As I begin typing this on 28 Jan, 2020, at 1:16 US Central Time (GMT -6), Johns Hopkins University reports there have been 4,690 confirmed cases (80 outside of Mainland China, this plague's source): 106 have died, 79 have recovered, 4,505 are still ill.
On 26 January, nearly a month after reporting the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak to the World Health Organization, the Communist Party of China finally took the virus seriously enough to... well, do what they usually do: assemble a committee to talk about it and give speeches.
Sarcasm aside, this was actually a sign of the Party's acknowledgement (at last) of the severity of the problem. Ever since coming to power, one of Xi Jinping's trademark tools of statecraft... er, governance... er, control, has been the creation of "leading committees" within the Party. These committees are granted more direct control (that is, control with fewer links in the chain of command and thus fewer layers of bureaucracy) over aspects of the government. It is a way of making sure Beijing's orders are acted upon by making the lower levels directly answerable to the committee itself (an arm of the Politburo), rather than answering to someone who answers to someone who answers to someone whose boss will eventually report to an underling of the Politburo. Of course, almost any time Xi creates one of these committees, he appoints himself as its chairman, but I digress.
Anyway, the creation of a "Leading Committee" is the Politburo's way of saying "this is important enough that we need to take direct charge of it and make sure we punish anyone who does not follow our orders to the letter." So the creation of one solely to tackle the Coronavirus outbreak was hailed by many in China as a sign that their beloved and benevolent Neo-Mandarinate was rolling up their sleeves and getting down to business.
But there is a problem with this committee. As Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Director General of the World Health Organization) pointed out, "none of those people has any background in public health (Ahuja)." There is not a current or former doctor or nurse anywhere on the committee. None of them have ever been in charge of health administration. Not one has ever even walked into a hospital except as a visitor or a patient. Hell, I can't even find one who so much as has a medical professional in their immediate family.
So if these nine people hand-selected by China's Politburo Standing Committee to combat what appears to be the biggest public health crisis of the 21st century so far are not health experts (State Council of the People's Republic of China (1)), then who are they? The answer is about as reassuring as any other news that ever comes out of China.
Note: In the headings below, each member's name is linked to their entry in Wikipedia while their photo is linked to their biography on Chinavitae. These are not listed in my "works cited" section due to the character limit on Steemit but consider credit given by this statement.
Li Keqiang is the head of this committee. Li is Xi's right-hand man... sort of. He is a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (Phillips & Haas). I wish I could find the article from 2017 where the 19th Party Conference openly codified the statement that this committee is not subject to any outside oversight by any person or entity, but I have misplaced it with my notes. Suffice it to say their word is law in China, and no appeal process, no check or balance, exists in name, spirit or practice.
Anyway, Li also holds the office of Premier of the State Council, which makes him the second-in-command of the Communist Party, though it is the Vice-President (currently Wang QiShan) who is second-in-command of the Chinese government itself. Due to the peculiarities of Chinese politics, the premiership is actually a more powerful office than the vice-presidency, but as with all things in Chinese politics, the real power is in the connections of the man in the office, not the office itself. Interestingly enough, Li held both offices until 2018, when he was replaced by Wang Qishan (Straits Times Staff). This has been widely viewed as a sign of a growing rift between him and his boss, Xi Jinping.
Li is the only one on this committee with any experience attempting to tackle a health crisis, though that experience was not very impressive. He played what is described as a "key role" in China's response to the H1N1 crisis of 2009 (Page). However, that response was basically to beg for international help while bragging about what a good job China had supposedly done (Xinhua Staff (1)).
Li's only really major field of expertise is economics. He is the one who concocted an index by which China's ACTUAL economic numbers can be measured, which is important because it was Li who admitted, to a US official, on record, what everybody already knew - namely, that China's economic data was "largely man-made (Economist Staff (1)). The former fact, and the usefulness of this so-called "Keqiang Index," is the only thing that has prevented him from becoming a pariah as a result of the latter disclosure.
My personal opinion is that there is only one reason Xi Jinping appointed Li, and not himself, as the head of this committee: he expects the committee to fail horribly and wants to have someone other than himself to blame. Removing a potential thorn in his side by discracing a too-powerful rival is probably an added benefit for Xi.
Wang, like Li Keqiang, is a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (Phillips & Haas, State Council of the People's Republic of China (1)), though his role is a bit more interesting. Wang Huning would be best described as the Saint Paul of modern Communist Theology (and if you've read any of the Party's literature you know that "Theology" is, indeed, a more appropriate word than "Ideology" to describe this level of fanaticism). In any of the Party's official literature or speeches of the Xi era, there are slogans and buzzwords that are repeated so often one almost gets the impression that the ones uttering them think they are somehow sacred: "The Three Represents," the "Chinese Dream of National Rejuvenation (or, in Mandarin, Zhonghua Minzu Weida Fuxing (Shapiro))," and of course "Xi Jinping Thought)."
