Vietnam is an autocracy. If so, who is the autocrat? The issue here isn’t really democracy vs oligarchy so much as one-man (I use the gender advisedly) rule vs a division of power.

    The typical political arrangement is that there is a single individual who can be readily identified as the national leader (the only contemporary counter-example I am aware of is Switzerland), but countries vary drastically in the extent to which the power of the national leader is limited by other holders of power. In some cases the predominance of the leader and the ineffectiveness of limits on the leader’s power is so great that the leader is fairly considered an autocrat, but the boundaries of this category are blurry.

    Considering only the formal or surface appearance, China and Vietnam have very similar systems. The number one ranking individual in the Communist Party is the national leader, and to the extent that his power is checked by other holders of power, those other holders of power are (generally speaking) other individuals holding senior positions in the party.

    It’s clear from history that in systems like these, the extent to which the power of the senior party leader is limited by the power of others within the party can vary drastically even without any changes in formal arrangements.

    There is evidence to suggest that Xi Jinping has been able to strengthen his own position, as compared to his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, and that his power is not as much limited by the power of others within the party as was the case during their terms in office. Given the way the conduct of politics in China (and other such systems) is deliberately hidden, it’s hard to be sure how drastic the difference is.

    I’m not sure what the evidence is on the question of the relative political strength, within his own party, of Vietnam’s present Communist leader (Nguyễn Phú Trọng), as compared to Xi Jinping, but I’d be interested in learning about it from anybody who does know.

  3. Hugo, I like to hope you would not be comfortable being part of a movement where even 0.01% of its members were openly practicing racist violence on the streets, and openly propagandizing for it. But it’s far more than 0.01% in this Hong Kong mob, or at least it has been since Carrie Lam withdrew the extradition bill and the peaceful protesters went home, their objective achieved. But I think you didn’t know about this violence, just as I bet you don’t actually know what the extradition bill was or what it did. I think your support of the HK demonstrators is just a knee-jerk reaction to media reports with no understanding of what actually happened. I had the same response, but then I did what good leftists should do: I critically assessed the political movement in the context of its material circumstances and political context, looked at what it was actually doing, and asked the old age question of who benefits and how. Once I saw how it was enacting its politics, who it was targeting, and who benefited, I understood that it was a fascist uprising, not a broad-based movement for change. That is also why I wrote that blog post (which, I note, you have failed to answer): what is the left wing vision for an independent hong kong? Yes, as a failed state and tax haven it is an ideal right-wing vision of a chaos agent in Asia, but what is the vision for an independent, left-wing Hong Kong that functions as a good international actor? You don’t have one, which further indicates you haven’t considered what is going on there from any objective left-wing framework. But I think before you even try to do that, you need to at least find out what’s going on, because it’s pretty clear to me you didn’t even know about the movement’s racist street violence, and don’t have an explanation for why a leftist should support a movement based on violent, racist attacks on working class people. Do you have one? Or can we conclude you have no idea what’s going on, and don’t have the tools to analyse what’s going on even if you did know?

  4. faustusnotes,
    I think the mainstream (en masse) protests that happened in HK were primarily from a legitimate concern for the judicial protections offered to citizens of HK – particularly the mandated right to an open and fair trial. One can also understand Beijing’s point of view – needing an avenue to hold to account those who committed serious criminal offences fleeing justice to/in HK.
    My own personal (uninformed) opinion is that much of the rebellious movement – the umbrella movement, the continuation of protesting and some student actions have seeds resulting from societal frustration. Some of it stemming from high levels of mainland immigration over the recent decade, some of it as a result of HK losing its niche as an economic and trading hub/power and the reduction in job opportunities as a consequence of that and some as a hopelessness to a society that places such high reward for capital and financial class and such little regard for workers of whom are forced to live in ridiculous sized pigeon holes paying some fat cat (who sits on his arse doing nothing but enjoying his yum cha) ridiculous levels of rent for it. What’s more, if you can find a job – getting to work involves being pushed into and over-crowed train and putting up with a very stressed work environment for many. It’s one of the last places on the planet I’d want to live in. There’s obvious resentment to mainland control for many who find it hard to accept the reality of situation and many feel trapped – which they probably are.

  5. “Out of interest, how far back do cases have to be discovered, and in how many cases, before you entertain the possibility that it didn’t start in China? ”

    I think this is possible, but highly unlikely – I expect that a sufficiently thorough search would find cases in China well before those currently known. The same thing is true of the various claims made by the US Administration about the lab in Wuhan. It’s not impossible, but there is very little evidence to support it.

    Both sides are pushing implausible claims to shift blame to others. That said, as the title of the OP spells out, Xi has done a much better job than Trump in controlling the pandemic. Sadly, as others have noted, his competence also shows up in the implementation of racist pogroms, something Trump would love to do but can’t manage.

  6. Troy, yes, there are many frustrations in Hong Kong that have nothing to do with the extradition law, which was a completely bog-standard and legitimate law. The demonstrators were manipulated by the rich families that own Hong Kong and stand to lose out if tax evasion becomes an extraditable crime.

    John Quiggin, I’ll remind you again that HIV was discovered in America but originated in Africa. We find infectious diseases from common factors of their victims, not common factors of their country of origin. So it is not “highly unlikely” that the disease originated outside China, anymore than it is “highly unlikely” it originated inside China. I think you need to think through the political implications of it originating outside China, given the current political environment (calls for reparations and so on). And you need to reconsider your characterization of Xi as “least incompetent” if it turns out China saved us all.

  7. Yeah, it’s likely to have jumped from animals to human transmissible form in China. China’s population is very large, they are rich enough to eat a considerable amount of meat, they don’t have much in the way of cultural prohibitions against meat eating (it exists but doesn’t come into play as much as, say, India), a lot of their slaughter and meat handling is low tech, they have fairly modern levels of transportation. It is the most likely country of origin. SARS-CoV-2 certainly could have developed somewhere else, but in that case probably wouldn’t have been first recognized in Wuhan. Sure, it could have happened, but that’s not playing the odds.

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