Will COVID-19 Be China’s Chernobyl?


“What is the cost of lies?”

These were the words that opened the now immortal Chernobyl series on HBO. The Chernobyl event proved to be the catalyst that made years of malcontent due to the war in Afghanistan and the deteriorating economic situation, as well as various social factors, led to the eventual demise of the once iron fortress. It once seemed impenetrable, as cold as ice, but the Soviet Union collapsed. Through a whirlwind of terrifying events, we learn that the falsehoods spread built up to one of the defining events that stained the USSR’s legacy.

“…even more than my launch of perestroika, [Chernobyl] was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.” – Mikhail Gorbachev

It is estimated that 200,000 people may have lost their lives due to this tragedy. This does not, of course, mention how many were left severely weakened as a result, nor does it mention how many of those lives could have been spared if it wasn’t for the Communist Party’s ineptitude. And it doesn’t account for the millions who could have died if the remaining nuclear reactors had been allowed to explode.

In Chernobyl, scientists like Valery Legasov tried to warn the USSR of the effects of the explosion and how it could have occurred. They were hounded, ostracised and cast out of the establishment. It later proved that the radiation did indeed manage to permeate to countries like Germany and Sweden. The government of a global superpower, through years of damaging decisions and decay, was eventually brought to its knees by an irrational response to government failure. Does this all sound familiar?

If not, enter China and the long list of damaging decisions it has made over the years.

China’s dive in international opinion commenced when it recently took measures to gain judicial control of Hong Kong, by introducing bills that would allow extradition to mainland China. This received tremendous pushback from the global community and led to wide-scale protests, which ended in the overwhelming defeat of pro-Chinese parties in the local elections.

Not only does China have a trade surplus with the United States, but it has also racked up a long list of companies that consider it an enemy. It is estimated that up to $600 billion is lost due to Chinese IP infringements. One out of five companies in the US have alleged that China has stolen their IP in the last year.

Censorship has long since been a problem for China. The Chinese government has on numerous occasions expelled reporters of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Its treatment of Uighur Muslims has also been a significant stain on its name, a demographic group that has accounted for almost 20% of national incarcerations, as the Chinese government has sought to curtail the spread of Islam through violent means. China is ranked at the bottom in terms of international measures of press freedom and is well known for its internet restrictions. A Harvard University study found that 18,000 websites are blocked in the country, as well as words like “human rights,” “oppression” and references to the Tienanmen Square massacre, that shocking event where thousands of protesters were murdered.

Anything critical of the party chairman, Xi Jinping, and his family are forbidden. Beijing refused to renew the credentials of a Wall Street Journal reporter who had investigated Xi’s cousins, suspected of involvement in organized crime and money laundering. Many journalists have stated that they are oftentimes subjected to abuse from government officials, occasionally physical.

Now, in 2020, with the pandemic unfolding, one can once again ask: What is the cost of lies?

On 6 December, a few cases of an unknown disease with pneumonia-like symptoms were already spreading through Wuhan. The doctors realized immediately that it was spreading from one human to another, something the Chinese government lied about when they and the World Health Organization claimed the complete opposite.

In late December, a prominent victim of the virus, Dr Li Wenliang, posted an alert about the newfound disease to his medical colleagues, in Wuhan. Coincidentally or not, Wuhan is also the location of a bio-safety level 4 superlaboratory that researches human infectious disease, under the control of the Chinese government. And not just any viruses: coronaviruses. There have also been many reports that the overall safety in this particular laboratory had been dismal, with people going in and out without clearance. Li Wenliang was accused by the Chinese state of spreading rumors and forced to confess his guilt to making “false comments”. Perhaps he should have just stuck to the truth, for he was destined to die in February from the disease he tried to warn the world about.

When the state, at last, responded in typical authoritarian fashion, they dragged citizens suspected of being infected into vans and hammered boards on apartment doors to seal in those contaminated. At the same time, they displayed videos to the public, of Chinese victims happily dancing next to their allotted hospital beds, or how medical professionals demonstrated to the patients how to facilitate proper hygiene.

A few days later, three Chinese journalists, reporting on the virus, simply disappeared into state detention. One filmed his own arrest, which can be found on YouTube. Three journalists from the Wall Street Journal were expelled on 19 February over a piece they wrote, which was critical of the Chinese government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. Dr Ai Fen, a Chinese doctor who had claimed her superiors had tried to silence her over her early warnings on the virus, has disappeared.

Even now, it seems like the Chinese government is not being forthright about the number of actual deaths and the overall situation in the country. The suspicions of the international community have been aroused by the massive discrepancies being reported by the communist state as well as the footage of the amounts of urns of the deceased, being shipped to their loved ones. 

The Hubei Province, where Wuhan is located, has been locked down once again. Not by the national government, who wanted it open, but by local authorities who fear the damage that could be done by such an irrational order. A video reveals that when the Chinese government tried to open the Hubei border with neighboring Jiangxi, the masses of Jiangxi revolted, fearing they would be exposed to the clear and increasing danger in Hubei.

Like Chernobyl, one can only expect that there will be a massive outcry against China for its arrogance. And the effects of COVID-19 will be much worse than Chernobyl. The number of deaths will be catastrophic as well as the damage it will unleash on the international economy. Will there be another HBO series in ten years to mark this as the downfall of the Chinese government? Will the communist regime, at last, reap the cost of the lies it has sowed? Only time will tell.

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Donald Brown

Donald Brown is pursuing a law degree at the University of South Africa and resides in Somerset West. He is also a trader (forex/indices), programmer, author and entrepreneur. He spends his free time gaming, creating games and apps, writing and reading, with the latter two mostly devoted to political and philosophical issues. View his books here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0822RRQJB and https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082WD4YMR