Welcome back to Axios China. I'm writing from my home office today, and I hope that's where you're reading, too! Today we're rejecting the democracy vs. authoritarianism paradigm, looking at China's coronavirus aid, and much more.
Today's newsletter is 1,646 words, a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
China's successful fight against the coronavirus has exacerbated a pre-existing crisis of confidence in Western democracies. But many of China's measures to combat the coronavirus aren't authoritarian; they are the kind of total social mobilization that happens during war.
Why it matters: In the fight against the coronavirus, as in wartime, democracies are perfectly capable of taking extreme measures when necessary.
What's happening: Growing calls for the U.S. government to take action in fighting the pandemic have resulted in a critical mass. Within a period of just days:
"Wartime democracies are fearsome things," said one political scientist, who requested anonymity due to their government affiliation, in an interview with Axios.
Context: Many in the West watched in both horror and awe as Chinese authorities took historic measures to prevent the spread of the virus, which emerged in Wuhan, a city of around 11 million in China's central Hubei province.
To be clear, some of China's measures — including a health-surveillance regime enabled by mass data collection and the forcible rounding up of coronavirus patients into quarantine zones — have clearly represented a violation of civil rights and privacy protections that would be respected in a healthy democracy.
Reality check: Citywide quarantines, travel restrictions and obsessive public health checks aren't authoritarian. They're the kind of total mobilization that happens during major national crises such as war, regardless of the system of government.
Democracies have a long history of successful mobilization, and they have mechanisms that both enable extreme policies and bring them to an end when they are no longer needed, to prevent authoritarian creep.
But after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. jumped into action immediately and effectively, taking actions that wouldn't be possible or acceptable during peacetime.
What to watch: Fundamental questions about the health of our governance today and the effectiveness of our leadership suggest the U.S. may not rise to the occasion as well as it did almost 80 years ago.
Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios Photos: Stringer/Getty Images, Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images, Peng/Xinhua via Getty via Getty Images
Axios has compiled a timeline of the earliest weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in China, highlighting when the cover-up started and ended — and showing how, during that time, the virus already started spreading around the world, including to the United States.
Why it matters: A study published in March indicated that if Chinese authorities had acted three weeks earlier than they did, the number of coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 95% and its geographic spread limited.
Dec. 10: Wei Guixian, one of the earliest known coronavirus patients, starts feeling ill.
Dec. 16: Patient admitted to Wuhan Central Hospital with an infection in both lungs but resistant to anti-flu drugs. Staff later learned he worked at a wildlife market connected to the outbreak.
Dec. 30: Ai Fen, a top director at Wuhan Central Hospital, posts information on WeChat about the new virus. She was reprimanded for doing so and told not to spread information about it.
Dec. 31: China tells the World Health Organization’s China office about the cases of an unknown illness.
Jan. 1: Wuhan Public Security Bureau brings in for questioning eight doctors who had posted information about the illness on WeChat.
Jan. 2: Chinese researchers map the new coronavirus' complete genetic information. This information is not made public until Jan. 9.
Jan. 7: Xi Jinping becomes involved in the response.
Jan. 11–17: Important prescheduled CCP meeting held in Wuhan. During that time, Wuhan health commission insists there are no new cases.
Jan. 13: First coronavirus case reported in Thailand, the first known case outside China.
Jan. 15: The patient who becomes the first confirmed U.S. case leaves Wuhan and arrives in the U. S., carrying the coronavirus.
Jan. 18: Annual Wuhan lunar new year banquet. Tens of thousands of people gathered for a potluck.
Jan. 19: Beijing sends epidemiologists to Wuhan.
Jan. 23: Wuhan and three other cities are put on lockdown. Right around this time, approximately 5 million people leave the city without being screened for the illness.
Jan. 24–30: China celebrates the Lunar New Year holiday. Hundreds of millions of people are in transit around the country as they visit relatives.
Jan. 24: China extends the lockdown to cover 36 million people and starts to rapidly build a new hospital in Wuhan. From this point, very strict measures continue to be implemented around the country for the rest of the epidemic
The bottom line: China is now widely claiming that its actions to combat the coronavirus bought the world time to prepare. In January, the opposite was true.
The Chinese government announced Tuesday that it will revoke press credentials for American journalists who work for the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, retaliating for state media restrictions imposed by the Trump administration.
Why it matters: It's an escalation of a media war — in the midst of a global pandemic — that will result in around a dozen U.S. journalists effectively being expelled from China.
Go deeper: Read the full story
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
China has announced donations, exports of masks and medical supplies, and/or the deployment of medical advisory teams to:
Tencent app: The official Twitter account of the Chinese Mission to the United Nations wrote on March 15 that Chinese tech giant Tencent has created a bilingual app called WeDoctor that connects specialists around the world to Chinese doctors.
Alibaba aid: The Jack Ma Foundation has announced donations of masks and medical supplies to:
But it's a little more complicated:
Beijing's whistleblower: Translation: An Urgent Call Regarding the Epidemic (China Digital Times)
Eye witness: Locked down in Beijing, I watched China beat back the coronavirus (Washington Post)
Suing China: Class action filed against China over COVID-19 outbreak (Law.com)
As Americans become more concerned about the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a rise in racist remarks directed at Chinese Americans.
U.S.-China tensions are growing as well; some U.S. commentators continue to claim without evidence that Beijing may have purposefully intended to use the virus to harm the United States.