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China’s Xi tries to change the conversation about COVID-19 amid critics

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In a teleconferenced speech at the opening of the World Health Assembly, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, was testy and defensive.

It’s the tone one would expect after his country unleashed a worldwide plague on humanity and then spent two months insulting other countries and profiteering. That is, if one were a communist.   

In his first at-length remarks since the coronavirus outbreak, Xi reiterated that: 1) China bears no responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic; 2) the World Health Organization did a fabulous job notifying the world of the health risks; 3) and oh, by the way, here’s a $2 billion tip.

You can see the full speech here.

China, says Xi, now wants an independent inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak lead by the WHO.

“The work should be based on science and professionalism led by the WHO and conducted in an objective and impartial manner,” said Xi. “We must strengthen global governance in public health.”

Making a plea for settled science and global governance may be a siren song to ruling Democrats, but the rest of the country feels burned.

“We all have lessons to learn from the pandemic. Every country and every organization must examine its response and learn from its experience. The WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement,” said the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The U.S. has said that it won’t fund the WHO, seeing the health org as just a ways-and-means committee for China.  From 2018-2019 the U.S.-funded the WHO with $656 million, while China contributed just $76 million.

Calling China “the elder brother nation,” Xi pledged $2 billion for fighting COVID-19, especially in Africa.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who has been a vocal critic of China’s response to the pandemic, has not been swayed by Chinese rhetoric.

Cotton in turn has proposed the spend billions to stem Chinese expansion.

China finds itself isolated globally, trying desperately to distance itself from the havoc that coronavirus has unleashed around the world. Consequently, Xi is feeling isolated in China.

Much of Chinese Communist legitimacy at home relies upon the exceptional economic growth that China has maintained for 45 years. While many are uneasy by the domineering state security apparatus of the Communists, as long as jobs are good and malls are stocked, the argument goes, why complain?  

However, since Xi was appointed paramount leader of the Middle Kingdom in 2018, a series of missteps and mistakes have served to make China increasingly remote.

Excursions into the South China Sea in violation of international law have scared neighboring countries; protests from Hong Kong regarding rights under the agreement China signed with the UK to reclaim the island state have further complicated relations for China.

But the biggest trouble thus far was the parallel problems of trade with the U.S. and the domestic coronavirus called the African swine flu that killed almost 60 percent of the Chinese hog population in 2019.  

Thus, last year’s trade showdown with Trump took some of the starch out of the Chinese economy. China’s government was already reeling from a slow response and cover-up in the African swine flu outbreak.

Then as the new coronavirus epidemic turned into a pandemic, China’s economic weakness began to show its political weakness.  

“Xi Jinping speech is a fight to regain lost grounds and reassert China’s leadership or ‘central position’ on the international scene,” concludes the Diplomat.

Good luck with that.

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