Well, every one of these slogans was penned, as well as defined and given what passes for meaning, by Wang Huning (The Economist Staff). He is the principle architect of the keywords and soundbytes upon which contemporary Chinese propaganda is fueled. He is also the chairman of the "Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization," an organization whose primary goal is to instill the Chinese population with a fanatical and unquestionable devotion to the Party. As its name suggests, the objective is to make the population view the Party as a collective Deity, and to make their words as unquestionable to the Chinese as doctrine is to a religious devotee. In essence, this is the College of Cardinals of the Holy Communist Church.
In essence, I would surmise Wang's role on this council is to come up with some little numbered slogan with a handful of vague and unquantifiable bullet points under it, for the talking heads in Beijing to repeat until nobody has any idea what it means, nor are they willing to question it because it bears the label of established Party Doctrine.
Who is this guy? He is nobody. Neither Wikipedia nor Chinavitae had anything on him other than a brief list of the positions he has filled and none of them were in any way remarkable. He is a metallurgist by trade, who worked for Shanghai Materials Research Institute and advanced himself (at least somewhat) by joining his employer's Communist Party Members' Organization, which is an internal entity every State-Owned Enterprise in China has to make sure they function as arms of the State and not as independent businesses (Xinhua Staff (2)).
Essentially, he is best defined as someone who recognized early in Xi Jinping's career that Xi would rise to power, and who latched onto that power and rode in its wake. He was an aide to Xi Jinping in Shanghai, who then followed his boss to Beijing, where he was appointed as Xi's secretary (South China Morning Post). In 2017 he finally gained some level of influence as a member of the 19th CPC Central Committee Political Bureau (the cabal whose most famous contribution to history was the virtual deification of Xi Jinping alongside Mao and Deng in the CPC pantheon).
The only thing he is famous for is taking his boss's passing remarks, memorizing them, and turning them into official policy notices. If he has a purpose being on this committee, it is to make sure anything anyone says that sounds good gets recorded so history books can sing the praises of the "Heroes of the People's Glorious Struggle Agaisnt the Coronavirus," which will their history books will almost assuredly claim is a CIA weapon of some kind.
Sun Chunlan is the token woman on the committee, though she is, ironically, the only one with any notable achievements to her credit (even if none of them have anything to do with public health). Currently holding the office of Vice-Premier, she began her career working in a watch factory, and rose to the National People's Congress primarily by virtue of her close relationship with former president Hu Jintao, and she is the second or third (depending on whether you believe wikipedia or the US-China Business Council female Provincial-Level Party Chief (Fujian Province, appointed in 2009). She has often been predicted to eventually become the first female member of the Politburo Standing Committee (Bo).
Her most notable role has been the leader of the United Front Work Office, a kind of mix of a propaganda organization and a secret police force whose mission is to guarantee that all non-Han Chinese, and even overseas citizens of Chinese descent, remain loyal to the Party, and to punish any who fail to remain so...
...Even if they are third or fourth generation citizens of foreign countries and have never set foot in China (Brady). Her only real experience dealing with any public health crisis was three days before this article was written, when she made a fiery speech "requiring" the Party to "win the battle against Coronavirus." This speech was filled with admonitions about the importance of improving transparency, cleanliness, accountability, and everything else the Party has done such a lousy job of so far, though any concrete solutions other than "do better" were notable in their complete absence from this speech (State Council of the People's Republic of China (2)).
With a background in mechanics and propaganda work, one has to wonder what possible purpose she serves on a committee whose purpose is to contain an epidemic. Unless, of course, the epidemic is not what the committee is really trying to contain.
Huang Kunming, like Wang Huning mentioned above, is a member (and former chairman) of the Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization, holding a doctorate in Public Administration from Tsinghua University (China Daily Staff), (whose history I have described here). He is the head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, another "Public Relations (read: 'propaganda')" posting (Yang). As for his rise to the Politburo, he is another toady who was one of Xi Jinping's associates in Zhejiang and Fujian, and then followed his boss to Beijing, one of the sycophantic legion jokingly referred to as the "New Zhijiang Army." He shows no signs of any other important career achievements other than spotting a man who was rising to power, and following in his wake.
Cai Qi was the Party Chief of Taizhou (a city in Zhejiang Province) at a time when Xi Jinping was the Province's PArty Chief. He is currently the acting mayor of Beijing (Caixin Staff), a post he was appointed to after (surprise surprise) following his former boss, Xi Jinping, from Fujian Province to Beijing, and his presence on the Politburo is essentially a side-effect of this office. He holds a Doctorate in Economics from Fujian Normal University, and was formerly the deputy director of the General Office serving the National Security Commission, an apparatus created at 2013's 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee, to centralize control of China's judicial, military and law enforcement organs under a single governing unit.
