The Real Meaning of COVID-zero.

I got an email from a friend/client yesterday and I liked it so much I got his approval to run it, lightly edited to strip out any possible identifiers and with links added. This friend/client runs what was for a long time a very successful manufacturing business in China. He owns and operates a company that makes high quality products, mostly for export.

I wanted to run the email here because this person has lived and operated in China for a long time, knows China well, and is very-clear eyed (almost to the point of true neutrality) regarding what has transpired in China over the last 15+ years. Without further ado, here is the email.

It has been a struggle for business survival. Things are getting pretty dire, but I think we will get through it. We need a couple of years to rebuild, and then look at how we exit.

I had an epiphany some time back and have been weighing its validity while observing how things have played out over the last few months. I guess it is obvious when you think about it, but what I realized was that the Chinese people are not citizens. The word “citizen’ comes with ideas on roles and responsibilities, political rights and even protection by the sovereign. But in China ordinary people are not citizens; they are akin to livestock, where the government’s concern is their welfare. I did not come up with this idea and I’m seeing it more often on social media and it seems to be increasing in popularity and I would say that is because it’s true. When you apply this framework to what has gone on in China, particularly lately, everything becomes clear. I was born on a farm and lived there until I went off to college so it is a world I understand well.

When our livestock got really sick, we often had to shoot them. Sometimes it something terrible like when blowflies would lay their eggs under the animal’s skin and the larvae (maggots) would eat their way into the animal’s flesh until it collapsed from sepsis and exhaustion. Other times they would eat something poisonous or just get sick from unknown causes. We took every precaution to try to ensure they were healthy and produced good meat. After all, they were our living. Treating them when sick was a regular activity in the blowfly season, but sometimes it was kinder to shoot them. If they had something infectious, then that was an even bigger problem. The priority was to keep the flock healthy, not the individual, so culling was normal.

When you apply this model to China , it works very well. The patronising top-down CCP model is about controlling and managing the flock. The pandemic, of course, makes the parallel as overt as can be, but the drivers of the current actions by the CCP are inherent in the system. Dangerous political ideas need to be culled, as do politically infected persons, or even groups likely to be infected, such as the Uighurs. It reminds me of Camus’ Plague.

Some may say that this applies to all authoritarian regimes, and now, especially, Russia, where Putin talks about the need for cleansing the country of filthy elements. There are overlaps, in that both involve ethno-nationalism, but the difference is in the all-embracing ideology that underlies “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era”. It is ethno-nationalism, but it claims to explain all other ideas in terms of the one idea: Marxism. Just as is true of religious extremists, with the CCP, there can only be one correct view, and all other views are subsumed, or shut down.

When we see people in China dragged out of their homes by the “Big Whites”, it is being done for the greater good. No abuse of the individual is taboo if the justification is the health of the flock. No suffering is problematic if it is for the greater good. When I tell officials here that we will go bankrupt if they do not allow us to process our material (due to some idiotic notion that Covid may have been carried from France to China in an unrefrigerated container that left France 3 months ago) they say that “it is not just you, everybody has to suffer until the pandemic is brought under control”. The real reason for this is bureaucratic butt protection, but the fact that they can get away with it is because we are just sheeple. Our rights are not a problem because, in fact, we have none.

There are two great ironies in all of this. One is that Marxism is a foreign idea, yet the Chinese Communist Party rejects almost all foreign ideas as being unsuited to China. There can be no debate about democracy (unless it is Chinese democracy à la John Lee’s “election” as Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive), about human rights or about individual freedom, ostensibly because they are “foreign ideas”.

The other great irony is that Chinese society is one of the most inequitable in the world, whether you look at the gini index or whether you see how people treat each other. The stratification is obviously Confucian and it has not changed under Communism, except that rather than respect flowing upwards, contempt flows down. Maybe it was always like that. The real reason Jack Ma was cut down was because he mistakenly assumed that a mere merchant could presume to criticise his betters – the bureaucrats who have the inalienable right to run the show. This elitism is as Chinese as it gets. It has been there in every Chinese dynasty since the Han, and probably before, and it is there today in Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.

This is China today and I have no doubt this will be China tomorrow as well.
Yesterday, in a Financial Times piece on China’s draconian lockdowns, a reason (not in any way at odds with what is stated above) for the strictness of the lockdowns was posited:
Despite the intensifying economic pain, few expect Xi to relax his zero-Covid campaign before securing an unprecedented third term in power at a party congress later this year. The strategy “has become a political crusade — a political tool to test the loyalty of officials”, says Henry Gao, a China expert at Singapore Management University. “That’s far more important to Xi than a few more digits of GDP growth.”
I will next week write more regarding my thoughts on the lockdowns, with a focus on how they are impacting foreign businesses and why I am 99 percent certain they will increase in their reach and in their duration.
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