The only thing about Cai that stands out is the fact that he's the only high-ranking government official in China who did, at one point in his career, have a significant social media footprint. If he has a use on this council, I would surmise this is it.
Where do I even begin with this son-of-a-bitch?
Wang Yi is China's Foreign Minister, and he has made a name for himself by seeming to define this post as "a Chinese official whose job is to make sure foreign nations remember their proper place beneath the self-anointed 'Central Nation.' " Wang Yi became famous among even casual China-watchers in 2016 when he lambasted a Canadian reporter, on Canadian soil, for (gasp) having the audacity to question China's Human Rights record. He ended his tirade by insisting no one other than the Chinese had the right to ask such questions, and that it was "not acceptable" to question him like this (Kassam & Phillips, Timmons).
He's the same one who claimed the United States is destabilizing the world by daring to oppose China's expansionism in the West Philippine Sea (Zhuang). He is also the one who spoke of Australia "improving their behavior," in those exact words, like a parent speaking of a wayward child, when Australia made concessions to China in one of their numerous disputes with China in June of 2018 (Bolt). And of course, any time there is a dispute between China and any nation, Wang Yi can be relied upon to issue a press release admonishing the "offending" foreign power to (and he almost always uses this exact phrase) "correct their mistake," in that same condescending "China is a patient parent and all other nations are children" tone.
His only qualification for any office in China is unabashed, unapologetic jingoism on a scale that makes the Third Reich look like a pacifist globalist cabal.
But more importantly, look at his title: Foreign Minister.
...What aspect of epidemic control relates to foreign relations?
Given that Wang Yi's entire purpose is nothing more or less than making sure the face China shows to the world is what Xinhua wants to show to its own people, I can't imagine any possible role for him on this committee other than to figure out how to spin the story for foreign audiences (not that he has much of a record of knowing how to present China favorably on that front).
If you hear your Chinese colleagues snickering a little when you mention this guy's name, it's because the same two characters in different tones are the Mandarin word for "Miss," as in "little Miss Muffet." Though frankly, that's the only thing memorable about him. He holds a Bachelor of Finance and Economics degree from Renmin University (the same indoctrination center where Jin Canrong and Yan Jirong are professors), and a Doctorate (I can't find what field) from the Chinese Research Institute for Fiscal Science of the Ministry of Finance. He's currently Director and Secretary of Leading Party Group of the State Administration of Taxation.
I can't think what use that makes him to this committee, unless China plans to announce a tax penalty for anyone found guilty of being infected.
This was the most interesting member of the committee. Or, to be more precise, the member whose inclusion on the committee was the most interesting. Zhao Kezhi is a cop. He holds the title Minister of State Security, and one needn't wonder what "State security" is a euphemism for in a surveillance state like China. Zhao was an open supporter of the Hong Kong Police throughout the 2019 protests, and each time he took more direct charge of Beijing's response to the protests, the number of reports of police brutality in HK went up (Zheng & Jun), though this did not stop him from insisting it was the protesters who were the ones who needed to "reject violence Cheng)."
His record recently, according to China's State Council (3), is best summarized as a series of crackdowns on dissent (of course), and a call for police officers in China to "increase their political work (State Council (4))," meaning "take more classes and lectures to remind yourself your allegiance is to the Party and not the People."
His entire career has been centered around information control, intimidation, and wielding Law Enforcement as a tool of suppressing political rivals. And this man is on a committee that is responsible for "Coronavirus Prevention and Control."
So What Do We Have.
The Scapegoat. The Propagandist Orator. The "Yes-man" and Imperial Herald. The Propagandist Extortionist. The Deputy Propagandist. The Toady. The Firebreathing Jingoist. The Tax-man. And of course, the Jackbooted Thug.
...I'm calling it. Their purpose is to suppress and control not the virus itself, but any information about its effects and Beijing's response that might damage the Party, and Xi is anticipating the need for internal brute force (Zhao Jie, Cai Qi), as well as an intense propaganda machine, both foreign (Wang Yi, Sun Chunlan) and domestic (Wang Huning, Huang Kunming). His primary concern (other than getting what few soundbytes Ding Xuexiang can get him) is the economic impact (Xiao Jie), rather than the loss of life, and when the public realizes this (as they almost surely will), Li Keqiang is going to be the sacrificial lamb who will be nailed on a cross (or rather, a hammer and sickle) to appease them.
As I finish typing this on 29 Jan, 2020, at 22:24 US Central Time (GMT -6), Johns Hopkins University reports there have been 7,783 confirmed cases (105 outside of Mainland China, this plague's source): 170 have died, 133 have recovered, 7,583 are still ill.
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